BY SHARON MARTIN
In 2005, 85% of the juveniles who had dealings with the juvenile court system were functionally illiterate. According to the National Adult Literacy Survey [NALS], 7 out of 10 prison inmates in the United States read below the fourth grade level.
Those are prisoners. What about our neighbors?
According to NALS, 16% [about one in six] of the adults in the county where I live cannot read a map, figure the cost of purchases on an order form, or fill out an application.
The results are predictable. If you can’t fill out an application, you might have trouble getting a job. NALS agreed, saying that adults “with the ability to perform challenging and complex reading tasks” had an average income more than double those “who lacked basic skills.”
The average income for readers is more than $50,000 a year. Nonreaders average less than $23,000 a year. That’s the average.
How many of these nonreaders, who are often highly intelligent and capable of earning a living based on specialized non-reading skills, earn much more? How many, with no marketable skills at all, earn much less?
There are plenty of people who say this is not our problem. Who feeds the people with no means to feed themselves?
One school of thought says that the fit survive and everyone else is expendable. But too often those with no choices turn to crime. The high cost of crime is our problem. Our tax dollars build prisons and pay guards. We funnel taxpayer money into the pockets of corrections corporations.
It costs more to incarcerate a person than it does to educate them.
We are the government. Our public employees and representatives are charged with taking the money we throw into the kitty and returning necessary services to us. As the citizens paying the bills, we get to decide how that money is invested. It’s not up to our legislators to decide for us; it is up to us to tell them what we want. That’s democracy.
Would you rather pay reading teachers or prison guards? Would you rather see a generation of productive citizens who contribute to our society or would you prefer to spend your money cleaning up the mess that uneducated, unemployable citizens create?
These are questions facing the state Legislature. I suggest you call your representatives and tell them which side you come down on.
– Sharon Martin lives in Oilton, OK and is a regular contributor to The Oklahoma Observer