James Flanigan's March 20 column, "Helping Johnny Learn to Read Is Top Priority," pointed out that we are nationally spending $308.6 billion a year on education, yet 20% of American adults can't read. Flanigan cites other figures, such as the $4,600 a year in social costs and lost taxes for every dropout, translating to a national cost over their lifetimes of $240 billion for every class of dropouts.
Actually, it long has been an acknowledged scandal that we annually graduate from our public schools masses of young people who cannot read, write or cipher. And it is heartening that it now merits space in the Business section.
But it is sad that the best reason for change apparently never has been considered--that by graduating (or dropping out) without the tools of learning, these young people are being cheated. They are cheated by being turned out into a world of mass propaganda with no defense against it. They are cheated because they have almost no chance of realizing enrichment through lifelong learning.
So Flanigan's column also says a great deal about our mores and raises the question: How much must the dollar loss become before the human problem is considered significant?
WILLARD M. HANZLIK