Thomas Jefferson said that “if a nation expects to be ignorant and free… it expects what never was and never will be.” And Abraham Lincoln called education “the most important subject which we as a people can be engaged in.” If we are to preserve the American experiment, it won’t be done in the halls of Congress, it will be done in our classrooms.
First, we must understand that an educated citizenry cannot exist without a literate citizenry — and the data on literacy should shock Americans as much or more than the next news update telling us that July beat June as the hottest month ever recorded:
More than 30 million adults in the U.S. can’t read or write above a 3rd grade level;
50 percent of U.S. adults can’t read a book written at an 8th grade level.
The long-term consequences of these numbers are clear:
43 percent of adults who read below the 5th grade level live in poverty;
70 percent of adult welfare recipients have low literacy skills;
75 percent of state prison inmates can be classified as low literate;
Children whose parents have low literacy levels have a 72 percent chance of being at the lowest reading levels themselves.
This represents a crisis because it’s now evident that inadequacies in American education have greatly exacerbated almost every other problem we face. The less educated we are, the harder it is to improve health outcomes, combat climate change, reduce poverty, fight bigotry, and galvanize civic participation.
Madison has long tolerated disastrous reading results, despite spending far more than most taxpayer supported K-12 school districts – between $18.5k and 20k per student, depending on the district documents reviewed.