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Non-readers are imprisoned by a skill they don't possess

September 08, 2000

Non-readers are imprisoned by a skill they don't possess



"When the press is free and every man able to read, all is well."

So said Thomas Jefferson, one of the nation's Founding Fathers. Jefferson understood, more than 200 years ago, that those who cannot understand the debate on the issues of the day are seriously handicapped by their inability to read.

Today, to emphasize the importance of reading - and understanding what's been read - we celebrate International Literacy Day. Elsewhere in today's Herald-Mail newspapers is a story about what the literacy issue means to Washington County. But those local folks who can read shouldn't assume the issue doesn't affect them.

In 1999, Washington County officials estimated that 17 percent of all local residents couldn't read at a sixth-grade level. What does that say to prospective industries which need employees who can read and understand technical manuals and communicate with suppliers and service providers?

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And it gets worse; those workers who are unemployable because they're illiterate cost U.S. taxpayers $5 billion a year in welfare benefits.

But more important than economics is the fact that those who can't read documents like the U.S. Constitution, which requires reading skills on a ninth-grade level, don't really know what rights they're guaranteed as Americans. As Jefferson knew so well, you can understand the debate on important topics only if you're able to read.

At its lowest level, being illiterate means being unable to read a road map, fill out a job application or check an order to see if it's been filled properly. If you have children, encourage them to read. If not, back literacy-promotion efforts designed to open non-readers' eyes and minds to the world of print that's all around them.

And if you have the time, consider volunteering to teach adults to read by calling the Washington County Literacy Council at (301) 739-4208. It's not a job that's accomplished overnight, but how often do you get to do something that really changes someone's life for the better?

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