Jessica - Staunton, Virginia
Entered on March 2, 2009
Age Group: 18 - 30
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It is hard, but important, for people to understand that illiteracy, including illiteracy of the English language, creates many struggles for some people to live day-to-day in our society. I believe that our country’s educational system and families of America need to refocus their educational concerns and address illiteracy for all people in our country.

You may imagine illiteracy as not being able to read a book, write a letter, or speak a single sentence in English. What many people fail to realize is that illiteracy affects people in ways that are damaging to their self-esteem and relationships. It also may make them feel extremely uncomfortable in situations, even unsafe and unprotected. For example, an illiterate person may not be able to obtain a driver’s license because they can’t read the road signs. He or she may not be able to read or listen to the morning news every day. In a more extreme example, the person may not be able to fill out forms for job applications, forms for medical care, or even read the monthly telephone bill.

The first time I realized that this was something I truly believe in came during high school. Each student in my class was suppose to read a paragraph from a book. Everything was going smoothly until the next paragraph reached a quiet boy, who rarely spoke in class. He slowly began to read the paragraph, skipping longer words that he didn’t know how to pronounce. Some people in the class began to laugh, and the teacher gave them a menacing look, but it was too late by then. The boy stood up and walked out of the room from embarrassment.

I had never felt so bad for anyone. It was obvious from previous experiences in the class that he didn’t speak English very well, but we had never heard him try to read aloud. It was obvious from his facial expression that he was horrified, almost like he felt as if he were an outcast from the rest of the class.

Although I have never been in this boy’s situation, just imagine being in his place. Just think, if we were all to move to France tomorrow, we would be loners. Most of us wouldn’t be able to communicate to the French-speaking people, and we definitely wouldn’t be able to just find our way around without asking directions. We would be completely lost and out of the loop, just like the boy in my class.

Our schools and parents need to recognize illiteracy and provide interventions, such as reading to children at home at an early age and remedial instruction. As we help people to learn literacy skills, we are also increasing their chances of being successful in life.