'Illiteracy: Slide Continues'

June 30, 1985

Your article takes poignant aim at one of this country's most urgent and enduring problems. Unfortunately, the author misses the mark when she suggests that the lack of federal funds are at the root of this dilemma.

Notwithstanding those illiterates who are recent immigrants, the majority have been afforded every conceivable educational opportunity. Although many social ills such as family problems and inadequate teachers provide an acceptable excuse for some illiterates they are unacceptable excuses for the rest. This is especially true in light of this nation's current magnanimous efforts, both federal and local, funded and volunteer, to combat the crisis.

Let's stop using inadequate federal funding as an excuse for this particular problem. The true reason for this epidemic lies with the lack of initiative, commitment and personal dedication on the part of many illiterates to improve upon their morbid state.

My wife's experiences as a volunteer for the local chapter of the Literacy Coalition, during the past year, have widened my vision with regard to this problem, as I have sat on the sidelines and watched her, on numerous occasions, attempt to convince her unmotivated adult students to return for one more lesson.

Given the fact that her students thus far have been either unemployed, welfare recipients or living at home, few have had the luxury of an acceptable excuse for missing two 1 1/2-hour sessions per week. The statistics in my wife's case are truly depressing: The average student lasted seven weeks before he or she simply dropped out, often without even the courtesy of a phone call. The absenteeism rate during this average period was 54% and again they rarely phoned to acknowledge the absence. So, my wife would spend her personal funds for gasoline and supplies as well as many hours for both the instructional periods and lesson preparations only to be shunned by an ungrateful student. (Please excuse me, the term they prefer to be called by is "learner").

If they want to learn they should contact their local organizations who are ready and anxious to help. Unfortunately, based on poor experience, my perception is that after a few weeks of slow progress they lose the interest and desire and as we all know, it's easy to quit.

I propose that we save our federal funds for those who are truly deserving. Unemployment and welfare already burden our federal budget mercilessly and it is a sin to saddle ourselves with additional programs that yield such meager results. Adults who desire to be literate must make a commitment to the effort. Once our illiterate population shows us that they are willing to accept the individual burden of hard work then we should consider the release of federal funds to ensure that they receive the proper learning environment.



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