GREENVILLE — Edison State Community College students delivered a presentation on the impact of illiteracy in America at the Greenville Public Library Thursday night.
The students led with sobering statistics, reporting that 34 million Americans are illiterate, defined as reading below a sixth-grade level, and that the U.S. is currently ranked 16th among developed nations for literacy. They further noted that 70 percent of inmates in U.S. prisons are unable to read past a fourth-grade level, and that two-thirds of those unable to read at grade level by the fourth grade will likely serve time in prison. The students also added that, as low-paying jobs are gradually eliminated through automation, it will only become more difficult for those without a high school or college education to support themselves and their families as time goes on.
The presenters cited a number of reasons for the nation’s current problem with illiteracy, from the prevalence of single-parent homes – where solo caregivers may be too busy or otherwise overwhelmed to keep an adequate eye on their children’s academic progress – to the fact that modern parents simply don’t read to their young children as often as they used to. Federal education initiatives such as No Child Left Behind were also discussed.
Fortunately, according to the presenters, there are programs in place in Darke County and elsewhere to help combat illiteracy, including summer reading programs sponsored by the library, Darke County chapters of Big Brothers/Big Sisters and We Are the Majority and Empowering Darke County Youth, a nonprofit created to provide tutoring and support programs for local young people.
The most important battles in the war against illiteracy, however, are waged in the home.
“We’ve all heard the saying, ‘It takes a village,’” said Amanda Shiflet, a nursing major at Edison, quoting an oft-referenced proverb about education and child-rearing commonly believed to be of African origin. Shiflet and her classmates cautioned parents to be on on the lookout for signs that a child may be having difficulty developing appropriate reading skills, such as a small vocabulary or even the inability to recognize letters of the alphabet, and praised the effectiveness of Individualized Education Plans, which provide parents the opportunity to meet with teachers and guidance counselors, help set educational goals for their children to work to achieve, and generally take a more active role in their kids’ education.
Shiflet and her fellow presenters, meanwhile, were in the process of furthering their own education, as they took part in the public presentation in order to fulfill a community service requirement for their public speaking class. The instructor of that class was Bob Robinson, adjunct instructor at Edison.
“I love working with these kids,” Robinson said. “I love watching the improvement. Eight weeks ago a presentation like this could never have happened.”
Robinson, like his students, went on to stress the importance of education, and of encouraging students to get involved in the community.
“This is one of the most important classes these students will take,” Robinson said. “Because it teaches them how to function, in their workplace as well as in their private lives.”
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