End Illiteracy in English

The problem of English functional illiteracy is a very real nightmare, but the solution is easier than you would ever dare to dream.

Debunking All Reasonable Objections to Spelling Reform, Part 5

This is the blog where I “bare my soul” — or “spill my guts,” as the saying goes — and the blog where I name the names of the “guilty.”

This the fifth in a series of five blogs in which the falsity of all the “reasonable” objections to spelling reform is exposed. This is the objection which is quite obviously dependent upon a person’s opinion rather than upon a careful consideration of all the pros and cons of the idea. It is the result of reaction for or against only one or two aspects of the idea. In a sense, it is the most difficult to counter because it is based upon a firm opinion, not upon all of the facts.

Perhaps the best example of the objection mentioned in the previous paragraph is the following. Some scholars will say we need to keep our present spelling even though spelling phonemically would reduce the variability in the spelling of plurals because in traditional spelling there are four different ways of spelling plurals: adding S or ES to words not ending in S or Y, adding SES to words ending in S, and changing Y to I and adding ES. There are only three sounds of plurals, S, Z, or UZ. Words in which the plurals are formed in a different manner would be about the same in traditional spelling and in phonemic spelling, such as NuEnglish, which is promoted in these blogs. (See the page in the heading titled “Why NuEnglish is the Optimum Spelling System” to see why we are recommending NuEnglish.)

One scholar (who will probably appreciate remaining anonymous, if he carefully examines this blog) states that the actual differences in sound are “irrelevant.” Let’s analyze this statement. If written communication were the primary form of communication (that is, if all spoken communication were just a way of turning the written words into sounds) and if everyone who had a need to read English knew exactly what sounds every S added to show plurals stood for, the statement might have some validity. Neither “if” is true, however, and the first “if” is the exact opposite of the truth. Regarding the first “if,” the spoken language is primary for these reasons.

  1. Almost everyone learns to speak their native language before learning to read it.
  2. Human beings act as talkers and listeners much more than as readers and writers; 90 percent of all human communication is through speech. (Mario A. Pei, “Language,” The World Book Encyclopedia1979, vol.12, p. 62) Note, however, that written words can be disseminated to more people more easily than spoken words, and the value of what is communicated by written words is often greater.
  3. David Crystal points out that, “No community has ever been found to lack spoken language, but only a minority of languages have ever been written down.” (David Crystal, The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language, 1987, p. 123)
  4. Writing is simply a way of making spoken words or vocal ideas in the mind permanent for later use by the writer or someone else that the writer wants to communicate with but cannot (or does not desire to) speak to.
  5. Whether a language has a written form is irrelevant to the characteristics of the language itself. Many unwritten languages are as highly structured, as rich in vocabulary, and as efficient for communication as languages that are written.

As Aristotle expressed it, “Spoken words are the symbols of mental experience and written words are the symbols of spoken words.” (I. J. Gelb, A Study of Writing, 1963, p. 13) Regarding the second “if,” both beginning readers (especially immigrants trying to learn English) and adult illiterates are badly confused by written words that give no hint of how they are pronounced. Since most English words are learned in spoken form first, if the written word does not suggest how it is to be pronounced, it often cannot be recognized (read).

Why Do Some Scholars Oppose Our Proposed Solution?

Most scholars insist upon precision and “exactitude” (as they should). A few scholars insist upon “pedantic exactitude.” This is insistence upon maintaining “high standards of scholarship” for the purpose of displaying their scholarship. NuEnglish will not require the scholarship of remembering complex spellings and spelling rules. We must not misjudge motives, however. We must not casually attribute all scholarly opposition to spelling reform to pedantic exactitude. Most opposition to spelling reform comes from a natural human resistance to change. It also comes from overlooking the real purpose of a written language. Scholars (like the rest of us) can easily isolate themselves from the monetary and human-suffering costs of illiteracy to such an extent that they may even fail to see that

. . . the purpose of writing is to COMMUNICATE IDEAS, not to display an ability to remember complex spelling rules and traditional spellings of thousands of words.

Dr. Thomas R. Lounsbury, LL.D, L.H.D, emeritus professor of English, Yale University, presents a devastating attack against all the common objections to spelling reform mentioned in previous blogs, as well as the objection of spelling homonyms the same, in his book English Spelling and Spelling Reform published in 1909. He convincingly demonstrates that the real motivation in opposing spelling reform is the natural human tendency to resist change — even change for the better. Although Dr. Lounsbury convincingly disproved the objections to spelling reform, his book is a scholarly one which was evidently not as widely circulated as it should have been. As a result, present-day references to spelling reform still dredge up these same disproven objections as sufficient, in themselves, to dismiss any further consideration of spelling reform. Perhaps another reason his book had no lasting influence is that, although he vehemently attacked what he recognized as ridiculous arguments against spelling reform, he did not take the next logical step of proposing a solution to the problem by advocating a specific spelling reform proposal. The book Let’s End Our Literacy Crisis, Second Revision does propose a specific spelling reform. A link to a no-cost, no-obligation copy of this breakthrough book is available in the left-hand column of our website for ending English functional illiteracy.

A Common Injustice to Writers

As I am sure you are aware, the number of sales of a book does not depend upon the merit of the book nearly as much as upon how well-known the author may be. Books written by celebrities often sell millions of copies as soon as released. After a large number of people read the book and decide there is little value to the book other than learning interesting facts about the author, the sales will drop off considerably. Many of the books by celebrities make no proposals which will benefit mankind, such as Let’s End Our Literacy Crisis, Second Revision attempts to do.

I have spent twenty-seven years of my life in researching and writing a book which I am absolutely convinced will greatly benefit every English-speaking person on earth and the nations they live in. I have spent multiple hundreds of hours in researching illiteracy and its cure and in preparing tables and figures for my books — several of the tables required a full day of work to format them to a 5 in. by 8 in. page and still remain legible.

I have spent over $35,000 of my IRA on marketing programs, books sent free to dozens of reviewers, computers, computer programs and accessories, and office supplies and services. Seeing essentially worthless (but entertaining) books sell millions of copies while I have difficulty in getting any serious attention is extremely frustrating. To date, no one of influence other than Gary Sprunk, a person with a genius mentality and a Masters Degree in English Linguistics, has helped in my humanitarian project to end English illiteracy.

Here is a very brief resume to show that my experience as a writer is not a shallow experience. I have a Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering degree and worked for Hercules Incorporated for 29 years as an Aerospace, Product, or Safety Engineer. In my last assignment at Hercules I was a Safety Engineer in a $400 million solid-propellant rocket motor manufacturing plant. My boss and I had to review every proposal made by other engineers to change the materials, the equipment, the facilities, the procedure, or the rocket motors themselves. The casting solvent for the solid propellant is about 90% nitroglycerin, which is extremely sensitive to electrostatic discharge, excessive heat, or even mechanical shock (you must NOT bump a container holding liquid that is 90% NG). If we approved the change, my boss and I and the proposing engineer presented the change to the Plant Process Control Board, consisting of the Plant Manager, Assistant Plant Manager, and the heads of all the departments. If we made a mistake, several people could die and property damage of millions of dollars could occur.

I had to write detailed reports of the findings. All of this was good preparation for my research on English literacy which I began in 1985. I realize that measures of intelligence mean little to most people, but for whatever it is worth: a recent IQ test rated my IQ as 133. Supposedly anyone with an IQ over 140 is rated as a genius, so I am certainly not a genius, but my collaborator, Gary Sprunk, has an IQ of about 155 and his work proves that his rating is well-deserved.

Despite all of the facts in the two previous paragraphs, I am still essentially a nobody to over 99.9% of the people who read this blog and who read my book. People have a tendency not to take seriously those who are nobodies. It is as if only the well known scholars, scientists, and inventors of the world can come up with good ideas. It goes much deeper than that, however — my humanitarian project intersects with celebrities.

Celebrities, quite understandably, are almost always very busy. They are busy receiving adulation — and quite often: gifts — from their fans. Seventy-eight celebrities received a gift from me. Copies of my book cost me $17.95 each (since I did not buy them in quantities of more than one hundred) and another $6 to $8 dollars to mail (by Priority Mail, to give the book a little extra sense of value). I sent them a cover letter, a one page article about my book prepared for magazine publication, a five page synopsis of the book, several pages from the government commissioned study of U.S. adult illiteracy, a page with two short suggested endorsements that they could choose or a space for an endorsement that they chose to write, and a copy of my book.

Seven of these celebrities (or more likely: their screeners) had the decency to send me a letter saying that they did not endorse books. The other seventy-one completely ignored my package. It is as if the package did not exist. In fairness, many of the celebrities may not have seen my book. Most of them have someone screen all of their mail. The screeners may have jumped to the conclusion that something that seemed to be too good to be true (that a nobody, an unknown person such as myself, could SOLVE a literacy crisis that they are not convinced even exists) was not true, and they did not want criticism from the celebrity for bothering them with something they were too busy and too important to examine.

I sent copies of my book to every celebrity who has expressed an interest in education, literacy, or dyslexia, as reported by a service that provides contact information about celebrities, categorized by what the celebrities have said they are interested in. Copies were delivered to Andre Agassi, Troy Aikman, Julie Andrews, Jeff Bridges, Garth Brooks, Jimmy Buffet, Jose Carreras, Cher, Deepak Chopra, Bill Cosby, Tom Cruise, Jamie Lee Curtis, Neil Diamond, Michael J. Fox, Whoopi Goldberg, Jeff Goldblum, Tom Green, Valerie Harper, Faith Hill, Mick Jagger, George Lucas, Yo-Yo Ma, Wynton Marsalis, Dr. Phil McGraw, Rupert Murdoch, Dolly Parton, Itzhak Perlman, Keanu Reeves, Rob Reiner, Geraldo Rivera, Nolan Ryan, Carlos Santana, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Maria Shriver, Sylvester Stallone, Elizabeth Taylor, Charlize Theron, Justin Timberlake, John Travolta, Selena Williams, and Oprah Winfrey between October 3 and October 7, 2008.

Copies were delivered to Princess Beatrice, Halle Berry, Christopher (Ludacris) Bridges, Sergey Brin, Warren Buffet, William J. Clinton, Phil Collins, Michael S. Dell, Matt Dillon, William H. Gates, Wayne Gretzky, Tom Hanks, Goldie Hawn, Samuel L. Jackson, Earvin (Magic) Johnson Jr., Angelina Jolie, Jon Bon Jovi, Ashley Judd, Jessica Lange, Jay Leno, Lindsay Lohan, Yao Ming, Mike Myers, Lou Diamond Phillips, J.K. Rowling, Kurt Russell, Brooke Shields, Gary Sinise, Sharon Stone, Alex Trebek, Denzel Washington, and Kate Winslet between October 1 and October 5, 2009.

It is astounding to me that at least one or two of these people who have expressed an interest in education, literacy, and/or dyslexia or their screeners would not be a little curious, read the cover letter, and then spend a few minutes with the other pages in the package, and send me an endorsement. Is their expressed interest real or just for show? You be the judge. Almost all celebrities are interested in helping alleviate poverty, and some celebrities actually so something about it, but the number of people helped in in the dozens, or even the thousands. If celebrities were interested in helping end functional illiteracy, which is one of the main causes of poverty, they could instead help hundreds of millions of people in one “swell foop,” as Reverend Spooner would say.

The website of Literacy Research Associates, Inc. and NuEnglish, Inc. (two non-profit educational corporations) gives a very good introduction to our humanitarian project of permanently ending English functional illiteracy. It gives five short statements about the serious problem of English functional illiteracy and five short statements about the simple, proven solution to illiteracy. The “Read More” pages following each statement gives the proof of the statement. This page can be read in less than six minutes and if read carefully and honestly will convince all but the most skeptical readers, who will probably be convinced by the much more authoritative and comprehensive information in the book titled, Let’s End Our Literacy Crisis, Second Revision which is available at no cost or obligation in the left-hand column of the website.

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Debunking All Reasonable Objections to Spelling Reform, Part 4

If you have been reading these blogs and are not concerned about literacy — or more specifically, the shocking level of English functional illiteracy around the world — you have not been paying proper attention to what you read. Or you need to read the most complete blog about our humanitarian project, “America’s Dirty Little Secret.”

If they knew the situation you now face, at least 600 million people would hope you aren’t reading this just for entertainment or for temporary relief from boredom. For the benefit of these 600 million — and for your own benefit — they are hoping you will take action on what you read. For the success of this or any similar humanitarian project, publicity is badly needed. Are you up to the challenge? Do you know at least two or three people you could refer to this blog? Do you know a celebrity whose endorsement would be much more influential than an endorsement from you or me?

This is the fourth in a series of five blogs about the only reasonable objections to spelling reform. Some people will complain that a phonemic spelling would hinder the recognition of the plural and past-tense forms of words. This is not true. If the plurals and past tenses were shown with a standard prefix, the reader might recognize them as plural or past tense a millisecond sooner. When the reader’s eyes reach the end of a word, however, if the word has been recognized (read), the reader knows that the word is plural or past tense — not only by knowing the word but also by the context. The ability to decide the pronunciation from the spelling is a big help in recognizing the word.

What is the ideal solution to our serious English functional illiteracy problem? The website linked here shows the problem and solution for English functional illiteracy. This website gives five short statements of the problem and five short statements of the solution, which can be read in less than six minutes. The proof of each of these statements is shown in the “Read More” pages. This website also has, in the left-hand column, a link to a no-cost download of an amazing, breakthrough, 265 page e-book in .pdf format which — if read carefully and honestly — will convince even the most skeptical reader of the wisdom of adopting the proposed solution to English functional illiteracy.

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Debunking All Reasonable Objections to Spelling Reform, Part 3

Reason for this blog: to start a grass-roots movement of the American public to permanently solve the serious problems that functional illiterates must constantly endure — problems that we would consider a crisis if they occurred to us — which affect a huge number of U.S. adults (see the shocking extent of illiteracy in the U.S.) rather than continuing merely to fight the symptoms of the problem as we have been doing for over 250 years. Merely reading this blog and making complimentary comments will accomplish nothing — readers need to reach logical conclusions from what they read and spend a few minutes to take action to further this important humanitarian project.

This is the third in a series of five blogs on the false excuses people give to avoid making the correction of our spelling which is the obvious way to permanently end English functional illiteracy.

A third and much less convincing supposed disadvantage of spelling reform is that reformed spelling would destroy the etymological or linguistic history of words. Samuel Noory shows that “today’s spelling is in many respects as much an offspring of fancy as of design.” He gives several examples, on pages X-XIV of his book Dictionary of Pronunciation, in which spelling is not based on historical roots. Also, etymologists themselves would prefer to see English spelled phonemically, and thus, from this point forward, have a dynamic history of the language. As it is, we have more than 250 years of repetition of a “snapshot” of spelling the way many words were pronounced 250 years ago — a static history. Adoption of a phonemic spelling of English — as recommended by Dr. Frank Laubach, who is arguably the world’s greatest expert on teaching adults around the world to read — would not result in the instantaneous destruction of all books written in English. On page 48 of Dr. Laubach’s book Forty Years With the Silent Billion, he states, “If we spelled English phonetically, American children could be taught to read in a week.” Dr. Laubach prepared reading primers for 313 languages and devised spelling systems for 220 unwritten languages. He found that adults could be taught to read fluently in from one to twenty days in 95% of the languages and that adults could be taught to read fluently in less than three months in 98% of the languages in which he taught — because 98% of these languages were very nearly phonemic (words spelled the way they sound). In the U.S., almost half of the students never become fluent readers, and those who do become fluent readers require at least two years to do so. This is because there are at least 1,768 ways of spelling only forty phonemes (the smallest sound used to distinguish between syllables or words in a language or dialect), and not even ONE spelling rule that does not have exceptions — some of the exceptions have exceptions! Prior to 1750, English was a conglomeration of the spelling of eight languages, the language of every occupying nation in the British Isles. According to page 2 of Henry Hitchings’ book, The Secret Life of Words, English has adopted words (and usually the spelling) from 350 other languages.

As a result, the question must be asked, “How much more static history of a mid-1700s spelling freeze do we need?” A much more pertinent question must be asked. Let us grant for a moment that the etymological history of present English spelling is very valuable. Should we let the desire for etymological data by a limited number of scholars cause us to keep a spelling system that is causing a severe problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world?

No one knows how many facts will be required to get any one person to take action. Reading all of these blogs may not result in the badly needed action. A very careful, honest reading of Let’s End Our Literacy Crisis, Second Revision, however, is likely to be very beneficial to hundreds of millions of English functional illiterates by resulting in the needed action — if the reader is at all compassionate about the suffering illiterates. This breakthrough book is available as a no-cost download in .pdf format from our website on ending English functional illiteracy.) This is a 265 page ebook has enough facts and figures to convince anyone who will honestly grapple with the multitude of facts presented. It is offered in the left-hand column of a website which gives a very good introduction to the humanitarian project of Literacy Research Associates, Inc. and NuEnglish, Inc. (two non-profit educational corporations). The home page linked above has five short statement about the serious problem of illiteracy and five short statements about the solution, all of which can be read in about six minutes. The proof of each of the ten statements in given in the “Read More” sections after each statement.

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Debunking All Reasonable Objections to Spelling Reform, Part Two

The Purpose of This Blog: Very few people realize the seriousness of the problem of functional illiteracy in English. The most statistically accurate and thorough study of adult literacy in the U.S. was a five-year, $14 million study commissioned by the U.S. government. It employed lengthy reviews of 26,049 U.S. adults statistically balanced for age, gender, ethnicity and location to represent the entire U.S. population. It was balanced for urban, suburban, and rural locations in twelve states across the U.S. and included 1100 prisoners in 80 prisons.

The report titled Adult Literacy in America (available for free inspection and download here) was released September 8, 1993. It received first page coverage in many newspapers the next day which essentially downplayed the seriousness of the findings (partly at least because the reporters more than likely read only the executive summary rather than the entire 200 page report and largely because the report did not mathematically analyze some of the most important findings). A follow-up report in 2006 (available for free inspection and download here) using a slightly smaller database (19,714 U.S. adults) showed no overall statistical improvement.

These reports proved (1) that 48.7% of U.S. adults are functionally illiterate (defined as reading and writing so poorly that they cannot hold an above-poverty-level-wage job), (2) that 31.2% of U.S. functional illiterates are in poverty, and (3) that functional illiterates are more than twice as likely to be in poverty because of their illiteracy as for all other reasons combined.

The findings in these reports have essentially been ignored since they came out. Many people believe the functional illiteracy rate is lower than the above-mentioned reports prove because of several other reports that came out in the last ten years based upon a smaller database and/or less rigorous statistical methods. Educators and politicians want to believe these reports showing a less serious functional illiteracy problem because — at least in part — the reports mentioned in the paragraph above make them look bad, but primarily because they do not know how to really solve the problem. Their only solution is to request more money for education and request smaller class sizes. Despite numerous attempts at employing increasing amounts of money and smaller class sizes for the last hundred years or so, the literacy rate in the U.S. has not statistically improved.

Numerous apologists for our educational system claim we have made progress in improving literacy. They can only do so, however, by carefully choosing which data they include in their studies and by taking a small enough time period for their studies. Appendix 7 of my book, Let’s End Our Literacy Crisis, Revised Edition gives a point by point refutation of a book claiming that there is not a literacy crisis in America. A more honest evaluation of the data would compare the literacy rate in the eighteenth century (other than that of the slaves who were often uneducated) with that of the twenty-first century. President John Adams did a literacy study in the very early nineteenth century and stated that it was easier to find a meteorite than it was to find an American who could not read.

This is the second in a series of five blogs that debunk all reasonable objections to spelling reform. Spelling reform solves the problem which is the primary cause of English illiteracy — the illogical, inconsistent, and chaotic spelling system — rather than merely fighting the symptoms of the problem. The symptoms of our erratic spelling system are: almost half of the students do not learn to read fluently and most students who do learn to read English fluently require at least two years — students in 98% of the alphabetic languages other than English learn to read fluently in less than three months.

The symptoms of our erratic spelling have been fought for the last hundred years or so by trying to improve (1) the reading textbooks, (2) the teaching method, (3) teacher training, (4) the number of students in each class, and (5) anything else they can think of — other than changing the spelling that is the primary cause of the problem. This makes about as much sense as taking aspirin, decongestants, and cough medicine to fight the symptoms of pneumonia instead of taking antibiotics to cure it!

Debunking Objections to Spelling Reform: Is a standard pronunciation required? Many people believe that instituting spelling reform would require a fixed standard of pronunciation, which we do not have. This line of thinking is a fallacy. We almost always understand each others’ spoken words. We will understand the written transcription of words even more easily than spoken words because spoken words must be understood in the split second in which they are pronounced whereas written words can be examined as long as necessary to understand them. Also, the fact that written words are separated by spaces will be of great assistance in understanding written material. It is often difficult to know the start and end of spoken words because they are run together — unless the speaker purposely speaks slowly and distinctly.

Frank C. Laubach, who was perhaps the world’s best authority on teaching adult illiterates around the world to read, stated on page 233 of his book Teaching the World to Read, “It is a linguistic axiom that what is understandable as speech is also understandable when written with a suitable phonetics.” So, basing our spelling upon pronunciation would not require that we all pronounce words the same to be understood.

No one wants to be told how to pronounce their words — nor should they be. As a result of spelling our words as they sound, however, people’s speech will become more standardized with that of their peers by reading written material published in their area as time goes by. This will occur both by choice and by the same process as widespread use of radio and television begun in the twentieth century caused a large amount of standardization of speech in the area where the radio and television program originated.

Almost every English reader who does very much reading has had the experience of not recognizing a written word that is in their speaking vocabulary. If the word were spelled as it is pronounced they would immediately recognize it. Almost every English reader who does very much reading has seen a new word (not in their speaking vocabulary) that they understand by the context but they do not know how to pronounce it — if they do not take the time to find the word in the dictionary or ask someone who knows the word. At a later date they may hear the word pronounced but not recognize it as a word they read earlier but did not learn how to pronounce. Having a spelling system in which the words are spelled as they are pronounced will help standardize their pronunciation.

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Debunking All Reasonable Objections to Spelling Reform, Part 1

This is part one of a five-part series. This blog is presented in an attempt to promote our humanitarian project which is a proven way of ending functional illiteracy.

For several reasons English illiteracy is very much a hidden problem. As a result, very few people except the closest friends of some of the illiterates know the serious effects of illiteracy.

The most statistically accurate and thorough study of U.S. illiteracy ever commissioned by the U.S. government proves that 48.7% of U.S. adults are functionally illiterate (defined as reading and writing so poorly that they cannot hold an above-poverty-level-wage job), proves that 31.2% of functional illiterates are in poverty, and proves that functional illiterates are more than twice as likely to be in poverty because of their illiteracy as for all other reasons combined.

People may have developed some misconceptions if they have not carefully researched the effects of English spelling upon illiteracy. Certain items, upon brief examination, may seem disadvantages of spelling reform, although they are not. The supposed disadvantage also may be counterbalanced (or even overbalanced) by a corresponding advantage.

Will Existing Writings Become Inaccessible?

This is perhaps people’s most serious objection to spelling reform. Conventional wisdom states that if a completely different spelling system is adopted, all the existing material in English will become inaccessible. However, learning a new language will not make us unable to understand our first language. Learning a new way of spelling will not erase all memory of traditional English spelling. Nor would the printing of new books suddenly cause all the existing books to self-destruct.

The truth is this: all the existing books in English are ALREADY inaccessible — to illiterates! After NuEnglish is implemented, everyone except the most severely mentally handicapped will read. People who now read English will keep their books written in English and read either English or NuEnglish. Libraries will keep their books in English. All others will read only NuEnglish, unless they choose also to learn English, similar to English literature scholars who must learn Middle English to read Chaucer and other writers of his era. Lawyers, English scholars, historians, and all those whose vocation or hobby requires extensive research through written material of the past — if it is not of sufficient interest to make reprinting in NuEnglish economically feasible — would learn English spelling as a college (or possibly high school) elective course.

All the books that are so important that they have a readership large enough to make reprinting economically feasible for the publishers will be reissued in NuEnglish. Competition among printers for their share of the market suddenly swollen with millions of previous non-readers will ensure such an event. In the same way that we recently saw “Now in HDTV!” preceding certain television programs, we will soon see advertisements by bookstores declaring, “Now in NuEnglish!”

Many libraries have few books that are fifty years old or more. Many libraries sell outdated and least used books to make room for new ones. Often the books they sell are only one or two years old. The average age of books in a bookstore is much less than that of books in a library. Few books in a bookstore are so eagerly sought that they will be reprinted for more than a year or two. Our website on Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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The Pain and Suffering of Illiteracy

This blog shows the serious physical, mental, emotional, medical, and financial problems that illiterates must constantly endure — problems we would consider a crisis if they occurred to us. For the sake of hundreds of millions of English functional illiterates who are desperately hoping that someone will help end illiteracy you are challenged to carefully, honestly read this blog. I dare you to do so and then claim you are compassionate about illiteracy if you do not decide to take a few minutes to help!

Tom and Cindy were proud of their apartment. It wasn’t much, but it was the best they had ever been able to afford. Their two young sons finally had a place to live and thrive. They had moved in during the summer two years ago. Emily, the new joy of their life, was a happy, healthy three-month old. Now it was winter and bitterly cold outside and they have been evicted — not for nonpayment of their rent but, according to the manager, because Emily’s crying had disturbed the neighbors. The manager told them their rental contract allowed tenants to be evicted if neighbors complained about another tenant’s noise. His real reason was that he planned to renovate the apartment and raise the rent to an amount he knew Tom would never be able to afford. But Tom and Cindy didn’t know. They couldn’t read the contract — or much of anything else. They suspected that the manager was lying, but they so dreaded being exposed as illiterate that they would not protest and have their illiteracy made known to a few friends they had made in the nearby apartments. Instead, they meekly sought shelter in the downtown rescue mission again until they could find another, very scarce, low-rent apartment.


George was their best janitor. He had worked for the cleaning company for four years and was so willing to do any job that the common expression, “Let George do it,” definitely applied to him. Even though he hated working the night shift, he was a hard worker because this was the first job he had been able to find to support his family in over two years. But now, George has just been fired. His boss left him a note giving him special clean-up instructions. George can read a few words but could not read enough of the words in the note to do the job he was so eager to do.


The three children sitting around the table are crying. Jane, their mother, is so exasperated, she feels like crying too. After opening the large can of Crisco she just brought home and excitedly placed upon the table, she had to explain to her hungry children that it does not contain the fried chicken pictured on the front. Jane cannot read. Like many in her condition, when she returned from the grocery store, the meager wages she earned at her low-paying sewing job were gone. There is nothing left to go back and buy something to cook in her year’s supply of Crisco.


Frank and Jenny usually didn’t stray very far from home. They could not read the street signs and highway markers very well and often feared getting lost, but this was a special occasion. Their only child was celebrating his seventh birthday. His adoring parents agreed to take him to the county fair in a nearby town a few miles from their home on the Great Plains. There were very few towns in this rural area, but friends had told them how to get to their destination. After driving for what seemed like a very long time, they realized that the directions they had been given were inadequate. They were running very low on gasoline and their son began having another of his frequent attacks of asthma. To their horror, his medicine did not help the situation. There were no houses or businesses in sight. They had brought their cell phone and knew how to dial 911, but they did not know how to read the street signs and highway markers well enough to explain their location to the emergency operator.

These and hundreds of similar stories occur around us every day, but we usually do not see them. There are several reasons this is true. The most frequent reason is that, as a result of shame and embarrassment, those who are very poor readers are extremely good at hiding their condition. If you have any doubts about how well illiterates can “hide in plain sight,” two fairly recent books should dispel that doubt forever. The 1998 book by Tom Harken, The Millionaire’s Secret tells how he became a millionaire even though he could hardly read at all. Even more amazing is John Corcoran’s 1994 book, The Teacher Who Couldn’t Read. Mr. Corcoran was a high-school teacher for many years in the California public schools.

Another reason we do not see more evidence of illiteracy is that the zoning laws in most cities keep the homes segregated according to price level. Although adults who are functionally illiterate occasionally manage to advance to a high-paying position, unless another adult in the household can add enough to the family income to enable them to afford a more expensive home, adults who read very poorly live in a different neighborhood than those whose residents are mostly fluent readers.

Millions of non-readers and poor readers continually endure a multitude of problems and life-threatening dangers besides those shown above. Jonathan Kozol, in his book Illiterate America, gives a fuller explanation than is presented here. A thoughtful, sensitive person cannot read my book, Let’s End Our Literacy Crisis, Revised Edition or Kozol’s book without feeling compassion for illiterates over their physical, emotional, and financial problems resulting from their illiteracy. Kozol gives actual examples of people he knows and loves who have experienced the problems he describes.

The method of presenting the data in this chapter requires special consideration. It is important that you consider what effects the problems described in this blog would have upon you instead of upon some name-less, face-less person you are not sure exists. It is always easier to ignore serious problems if they aren’t happening to us or our loved ones.

Unlike the above examples, the following will be a brief, matter-of-fact explanation to avoid overstating the importance of any one problem illiterates must constantly endure and to avoid charges of exaggerating to make a point. Keep in mind, however, that many simple tasks we take for granted are beyond the ability of many illiterates. Also, you may be able to think of ways in which illiteracy is causing serious problems that are not listed here.


1. Jobs lost upon discovering illiteracy. Today, even the most menial jobs require the ability to read. (Jonathan Kozol, Illiterate America, p. 27)

2. Low pay for low reading ability. The Adult Literacy in America report (available for free inspection and download at http://nces.ed.gov/pubs93/93275.pdf) provides ample proof of this.

3. Pay tied to reading ability, not social class. Researchers Carmen Hunter and David Harman state, “Those who have completed high school have incomes about double those who have not completed grade school, and half again higher than those with an eighth grade education. This situation prevails among all sectors of the population: men and women, white and black, and all age groups.” (Hunter and Harman, Adult Illiteracy in the United States, p. 37)

4. Unemployment versus reading ability. See the Adult Literacy in America report.

5. Unemployment versus retraining. Of the eight million unemployed, the U.S. Department of Labor estimates that 75 percent lack the skills necessary to be retrained for high-tech jobs. (Edward Klein, PARADE magazine, May 21, 1989, p. 5)


The inability to read well enough to hold a job providing an adequate income is an obvious contributing factor to crime.

6. Percentage of functionally illiterate juvenile delinquents. Among juveniles appearing before the court, 85 percent are functionally illiterate. (Kozol, p. 5)

7. Percentage of non-reading first-time offenders. Florida Judge Charles Phillips stated, “Eighty percent of the new criminals who pass my desk would not be here if they had graduated from high school and could read and write.”

8. Non-reading prison inmates. Up to 80 percent of prison inmates are non-readers. (Florida Judge Charles Phillips cited in the Washington Post, November 25, 1982 and Kozol, pp. 226, 229)

9. Education level among prison inmates. From a recent census of prisoners more than twenty-five years of age, 75 percent are not high school graduates and 35 to 42 percent of them had not completed ninth grade, as compared to 38 percent of the total adult population not high school grads. (Hunter and Harman, p. 51)

Standard of Living

10. Income level versus education level. In 2000 the median annual earnings were, for men: bachelor degree or more, $48,000; some college, $33,000; high school graduate, $29,000; high school dropout, $20,500 and for women: bachelor degree or more, $34,500; some college, $25,000; high school graduate, $20,000; high-school dropout, $14,500. (Murray Rockowitz, Baron’s GED High School Equivalency Exam, 14th Edition, p. 3)

11. Education level versus percentage of families on welfare. There are twice as many on welfare with less than a sixth-grade education than there are with six to eight years of schooling. There are almost four times as many on welfare who have less than a sixth-grade education than there are who have completed nine to eleven years of school. (Hunter and Harman, p. 43)

Consumer Rights

12. Victimization of non-readers by their landlords. Even the most basic needs are more uncertain for non-readers and poor readers. An apartment to live in and fuel to keep it warm in winter are uncertain if the one signing the lease or receiving past due bill notices can’t read. Even loss of a place to live in winter is not as dreaded as the loss of dignity and self-respect.

13. Lack of understanding of insurance coverage. Insurance policies cannot be used for insuring against losses, the way they should be, for illiterate policyholders. This is true if the policyholders do not remember (or more likely were not told) all the details of the insurance coverage and cannot read the policy for themselves.

14. Lack of checking account equals loss of interest payments. Those who cannot read and write seldom keep their money in checking or savings accounts. Therefore they do not have the advantage of drawing any interest on the money they use for the daily necessities of life. (Kozol, pp. 24, 25, 28)

Citizens’ Rights

15. Democracy is denied to nonvoters and uninformed voters. One of a citizen’s most basic rights is the right to vote. Most illiterates either do not vote or cast uninformed votes. Their knowledge of candidates is usually limited to paid political radio and television announcements and to events newsworthy enough to deserve air time. They usually have no other way of learning the facts about a candidate on issues that are most likely to affect them. They can’t vote on issues that are in their best interests. Democracy, for them, is an unreachable ideal.

16. Loss of citizens’ rights through lack of knowledge of them. Illiterates often do not know and exercise their rights as citizens. They can’t read notices they receive from the Internal Revenue Service or from the welfare office. They must learn of their rights, deadlines they face, and things they must do by word of mouth or from the radio or television. They seldom know all their options. They must depend on people they often have reason to distrust to keep them informed. The rights that are written somewhere as theirs are just a hollow mockery if they don’t know about them.


17. Denial of the right to an education. A common present-day expectation of almost every U.S. citizen is that they will receive a public school education. This, more than any other “right,” is of great importance to illiterates. It is understandable if school officials, after reviewing the records, decide that certain students are wasting a teacher’s time and the school’s budget for school materials. Believing that these students are not worthy of a teacher’s time and are taking up space that more deserving students could use can be devastating to a teenager’s self-respect. Such students drop out of school instead of insisting upon their right to an education. It is easier for all concerned to believe the student has failed than that the educational system didn’t do what it should for the student. In addition, parents, whether they can read or not, often are embarrassed and frustrated over difficulties their children have in school.

18. Children of the functionally illiterate lose educational rights. Children do not receive all the benefits that are due them from the school system if their parents can’t read. Illiterate parents do not read letters from their children’s teachers. Illiterate parents cannot study materials designed to help their children prepare for college, nor can they help their children with homework. They can’t show their children the importance of an education by going to the classroom or by meeting the teacher. They fear they will embarrass themselves or their children with their inability to read or understand basic school subjects.

19. Embarrassment over the inability to read to children who request it. Illiterates must often suffer the embarrassment of having young children know their parent(s) can’t read. For example, parents may try to help their first grader with their schoolwork by buying children’s storybooks. When the children insist that their mother read the book, she may try to “fake it” by making up a story from the pictures. It then hurts to be told, “Mommy, that’s not right.” Even young children often know their parents can’t read. (Kozol, pp. 23-25, 28)

20. The cost of truancy. Truancy is now such a serious problem that ordinances have been enacted allowing police in many U.S. cities to impose a $500 fine or thirty days in jail for the parents and suspension of drivers licenses of the students. Truancy costs include the cost of imposing curfews in many cities and, for example, the costs of over-time pay for police in New Orleans. Enforcement of truancy laws in San Jose, California, increased police payroll costs by $1 million. Most truancy occurs because the truants have failed to learn to read. Better education significantly reduces both truancy and other forms of juvenile delinquency. When the students are better able to instruct and entertain themselves with reading they do not require such vast costs for social programs designed to keep them out of trouble. (Sanford Silverman, Spelling for the 21st Century, pp. 37-38)

Basic Lifestyle Choices

21. Restaurant roulette: stick to basics or eat detested food. Illiterates can’t always order what they want when they go to a restaurant. They may have to choose by pointing to something on the menu. If there are no pictures, they may not know what they have ordered until it arrives — and it may be something they do not like. They can’t tell from a menu in the window what the price of items will be before they go inside. They must either order something basic they are sure the restaurant will have or depend upon the person they are with to order for them. Their choice is another hamburger and cola or something ordered for them that they hate.

22. Supermarket roulette: what is in this can? Illiterates are denied the choice of less expensive generic or unadvertised brands of food when grocery shopping. They have to buy products based on pictures on the package or buy labels they recognize from TV commercials. Even many nationally advertised brands are beyond their purchase. For example, how could they buy Campbell’s soup and get what they want when every can looks the same? Most illiterates so dread prejudice — a dread that is all too often justified — that they will not ask for help in the supermarket. They therefore waste money on household items they can’t use or on foods they detest.

23. Expense, time, and stress of traveling to pay bills. Illiterates cannot manage checking accounts, so they seldom pay bills by mail. This means they must spend several hours each month in time-consuming and often expensive travel, an added cost for every payment they make.

24. The dangers of travel. Travel is often difficult for illiterates. They endure risks that most of us could never imagine. Although they may learn to decipher many traffic signs and symbols, street signs they have never seen before are a complete mystery to them. Bus stop and subway station names are equally meaningless. Imagine your frustration at being lost in a foreign country with a language you know nothing about. A similar frustration or fear usually keeps most illiterates close to home.

25. Lack of choice of TV programs. Illiterates do not even have the luxury of deciding in advance what TV shows they will watch. They stick with weekly programs they know come on at a certain time. Alternatively, they find what they can by flipping through the channels, frequently missing programs that would be of more interest to them.

26. Inability to follow food preparation instructions. Illiterates can’t follow the food preparation instructions on the items they purchase. They may want to avoid the monotony of always having the same food or the criticism of being a lazy, unimaginative cook. There is a danger, however, in purchasing some new food item or in trying a new recipe by following a friend’s oral instructions. They run a high risk of wasting food for which replacement would be difficult or impossible because of limited finances. Even government food handouts become a mockery. If the recipients cannot read instructions, they cannot make a tasty meal from the surplus cheese, noodles, and powdered milk, for example.

27. The dilemma of having to trust someone who is untrustworthy. There is an obvious outcome of the examples in this blog. Illiterates do not have even the most basic lifestyle choices that the rest of us have. They must rely upon others to choose for them. Because of their disability, illiterates can cite many times when wrong choices were made for them or times when they were cheated. They find themselves in the dilemma of having to trust people that they are not sure can be trusted. They are often paralyzed by not knowing the right word for the right thing at the right time. It is often a terrifying feeling.

Dangers and Health Risks

28. Medicine bottle precautions. Illiterates can’t read precautions on a medicine bottle. The expiration date for safe usage, possible allergic reactions, sedative effects, who should not take it, and dosages, thus may be a mystery to them.

29. Inability to read health pamphlets. Illiterates can’t read health pamphlets and bulletins, and thus often do not know about the preventive health measures they describe. They often do not know, for example, the seven warning signs of cancer.

30. Inability to read product warnings. Illiterates can’t read, for example, the warning sign on a pack of cigarettes. They may know that smoking is bad for them, but they can’t read the details that would give them the determination to quit.

31. Unintended surgery through lack of understanding. Illiterates can’t read waivers that they must sign before undergoing surgery, so they don’t know their rights. They often do not understand the medical jargon and fear the unfamiliar atmosphere found in hospitals. They sometimes find, too late, that they’ve agreed to something that in the confusion was not adequately explained to them. Some women, for example, have found that by undergoing an unintended hysterectomy, they have forever been denied the basic privilege of motherhood.

32. Workplace injuries. Working with toxic chemicals can be a frightening job for anyone. It is especially so for someone who can’t read package labels or the warning signs on the walls. The same is true regarding warning signs about machinery and other dangers. U.S. workers are more likely to be killed on the job than workers in other major industrialized countries (for example, thirty-six times more likely than in Sweden). One out of eleven U.S. workers will be killed or seriously injured at work.

33. Inability to use telephone directories. This example involves a simple task we often take for granted: looking up telephone numbers in the telephone book. Although some can find the name of a friend, far fewer have the sorting skills to use the yellow pages. Even the emergency numbers on the first page are beyond recognition for many of them. Even if illiterates can remember an emergency number they can call, they may still be in trouble. If they are away from home, the inability to read street signs may keep them from explaining their location well enough to get timely help, for example, for a child who is choking.(Kozol, pp. 14, 23-28)

34. Death Rate of Children Tied to Mother’s Education. A 1999 study by the World Bank showed that the average death rate for children under five years old whose mothers had no education was 144 per 1000 live births. This dropped to 106 per 1000 for mothers with a primary education only and to 68 per 1000 when the mothers had some secondary education also. When the infant’s care giver cannot read the directions on baby formula or medications, a wrong guess can lead to injury or death of the child. We have a moral obligation to prevent such tragedies, and making the directions on baby formula and medications easier to read. Those who protest that it would be too costly should be reminded that this improvement to our educational system would pay for itself by increased national productivity and by avoidance of all the problems associated with illiteracy. (Silverman, p. 30)

About 600 million English-speaking people around the world who are functionally illiterate in English (including well over 93 million in the U.S. alone) — if they knew the decision you are facing — would plead with you to help them by publicizing the proven solution to ending English functional illiteracy, a humanitarian project of Literacy Research Associates, Inc. and NuEnglish, Inc. (two non-profit educational corporations). This website includes a link to the free e-book, Let’s End Our Literacy Crisis, Revised Edition which is almost certain to convince you that our humanitarian project is the right way to permanently end English functional illiteracy. More information about the book can be seen on the Amazon.com website, including an editorial review by Dr. Robert S. Laubach, president emeritus of Laubach Literacy International, nine 5-star customer reviews (the maximum) and one 4-star review, and an explanation of how our humanitarian project evolved (in the “More About the Author” section. See http://www.amazon.com/dp/1589824970. If you personally know a celebrity or a “person of influence,” informing them about our humanitarian project will be the most effective way to promote our proven solution.

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The Ultimate Account (?) of America’s Education Dilemma

For the purpose of search engine optimization, this important blog will only appear on one of our five blogs. To see this vital blog click here.

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Has TV News Programs Made You Shockproof?

Many of us see so many “crises” on TV in today’s world that we almost become shockproof, but I never get over being shocked when I look at the analysis of statistics from the most comprehensive and statistically accurate study of U.S. adult literacy ever commissioned by the U.S. government and the 2006 verifying report. English functional illiteracy (defined as being unable to read and write well enough to hold and above-poverty-level-wage job) is far worse than most people — even including our leading educators and politicians — realize; it is worse than our worst nightmares. The proven solution to ending illiteracy, however, is easier than you would ever dare to dream. The details of the solution are found in the breakthrough book, Let’s End Our Literacy Crisis, Revised Edition, describing a revolutionary way of learning to read, by Bob Cleckler, Founding Chairman of Literacy Research Associates, Inc., a non-profit educational corporation. Cleckler has been researching and writing about ending illiteracy since 1985.

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