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John Corcoran on Adult Literacy | Doris S. Michaels Literary Agency, Inc.

John Corcoran on Adult Literacy

From the San Diego Union Tribune:


“My task, which I am trying to achieve by the power of the written word is to make you hear, to make you feel … to make you see.” Joseph Conrad, “Lord Jim”

The number of adults reading at an elementary-grade level has grown beyond the 50 percent level in the United States and continues to grow.

The ability to maximize our greatest potential as residents is founded upon each individual possessing basic literacy skills (the fundamentals of learning and communication). Yet we are ignoring the fact that 90 million adults living in America are challenged when reading the business language of the world: English. We can no longer accept the status quo that exists today in too many of our schools. More than 30 percent of our students drop out of school, and if you are African-American, it’s 50 percent, and if you’re Hispanic, it’s 54 percent.

Dr. G. Reid Lyon, former chief of the Child Development and Behavior Branch of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development at the National Institute for Health, estimates 5 percent of children learn to read effortlessly, while another 20 to 30 percent learn to read with relative ease when exposed to any kind of instruction. However, for about 60 percent of students, learning to read is more challenging. Their success is tied directly to the efficacy of instruction. Of those, 20 to 30 percent find reading to be remarkably difficult; how those children are taught to read is critical to their success.

Teachers can’t teach what they haven’t been taught! All teachers participating in “continuing education” to maintain their credentials need to become familiar with the newest advances in teaching reading and how to implement evidence-based instruction into the classroom. Teacher colleges also need to be held accountable and participate in research to determine if what they are teaching our future teachers will work. All first- through sixth-grade teachers should be required to be certified reading specialists if we are to achieve our goal of every child learning to read.

At 48, I learned to read and have been a literacy advocate ever since. I am often tempted to give up on literacy issues, however, with immigration reform and early childhood education being current topics of discussion, it is time to include adult literacy programs in the discussion and legislation.

Today, it is as important to teach adults how to read as it is to teach our children. Adults, two-thirds of whom are parents of school-age children, should be provided with the same opportunity to learn how to read as our children. We hear from schools all the time that they can’t do it alone. Parents that can’t read can’t teach their children how to read. “Together We Can” is more than a motto, it is reality. In other words, going to preschool may be important, but having literate parents is an even greater predictor of a child’s success in school. Adult-family literacy can’t be overlooked.

Literacy and illiteracy are not just words! They are a way of life… illiteracy is a way of life that is limiting and embarrassing. I have lived in our society as an adult not able to read and as one being able to read. If you have not walked the walk of a student or an adult who cannot read, then you may be taking for granted how many times you access the world via the written word.

The written word is the dominant language in the classroom and in the workplace. English is the business language of the world. In our relations with competing international businesses, our ability to collaborate and join together in a common goal is greatly enhanced if we can speak and read our language proficiently. A major, immediate, positive transformation occurs when someone learns to read, despite their challenges. Their self-esteem takes a giant step forward, making them better students, parents, employees, patients, consumers and citizens. For adults, it literally changes their whole outlook on life. It actually changes the way their brain processes.

During upcoming public forums on education all over the country, the opportunity for you to speak out in favor of literacy returning as a major issue should be presented. I urge everyone to take a stand on behalf of literacy and legislation that will promote a more equal educational opportunity for adults to read, as well as children.

Corcoran, a longtime Oceanside resident, is a nationally known literacy advocate and author. He serves on the San Diego Council on Literacy board.