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Adult Illiteracy Today: Facts, Myths, And Correctives

April 18, 2007

A New York Times article published today contains some intriguing information on adult illiteracy. The piece is authored by Joseph Berger and written with some New York City particulars in mind. But here are some broadly applicable excerpts (bolds mine):

– “The federally sponsored National Assessment of Adult Illiteracy, in its last survey in 2003, estimated that 14 percent of adults are functionally illiterate: unable to read job applications, bus schedules, labels on the drugs they take.”
– “Some are immigrants who will master English eventually. But many . . . have learning disabilities, and though they may have received diplomas, seldom had teachers along the way who could knowledgeably help them overcome their handicaps.”
– “Experts estimate that up to 80 percent of illiterate adults have a learning malfunction, unable to decode, assimilate or remember information, and that often the problem was either undiagnosed or improperly treated.”
– “Some critics assail special education classes, in which those with learning handicaps like dyslexia constitute the largest proportion, arguing that some students may be classified as disabled not because of a specific handicap but because they are simply too much trouble to teach. But an even more harmful shortcoming is that students in the classes find it difficult to get adequate treatment because teachers are not fully trained, cannot keep order or are wedded to techniques that may not work.”
– “People sometimes stereotype illiterate adults as children of the boondocks who left school to help on farms. But [many are city dwellers who finish] high school with . . . certificate[s] of attendance . . . [or] Individualized Education Program diploma. They [are] not counted as dropouts; nationally about half of learning-disabled students drop out. But the I.E.P. diploma is not accepted by most colleges, the military or employers seeking graduates.”

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FYI: Historian Carl F. Kaestle was a co-author of the 1985 Young Adult Literarcy Assessment. – TL

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