The Legacy of Literacy
If you’ve known me for very long, you know I’m a huge proponent of literacy, and I believe that teaching children a love of books and reading early in life can make all of the difference. In a world full of Amazon Prime, Kindles, Nooks, and Smartphones, we often think that everyone around us can read.
I’m going to start this post by throwing a lot of stats at you. Let them sink in. Read them 2 or 3 times. Really think about them.
Did you know that 1 in 5 Oklahomans cannot read above a 12th grade level? 1 in 20 cannot read above a 9th grade level.
There are a number of factors that contribute to (il)literacy, the most obvious being overall education.
- 5% of Oklahoma adults (18 years and older) are without a 9th grade education.
- 15% are without a high school diploma (or the equivalent).
Want to know what the two biggest risk factors that hinder a child’s early learning and development are (according to the National Center for Family Literacy)?
- Being a member of a low income family
- Your mother’s level of education
How do these factors effect Oklahoma’s children? According to the National Center for Children in Poverty:
- 49% of Oklahoma children live in a low income family
- 84% of those above live in a low income family with parents who do not have a high school diploma
- 46% live in low income families with a single parent
- 18% live in low income families who do not have an employed parent.
In 2003 The National Assessment of Adult Literacy reported that 43% of Oklahomans functioned at basic or below basic literacy skills. This classification means their ability to perform everyday tasks such as reading and/or understanding a simple document was limited.
In 2011 Oklahoma was ranked 48th on a list of healthy states. According to the American Medical Association Foundation:
- More than 700,000 Oklahomans did not understand when their next appointment was scheduled.
- More than 1 million Oklahomans cannot read and follow medical instructions and do not have the literacy to undertake and/or execute necessary medical treatments and preventative health care.
- More than 2 million Oklahomans misinterpret warnings on prescription labels
- Nearly 2.5 million Oklahomans could not understand the rights and responsibilities section of the Medicaid application.
These numbers shock me and break my heart. Our neighbors are fighting to live in a world that so many of us take for granted.
A Early Childhood Longitudinal study found that 62% of parents with a high socioeconomic status read to their children every day compared to only 36% of parents with a low socioeconomic status.
That is a number that does not surprise many of you. Did you scoff at the lower percentage or did your heart break?
Let me ask you; How can we ask a mom, who is working 3 jobs, to read to her child when she leaves before they wake up and gets home after they’re in bed? How can we ask a family to buy books for their children when they’re putting a box of mac n’ cheese back in the grocery store line, and they’re 2 months behind on the electric bill? How do we demand that parents break the cycle of illiteracy and poverty when they are doing the best they can?
I grew up in a home that encouraged reading and creativity. A home that included both parents; parents who were educated. Parents who could put food on the table and books in my hand. What are we doing for those who do not have that luxury?
We know that literacy development begins at birth. It’s not trying to teach your 6 month old the alphabet or your 1 year old to read “Green Eggs and Ham”, but it is letting babies play with books and reading them stories they don’t yet understand. It’s dialoging with them so they can learn language through social literary experiences. This also causes children to associate books with attention, affection, and approval.
3-5 year olds who had been read to at least 3 times per week were two times more likely to recognize all letters, have word-sight connection, and understand words in context.
I don’t have a perfect solution or even a multitude of answers on how to eliminate the literacy crisis in our country. I do know that there are a number of great schools and non-profits out there dedicated to getting books into the hands of children, and at the earliest possible age. I hope you’ll consider joining me to help some of those schools and organizations in the state of Oklahoma.
I have teamed up with Half Price Books (HPB) to organize a “Half Pint Book Drive” from now until March 4th. For the next two weeks, I will be collecting new and gently used children’s books for HPB to distribute to schools and organizations, in need, within our community. For each book you donate, HPB will donate another. Last year 2,200 organizations, nationwide, received books from the “Half Pint Book Drive”, and HPB donated over 1.5 million books to those organizations.
My goal is to collect 100 books in 2 weeks. Those 100 will become 200 books in the hands of children who might not otherwise have any. Will you help me take the first step in improving literacy in our city, state, and nation?
A great place to start is your children’s bookshelves! Please consider donating children’s books that they have outgrown or have duplicates of.
If you plan to attend the “Friends of the Library” book sale this weekend (in OKC), would you please consider purchasing $5 or $10 worth of books? You could donate at least 10 books with their amazing prices!
Please send all donated books to:
10 E. Memorial Road
OKC, OK 73114
If you are in the metro area, please contact me and we can discuss drop off locations or the possibility of meeting times.