Thursday, April 19, 2007

You can read this

But thirty million Americans can't. The lowest level of literacy in this country is defined as being able to read a bus schedule or total a deposit slip and about 15% of us can't do that. An additional 63 million of us can do that but not much else, which means that they aren't reading to their kids, succeeding in the classroom, working in higher-level positions, or even completing detailed paperwork (like a job application or insurance disclosure) without assistance. All of this is according to the National Assessment of Adult Literacy study done in 2003.

I attended an orientation last week as part of the Literacy Plus program at the library. It was the first step of training; there are all-day trainings both of the next two Saturdays and a follow-up shortly after we are matched with our first "tutees." There were eight people at the orientation, one man, seven women; three retirees; two people who work in schools; four under forty; one who was a literacy tutor in Atlanta before moving here.

We talked about the different roles in which one reads: Family member, someone who pays bills and makes household decisions; worker; community member; and life-long learner. The person leading the orientation asked us to think about what we did that day and separate all the reading we did into the different roles we had played. I hadn't really done much that day except stop by the bank on my way to a healthy checkup appointment in Oakland, but when I broke it down it sounded like a lot.

A) As a family member, I deposited a check, read the Patient's Right to Privacy document requiring my signature, and avoided getting a ticket by reading the street-sweeping-no-parking sign.

B) As a worker, well, I hadn't worked that day at the food bank or the Homework Help program, but I had read the news and the blogs I follow as well as the alumni magazine so I could write this later that evening. Of course I sent and received multiple emails about a number of things.

C) As a community member, I followed the directions to the clinic, and when I got lost getting back to the highway (which often happens to me in Oakland) I read the street signs and the "Entrance 880 North" signs while trying to get back to an 880 South entrance.

D) As a life-long learner, I read the instructions for the appointment (which told me to avoid ingesting anything but water before the appointment), read a memoir while waiting for my appointment, and reviewed the nurse practitioner's summary sheet at the end of the appointment.

I've been reading since before I can remember, and I don't even notice it unless I'm looking at a computer screen or holding a book. The people who had gone into an office and worked that day had even more detailed lists than I, and I was staggered by my own list. Are you?

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