Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Giving Back for Literacy and a Better World

Posted: 11/23/2012 Huff Post

 - Professor, College of Education at University of North Texas

I was conceived in a small farming village in Yemen. When my parents realized that I would be coming into the world, they spent their meager savings to bribe government officials so they could escape. No man had ever taken his wife out of the village: The family prohibited it. My parents reached America in debt, my dad with little to no command of English and my mom illiterate. The disenfranchisement my mom experienced as someone who couldn't read is still widespread today.

As I think of my mom's situation as a young woman and today's global challenges of illiteracy, it is clear that the difference between the poor and the prosperous lies in the power of words. According to the U.S. Agency for International Development, Africa and Asia have the world's highest adult illiteracy rates, especially among women and girls. This can result in low socioeconomic status for women, larger family sizes, high prevalence of infectious diseases and staggering infant/child mortality. Studies suggest that for every year a girl continues in school, her income later will grow by 20 percent on average. When we advocate for literacy, we do not advocate for life's luxuries but rather for a critical tool which opens doors to a better life.

Now, compare that global scenario with disadvantaged neighborhoods here in America, where children are designated "at risk" in elementary school. A 2010 report by Johns Hopkins researchers showed that despite some progress, over 1,700 schools nationwide are so-called "dropout factories." Most of these schools are in high-poverty areas with high proportions of minority students, most with dismal reading scores. Children who lack the power of words are doomed before they begin. Too many young children in our communities -- and in Asia and Africa -- lack that crucial tool. Most have never seen their parents read. Literacy means participating in civil society; enjoying greater income for their families; reducing domestic violence; fostering healthier and better educated families; and, ultimately, saving children's lives. 

Full story at HuffPost

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