Literacy in Alabama
3:46 am
Wed September 3, 2008

Reading the Signs to Success - part 3

Tuscaloosa AL – Our series on adult illiteracy continues this morning with a look at its effects on children, and you. When one in four people around you can't read what's at risk for Alabama's future? Alabama Public Radio's Brett Tannehill reports

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Illiteracy destroys communities.
It is linked to crime, unemployment, poverty and homelessness. It kills job growth and drains social services. Jackie Wuska with the Literacy Council of Central Alabama says, worst of all, illiteracy perpetuates itself, generation to generation, in households where adults don't read.

WUSKA - But if a parent can't read, they can't share the joy of reading with that child. And reading aloud to your child increases reading comprehension, vocabulary, attention span, even a love of reading. But children who are born to parents who can't read - those children are 50-percent more likely to be unable to read themselves. So it's cyclical. If a parent can't read, they can't read to their child and when they get to school, they're already behind."

And that translates into some rather alarming costs to taxpayers. A study by Princeton University shows that in a lifetime, an average non-reader contributes 60-thousand dollars less in taxes and costs taxpayers 127-thousand-dollars in social services. Also, the difference in lifetime income between those who do and don't graduate high school is about 260-thousand dollars. Education consultant Dr. Ray Hart says considering those numbers, even small improvements will yield big results. He says one community he worked with raised their graduation rate by about 3-percent. It's not a big improvement on the surface, but ...

HART - "It comes out to be about an 18-20 million dollar difference in terms of what those individuals are able to contribute to the community. It makes a huge difference when you look at the numbers and what actually happens in the background when a student drops out of high school and doesn't finish."

AYCOCK - "Sometimes when you hear the word "illiterate" you think the person is just dumb or lazy. That's not the truth. The truth is somewhere along the line they fell through the cracks."

Johnnie Aycock is president of West Alabama Chamber of Commerce.

AYCOCK - "But these are smart intelligent people and we need to be supporting, and encouraging and nurturing their literacy skills. And enhance their ability not only to survive, but to thrive and succeed."

Aycock hopes the Chamber and Rotary International of Tuscaloosa can help improve adult education across the Black Belt, and bring some of the social and economic improvements mentioned in this series. In yesterday's report, we climbed into Louie Singleton's dumpster truck, and talked to him about "falling through the cracks". He dropped out of school to support his family after his father got too sick to work. He raised four children, but didn't learn to read until he was in his 50s. Now he says reading, and all its joys and benefits, will be with him forever.

SINGLETON - "You couldn't buy it back from me for a million dollars. I'd walk away from it. I've said that I don't know how many times. You just couldn't do it. It's like you can learn somebody how to fish and they can eat for a lifetime. Reading is the same way. You can help someone with a word and tell them what it is, but if you learn them to read, then you've done something."

Advocates for adult education hope to do something big statewide by establishing a series of Literacy Councils that would help connect education programs with the people who need them. Efforts to establish a Literacy Council for West Alabama are already well underway. These Councils could change the state forever. But it will take thousands of small victories like that of Louie Singleton.

For APR News, I'm Brett Tannehill

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