Jonathan Kozol’s Illiterate America was published in 1985. At the time 25 million American adults were illiterate which means that they cannot read and write. About 35 million more can not read at a level necessary to be able to survive in the American society. In 2005, Fox News cited a federal study stated that about one in twenty adults in the
United States which is about 11 million of the entire population. United States
These statistics are surprising and staggering. Jonathan Kozol explained in Illiterate America the dreadful consequences of being illiterate. Illiterates cannot read the menu and the cost of the food they want to order in a restaurant. They cannot read the letters their children show them after they come home from school, help them in their assignment, assist them with their SATs and write a letter to their children’s teachers. They cannot read the labels and warning on a bottle of medicine. They cannot read the terms and conditions in the insurance form or the waiver that they willingly sign. Illiterates cannot read the terms and conditions of the lease contract they enter into. They cannot sign checks or manage their accounts. They do not understand the numbers in the directory or even call emergency numbers like the police department or the fire department. They cam only buy the products in the grocery which have photographs or familiar logos. They cannot read the cooking instructions in a pack of frozen foods. They cannot travel freely, read the street names and the warning signs.
Because illiterates cannot do all these things, they would naturally and inevitably have to rely on somebody else to do these things for them. The person could be a friend or any person whom they have just met. Consequently, they are vulnerable in our modern society. They can be preyed on by people who want to take advantage of their weaknesses. Since they also do not know their rights they cannot complain if they are cheated. In some situations, they do not even know whether they have been cheated or taken advantaged of.
On the macro-level, illiteracy’s deprives the society of the potential income and earnings. Because of illiteracy human resources are being wasted. Instead of the 25 million adults who can be an asset to the
United States they become liabilities of the government. But the most severe consequence of illiteracy is the disenfranchisement of the millions of adults. Illiteracy is the primary reason why fewer Americans participate in the election. If ever they do decide to vote, they do not vote based on the character or the principles of the candidate or his platforms. Rather they vote on the basis of the face, smile, charisma, or style of the candidate. The election is reduced to a decision based on the personalities instead of issues. United States
Democracy is based on the principle of participation of the people in the running of the affairs of the government through the exercise of their right of suffrage. If people will not vote or will not make an informed decision then the whole electoral process becomes an exercise in futility. Kozol was right when he said “So long as 60 million people are denied significant participation, the government is neither of, nor for, nor by, the people” (1985).
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