Our literacy is society’s shared legacy

The United States, as a whole, can be exceptionally proud of its literacy rate. We are, according to The World Factbook, among the most literate people in the world.

A whopping 99 percent of the entire population of this country has learned to read by the age of 15.

That’s not quite as good as the citizens of the Ukraine or Uzbekistan, but slightly better than the Austrians. We are equally literate as the good people Down Under, as the Irish and the Brits, and as our neighbors to the north.

People living in Norway and Liechtenstein are slightly more literate, at 100 percent, as are the people living in Andorra, Greenland and North Korea.

In Afghanistan, the literacy rate is 43.1 percent. In Iraq, it’s 78.5 percent.

Generally speaking, the literacy rate is lowest in African countries, including Nigeria (61.3 percent), Somalia (37.8 percent), South Sudan (27 percent), Togo (60.4 percent) and Zambia (61.4 percent).

So, in a comparison of the world, we’re doing pretty well.

And, if we compare Maine to the rest of the country, we're doing better than most.

Maine's illiteracy rate is 7 percent, which means 7 percent of the school-age or older population lacks basic literacy skills. That's better than Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut, and since New England — as a region — has one of the lowest illiteracy rates in the country Maine has a lot to be proud of.

Even so, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, the illiteracy rate in Androscoggin County is 9 percent, which is a tremendous improvement over 20 years ago when the illiteracy rate topped 20 percent, but it still means that hundreds of people cannot read.

The illiteracy rate is 9 percent in Oxford County and 8 percent in Franklin County, both of which are also improved from 1992, but still higher than the state’s overall illiteracy rate.

We can do better.

Being able to read is not only about enjoying the latest New York Times bestseller or being able to select just the right birthday card for a favorite nephew. It’s a basic skill that allows us to function in society and earn a decent living.

It allows us to read what ingredients are in the foods we eat, what instructions our doctors provide for prescription drug use, how to decipher the instructions to build a child’s bicycle, or put together a newborn’s crib. Reading allows us to navigate our highways, to fill out a job application, understand a technical manual or compose a love note to a spouse.

Unfortunately, one in four children in this country grow up without learning to read. Many of them pick up the skill later, while others just make d0 without, or not.

According to child advocates, two-thirds of students who cannot read by the time they enter the fourth grade will likely end up in jail or on welfare when they become adults because they don’t have the language skills needed to apply for and perform a job and often turn to crime or rely on social services for basic survival.

Interestingly, about half of the nation’s fourth-graders self-report they like to read for fun. By the time these students are in the eighth grade, only 20 percent still do.

That may be because reading is considered a learned skill. Not just in learning how to recognize and pronounce words, but in learning to make reading a daily habit, which can best by done by seeing others in the household — particularly parents — regularly read.

That’s why the family literacy initiative announced Tuesday by LearningWorks is so important: it will bring reading lessons — through teachers and volunteers — to entire families in Lewiston, not just to school-aged children.

In families where parents do not read — no matter what language they speak — it’s often difficult for a child to do reading assignments, or any homework at all. So, they don’t. Or, when they do, they may not be doing it right because no adult in the home is able to help. That, then, leads to a child’s frustration in school and — very possibly — a dislike of reading and learning.

LearningWorks, in cooperation with the Hudson Foundation, which supports programs to assist at-risk immigrant and refugee youth throughout New England, and the Walmart Foundation, which provides millions of dollars in support of community programs throughout the country, will launch the Lewiston Literacy Program in January.

It started, according to LearningWorks CEO Ethan Strimling, when Lewiston Mayor Robert Macdonald approached him for help teaching immigrant families to read.

Lessons will be taught in teaching space available through the Lewiston Housing Authority and in family homes, in cooperation with the city's school department, and the partners hope to serve between 25 and 30 families in the first year.

One of the most enjoyable parenting experiences is reading with a child, whether reading to that child or having that child read to you. But it’s more than that.

To be able to read is to be able to learn, to succeed and to thrive. To be able to understand concepts and produce original ideas.

What more could we possibly want for our children?

While cliche, it is also true that these youngsters will become our work force. They will become our leaders and will shape our society in the years to come.

It is not simply our responsibility to ensure their literacy, it is our legacy.


The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and the editorial board.

What do you think of this story?

Login to post comments

In order to make comments, you must create a subscription.

In order to comment on SunJournal.com, you must hold a valid subscription allowing access to this website. You must use your real name and include the town in which you live in your SunJournal.com profile. To subscribe or link your existing subscription click here.

Login or create an account here.

Our policy prohibits comments that are:

  • Defamatory, abusive, obscene, racist, or otherwise hateful
  • Excessively foul and/or vulgar
  • Inappropriately sexual
  • Baseless personal attacks or otherwise threatening
  • Contain illegal material, or material that infringes on the rights of others
  • Commercial postings attempting to sell a product/item
If you violate this policy, your comment will be removed and your account may be banned from posting comments.



PAUL ST JEAN's picture

They might be literate, but

They might be literate, but they can't spil, rite, or put twogether too senftences wifout a mistaka. Literate my foote.

Steve  Dosh's picture

Tabanak Jaque ! gr8 , Paul

Tabanak Jaque ! gr8 , Paul . t t y l & hth Steve ?

 's picture

"A whopping 99 percent of the

"A whopping 99 percent of the entire population of this country has learned to read by the age of 15." and "Unfortunately, one in four children in this country grow up without learning to read. Many of them pick up the skill later, while others just make d0 without, or not." You are right. How can both these statements be true?

Steve  Dosh's picture

Jon , Glad you picked up on

Jon ,
Glad you picked up on that point •
/s a former volunteer ESL teacher in Loystone named Steve :D
¿ ƒact ? LSJ ®  ?
†hey do issue retractions from time - to time )

RONALD RIML's picture


But not very well read.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Too busy to read. Gots to

Too busy to read. Gots to play dem video games.

 's picture


Hey Guvna! Better cut some more out of Head Start. Don't want kids gettin' too smart!

Steve  Dosh's picture

Mark , Do we detect a note of

Mark , Do we detect a note of sarchasm [ sic. ] ( the gulf between a sarcastic wit and the people who do not get it )
Yeah Paul ? Cut out W I C , T A N F , S N A P and welfare whilst you are at it , move out of Blaire House and let the common folk like us single moms and dads live there at taxpayer expense with full pension and annuity , health insurance , a protective State police detail , and chauffeur service
Sound like a plan ?
Yeah it is •
Resign already Le Page . No one likes or respects you , you big bully . Read the handwriting on the wall in your stall . Mainers don't need a weather man to know which way the wind blows , either
/s , an out of stater • 

 's picture

These numbers don't make

These numbers don't make sense. At the beginning of this piece it says the USA has a 99% literacy rate. That would mean a 1% illliteracy rate. Then it goes on to say Maine, with a 7% illiteracy rate, is doing better than the rest of the country. How is 93% better than 99% when the subject is literacy?

ERNEST LABBE's picture

I wondered

I wondered that myself. Theres an old saying " figures lie, and liers figure. I'm surprised Ronald didn't catch that misrepresention.

Steve  Dosh's picture

Ernie ? Spell ? Liars •

Ernie ? Spell ? Liars • hth ;)
" Figures don't lie . Liars go figure ."
/s , a former CPA
" You got the curves , i got the angles ."
You can quote me on that , Ron :D

RONALD RIML's picture

Ron merely skimmed the article.......

As a bookseller, I've some idea of the difference between literal 'literacy' and being a 'reader.' 'Uncle Henry's doesn't count, (nor do 'Bodice Ripper's) - we've got damn fewer actual readers than folks suppose.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

What are you talking about?

What are you talking about? The parrot sez he reads the National Enquirer and People magazine every week. "If it ain't in the Enquirer, it ain't happening." sez he.

Steve  Dosh's picture

Paul ? Wrong paper †ry this

Paul ?
Wrong paper
†ry this one --> http://www.twincitytimes.com <-- not an endorsement , LSJ ® readers
/s , Steve ( back in Hawai'i )
Happy Halloween week , Mainers !


Stay informed — Get the news delivered for free in your inbox.

I'm interested in ...