Literacy has been national concern since the mid-1900s. Too many children in America are segregated by low expectations, illiteracy, and self-doubt. But if we succeed in educating our youth, much of that success will follow throughout our country and in the lives of our citizens.
Unfortunately, regardless of the literacy programs already initiated in many of our public schools by our government, illiteracy continues to grow at an alarming rate. According to a study conducted in late April 2015 by the US Department of Education and the National Institute of Literacy, 32 million adults in the United States can’t read above a fifth grade level, and 19% of high school graduates can’t read.
According to the Department of Justice, “The link between academic failure and delinquency, violence, and crime is welding to reading failure.” Statistics back up this claim: 85% of all juveniles who interface with the juvenile court system are functionally illiterate, and over 70% of inmates in America’s prisons cannot read beyond a fourth grade level.
According to UNICEF, “Nearly 1 billion people will exit the 21st century unable to read a book or sign their names and two thirds of them will be women.”
Many of the United States ills are directly related to illiteracy. Here are just a few statistics:
- Literacy is learned. Illiteracy is passed along by parents who cannot read or write.
- One child in four grows up not knowing how to read.
- 43% of adults at level I literacy skills live in poverty compared to only 4% of those at level V.
- Three out of four food stamp recipients perform in the lowest two literacy levels.
- 90% of welfare recipients are high school dropouts.
- 16 to 19-year-old girls at the poverty level and below, with below average reading skills, are 6 times more likely to have out – of – wedlock children, who in turn will have below average reading skills or none at all.
Reading is a complex cognitive process of decoding symbols in order to construct or derive meaning (reading comprehension). It is a means of language acquisition, of communication, and sharing information and ideas. Like all language, it is a complex interaction between the text and the reader which is shaped by the reader’s prior knowledge, experiences, attitude, and language community which is culturally and socially situated. The reading process requires continuous practice, development, and refinement. In addition, reading requires create cavity critical analysis. Consumers of literature make ventures with each piece, innately deviating from literal words to create images that make sense to them in the unfamiliar places the texts described. Because reading is such a complex process, it cannot be controlled or restricted to one or two interpretations.
- 15% of the United States population has specific reading disorders.
- 46% of American adults cannot understand the labels on their pharmaceutical prescriptions.
- 56% of young people claim they read fewer than 10 books a year.
- 50% of U.S. adults are unable to read an eighth grade level book.
- 33% of U.S. high school graduates never read a book after high school.
- 80% of U.S. families have not purchased a book this year.
- 50% of books started are never read to completion.
- 70% of adults have not been in a bookstore in the past five years.
- 15% of U.S. students are dyslexic.
Statistically two thirds of students who cannot read proficiently by the end of fourth grade will end up in jail or on welfare. Students who don’t read proficiently by the third grade are four times likelier to drop out of school.
As of 2011, America was the only free market OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) country where the current generation was less educated than the previous one.
Nearly 85% of the juveniles who face trial in the juvenile court system are functionally illiterate, proving that there is a close relationship between illiteracy and crime. More than 60% of all inmates are functionally illiterate.
53% of fourth graders admitted to reading recreationally “almost every day,” although only 20% of eighth graders could say the same.
Reports show that the rate of low literacy in the United States directly cost the healthcare industry over $17 million every year.
Due to these statistics and so many more, in 2007, Deborah LeBlanc, an author and entrepreneur started Literacy Inc, a 501c3 nonprofit organization. Our mission since inception is to fight the growing illiteracy rate in America’s teens by offering free motivational speeches, E readers, and most importantly hope to high school students nationwide.
Although Literacy Inc.’s mission is to fight for America’s teens on a national basis, our founder has chosen to narrow her focus to her home state, Louisiana, until she has provided E readers for every public high school in the state. The reasoning behind narrowing our focus is that 77% of fourth grade students in Louisiana read below the proficiency level, 85% of the students from low income neighborhoods are not proficient in reading, and 32% of eighth grade students are not proficient in reading skills at all. A decade ago as many as 80% of Louisiana’s fourth-graders were not proficient in reading, third worst in the nation. 10 years later, the rate improved slightly to 77% — yet the state is still third worst in the nation. For Louisiana’s lower income students, reading proficiency remains especially elusive.
Why give Ereaders to students who are not reading in the first place, you ask? It is our belief that Ereaders, which accesses thousands upon thousands of free downloadable books, will provide a much wider variety of interesting topics for student to choose from, thus encouraging them to read.
Regardless and unequivocally it is our goal, our mission, our life’s purpose to provide middle and high school students with hope, no matter their economic status.
Realizing that just handing students an Ereader doesn’t provide enough motivation for them to use it, Deborah personally appears before auditorium-filled middle and high schools, telling students her story—how reading not only saved her life but helped to make her the success she is today. Having been raised in the projects by an abusive mother, fed by food stamps and much harsher realities of life, Deborah shares how books gave her the stepping stones she needed to climb out of that lifestyle instead of using that lifestyle as an excuse to be a failure in the future.
“Your speech was amazing! Sitting there and listening to your story touched me in many ways. Your story inspired me to push myself harder in life.”
– Chase M., Student
“Wow. You moved a lot of kids today. Thank you SO much for coming to Western Heights. You were certainly the talk of the day, and kids were digging into both books.”
– Steve Wedel, English Teacher, Western Heights High, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
“You have inspired me as well as many others. Keep on doing your speeches you really do make a difference.”
– Amber, Student
“The kids still talk about your visit. They were so impressed and you made such a positive impact on them! Thank you.”
– Stephanie R., English Department, West Seattle High School, Seattle, WA
“Ms. LeBlanc was entertaining, enlightening, and inspirational. It brought me great joy to see students reading their books this morning.”
– Tameika A., Literacy Coach and Campus Lead Mentor, Kashmere High School, Houston, TX
“Not too many people would take time out and [visit McKinley]. Now I see someone cares and I’m going to continue reading books and go to college.”
– Diera D., Student
"Thank you so much for coming to our school. You are truly an inspiration to me! You made me realize I can do anything with my life."
– Jennifer C., Student
“I was thrilled by the way you were able to relate to the students, get on their level and share with them the boundless opportunities that await them if they only try.”