March is National Reading and Grammar Month here in the United States. It is built around the birthday of Dr. Seuss, as March 2 is honored with a National Read Across America Day. Libraries and schools from coast to coast held reading parties and celebrated the written word; but for all the festivity, we have so much that needs to be done.
One of the motivations behind this series was a 2010 Detroit News article reporting the city’s literacy rate as 56th place in the nation; it was a saddening and shocking statistic. What’s even more disturbing is that it hasn’t improved in the time since.
Last summer a report by the Detroit Regional Workforce Fund said that 47% of Detroiters are “functionally illiterate;” and some of the northern suburbs are just as bad with rates ranging from 24-35%. One might write this off as yet another example of the decline of the Motor City, but the same report put Detroit only slightly above Washington, D.C. and specific areas surrounding the nation’s capital.
A survey of fourth-grade students around the country found that while 32% can read well, 34% are struggling and the remaining 34% can’t read at all. By the time they’re in eighth grade the number who can read falls to 31%. The number of those who can’t read at all by middle school drops to 26%, but it comes at a cost as those who are struggling rises to 43%!
So what does it mean to be “functionally illiterate,” a problem that plagues even the capital of a once-commanding nation? Simply put, it’s an inability to fill out basic forms such as job applications, or to properly read a prescription bottle.
It has created a nation where a third of the adult population can do little more than correctly read a bus schedule or order off of a fast food menu- most of whom routinely order the same items on return visits because they can’t read about new, improved, or healthier items available.
This has caused another aspect in the social and economic polarization that is taking place across the U.S. because, when compared to other nations, while 19-23% of adults perform at the top of literacy scales (Sweden is the only country that scored higher), there are those who perform in the bottom 21-24%.
Google has trained a society to have a 250 millisecond attention span where we are no longer content on waiting for information and entertainment. We have become a nation where the adventures of Snooki and JWOWW are more entertaining and stimulating than the tales of Charles Dickens; where we take to our smartphones to vote for the next big performer based on popularity rather than by talent, perseverance, and hard work. Forget the years of honing and developing your craft by learning from each success and failure; these are the days of quick trips to the top of the pack. We have allowed ourselves to be so dumbed down that most of the texting public no longer sees the grammatical difference between “your” and “you’re,” and replacing both with “UR.” Don’t even get me started on those who get an attitude when I point out the difference between their, there, and they’re- and the proper context to use them in. This is a major component in the problem of a society that truly is functionally illiterate. What’s more embarrassing is that we’ve become complacent about it.
Zombies are quite popular in entertainment these days, and the boom in pop culture interest even won me over with shows like AMC’s The Walking Dead; but while a zombie apocalypse has long been a popular scenario of disaster literature, as of late the walking dead have been slowly making their way out of the pages of fantasy and into reality.
It starts with a small group of soulless, brain-dead individuals who use their positions of power and influence to suck the logic and independence out of the minds of others, who in turn inflict those around them by spreading the diatribes of these fools. They know that knowledge is power; and what better way to stay in power than to suppress and usurp knowledge and the truth.
When we ban books, make reading and creative thought “uncool”, replace science with ignorance, and we let the trash that passes for reality television dictate what is and is not popular we become a people aimlessly shuffling about in a mindless daze. This is how the epidemic of indifference spreads and the functionally illiterate become the norm rather than the exception.
The interesting thing about zombies, though, is that they move very slowly. When you hear the mind-numbing groans of the brain-dead, simply turn and run.
For more information on the Banned Books Awareness and Reading for Knowledge project and the complete list of titles covered, please visit the official website at http://www.deepforestproductions.com/BBARK.html
Sources: American Library Association, Wikipedia, Detroit News, WWJ Detroit, Detroit Regional Workforce Fund, National Center for Education Statistics, ABC News
© 2012 R. Wolf Baldassarro/Deep Forest Productions