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A TIMES PUBLIC SERVICE REPORT : A Memo From the Mayor

Californians Who Can't Read: First In A Three Part Serires

May 29, 1988|Tom Bradley, Mayor of the City of Los Angeles

A MERE 12--YEARS FROM NOW, IN THE YEAR 2000, Los Angeles will be the premiere "Crossroads City" of the Pacific Rim and the economic axis of the Western Hemisphere. Spurred by trade ties with the Pacific Rim nations, our city will be able to sustain managed growth and create new job opportunities well into the 21st Century.

But as bright as our city's future looks, it is an unfortunate reality that a growing segment of our population may see many of their opportunities slip through their grasp because they lack the ability to be functionally literate in everyday life.

As Los Angeles grows in stature and influence, it is imperative that we maintain a firm commitment to the education of those adults who are illiterate or marginally illiterate within our city. .It is equally imperative that we ensure that our young people receive educations which will enable them to be fully functional members in society. To do less is to strand thousands of Los Angeles residents in low-skilled and low-wage labor intensive jobs.

Illiteracy in Los Angeles (does not discriminate and it knows no boundaries). It can rob a person of the opportunity for full participation in city life, no matter his color, background or economic status.

Our challenge is to strike at the heart of the root causes of illiteracy and provide literacy programs before a person's inability to read and write cheats him of his future. If Los Angeles is to be a true "Crossroads City," we must reach out to those persons for whom written and visual communication has become an overwhelming obstacle fueled by shame and humiliation.

To meet this challenge, we must forge a public-private partnership that involves our educators, business and civic leaders, charitable foundations, labor unions, non-profit organizations, churches and community groups. Literacy in Los Angeles must not be approached as simply a laudable objective, it must be viewed as an attainable goal.

Reversing the trend toward greater adult illiteracy is just one part of the literacy problem that deserves our attention and the commitment of our human resources. Adults who are unable to read or write invariably began their path toward functional illiteracy during their youth, many as high school dropouts. Providing the motivation for young people to remain in school and graduate with reading and writing skills at the senior high level must be our top priority.

Literacy programs must also be accessible to the residents of every community within our city so that no one is forced to overcome substantial geographical barriers in their quest for literacy. Recent Los Angeles immigrants, particularly those not fluent in English, must become the beneficiaries of community literacy outreach programs staffed by volunteers and supported by community-based organizations.

We must make the attainment of literacy in our city a quality-of-life concern in which we all share for the greater good of a better Los Angeles whose citizens are full participants in the 21st century. We must strongly support programs such as Project Literacy United Staes (PLUS) and become unyielding advocates for the expansion of adult education programs to combat illiteracy funded by our state and federal tax dollars.

Lastly, we must not relate to illiteracy as a someone else's problem. Those of us who are fortunate enough to be able to read these words must help those who can not yet master that task. the reason is clear. Someday--while on our jobs or in our homes--our lives may depend on co-workers, neighbors or family members who must read emergency instructions in order to provide life-sustaining aid.

Literacy as a life-and-death issue? Of course not, our lives don't hang in the balance based on our reading and writing skills. But the quality of our lives and the opportunity to achieve our full potential are closely linked to our ability to communicate in a complex and technological world. As Los Angeles grows in world stature, let us help all of our citizens share in its promise. Let us make Literacy in Los Angeles a 21st Century reality.

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