The Cost of Illiteracy

Without literacy, we are left vulnerable to manipulative charlatans like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, as well as their doppelgangers in Philadelphia's big dailies. Just check out the unhinged debate over health care reform.

By Brendan Skwire
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 6 | Posted Nov. 22, 2009

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And that's when I began to feel kind of badly for my friend. He kept arguing that the statement on the sign was true ("national socialism = nazi = dead people...what about that is incorrect?") but he didn't have the historical literacy to understand that the Nazis are not comparable to socialists. "National socialist health care" didn't kill anyone, although the National Socialist German Workers Party certainly did.

In a city like Philadelphia, where more than 200,000 adults don't have a high school diploma, low literacy is a recipe for manipulation. You see it in columns by Christine Flowers, who praises the influence of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in passing the odious Stupak Amendment for their "liberation theology" while ignoring the lesser-known fact that the Catholic Church has been extremely hostile to liberation theology for 20 years or more. You see it when Dom Giordano plays games with numbers to pretend that Philadelphia schools are overfunded. You see it when our dailies promote an "us-versus them" narrative about the SEPTA strike, that even suckered one of my favorite alt-weekly columnists. And yes, you see it in the crowds of teabaggers protesting health care reform.

The reasons for Philadelphia's low literacy problem are myriad. The impact goes well beyond city revenues and crime rates, seeping into how our neighbors perceive and interpret the world around them. The big question is what do we do about it?
 

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1. Anonymous said... on Nov 24, 2009 at 08:32PM

“Right, because if there's one thing that concerns me about Philadelphia's sky-high illiteracy rate, it's that black children in the inner city will grow to become followers of the far right.

Brendan, do you have anything new to add to discussions, or are you just here to remind us that the right wing still sucks? Because I can go pretty much anywhere else for that.”

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2. So where are we now? said... on Nov 24, 2009 at 09:58PM

“What an absolute crock! Check your statistics. The large majority of the illiterate live in urban areas and follow the progressive march. Much like the old parable about the carrot on the stick, and its one huge carrot full of maggots paid for by those who can read. While at the same time the "elite", which you know doubt aspire to please, look down on anyone foolish enough to actually stand up for their individual rights. How many books does Mr. Beck have on the best seller lists? Are his followers simply buying the books to use them as booster seats? Beyond that why was Mr. Beck called (although sardonically) the "new Oprah"? Mr. Beck happens to suggest over and over gain that those who want to learn for themselves read many books (not authored by him) to come to their own conclusion. If anything sir, you are guilty of the charges you so loudly flatulate.”

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3. Deep said... on Nov 25, 2009 at 12:02PM

“I think you are missing a link in this article. You go from a very important point about illiteracy among adults in Philadelphia. Then you go on to the moronic teabaggers. I am lost here.

Anyways, we need to address the issue of the undereducation of Philadelphians. The life outcome for a child in the Philly school system is highly dependent on the parent. If the parent is aware enough and savvy enoug, their child will get into the right charter schools and eventually the right high school. Then that child will be just as equiped for the real world as their suburban counterparts. If the parent is undereducated themself, chances are they don't know what are the better options are, they won't be able to take a bigger part in the their child's education. Thus their child will be just as doomed as they are. Thus continuing the downward spiral.

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4. Anonymous said... on Nov 26, 2009 at 04:01AM

“Im glad "Deep" pointed out the obvious to the author (since the obvious tends to escape him regularly). Many, if not most social issues start with the parents. Parents need to be held responsible for their own children and need to take an interest in their education. This author without fail expects the rest of society and the government to take on the burden of irresponsible citizens of this country. People make their own personal choices in life. It is high time people start taking responsibility for those choices. Unfortuantely the progressive liberals in this country are responsible for this type of "Not my problem, let someone else take care of it" attitude.”

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5. Seth said... on Dec 3, 2009 at 09:55AM

“To Anonymous #1, the author in my mind makes a direct connection between illiteracy and the inability to participate fully in a constructive debate about substantive issues that affect our society. That said, So where are we now? the author is pointing out the fact that those of us who are illiterate won't be able to follow Mr. Beck's advice to read a book and form our own conclusions. Which then will leave those same illiterate people hanging on his (and Olbermann's, and Matthew's and O'Reilly's) every word, counting it as truth, unable to compare what they say to other sources. Lastly, Deep and Anonymous #4, I agree with you that success starts in the home. However, how is it that you suggest we hold parents responsible for their children, and their disinterest in the education of such children? Remember, we are talking about children. We live in a society where the marginalized, poor, and most easily harmed tend to be children whose parent's don't care. Innocent children.”

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6. Seth said... on Dec 3, 2009 at 10:02AM

“...Are we to allow them to fall by the wayside because of the failures of their parents? Or will we do the best to make sure what they are offered is the best education available, regardless of location, economic status, race, so on and so forth?

Now for some action...
Join the Philadelphia Young Democrats on Thursday, December 3rd at 7:00pm for a thought provoking forum on literacy and education. There are an estimated 400,000 adults living in Philadelphia with low literacy skills. In addition, there are tens of thousands of out-of-school youths without the necessary literacy skills needed to function fully in society. Let's discuss the politics of education by addressing questions of culture and race, access, policy.
We'll be at Sweeten Alumni House (UPENN) 3533 Locust Walk. Entrance at 34th and Walnut.”

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