Literacy: An Issue, “Literally”

Our society has an issue. No, I did not just come to that conclusion, but I did just come to understand the root of many systemic education issues we face today as a people.

As a child, I remember my aunt laminating and cutting out a colorful abundance of letters that ultimately spelled out, “Reading Is Fundamental.”  Because the “R.I.F” campaign slogan was plastered on a myriad of bulletin boards throughout Chicago public elementary school hallways in the late 80’s, I guessed that the word fundamental meant important. And according to my online dictionary app, my use of context clues was pretty accurate. Fundamental is defined as forming a necessary base or core; of central importance; affecting or relating to the essential nature of something or the crucial point about an issue.  Needless to say, the slogan rang true then and remains true to this very day…READING IS FUNDAMENTAL.

The term literacy means the ability to read and write.  It can, therefore, be inferred that the term, illiteracy is defined as the inability to read and write. The unspoken gray area that is not disclosed within the definition is the extent to which a person is deemed literate or illiterate.  So I have yet another definition for you. To be functionally illiterate means  to lack the literacy necessary for coping with most jobs and many everyday situations. 

DISCLAIMER: Please understand that when I speak of functional illiteracy that it is not a knock against African-American English (AAE) in which, I am fluent, and treasure dearly as foundational to my cultural heritage.

Now that you have ingested all of the above information, think about our youth.

Reading is still fundamental but is not the past time of choice for a great percentage of our young people. Record companies give recording contracts to functionally illiterate “artists” to make functionally illiterate “hits” with catchy hooks (repetition) and a dance (kinesthetic) to distract its listener from the sporadically inserted grunts and groans upstaged by basic vocabulary that fails to add any words or ideas of substance to improve the literacy of its listener.

I often challenge young people to listen to music that speaks to their future plans and how to accomplish them. With it, I include the caveat, “the artist you choose should use a minimum of five vocabulary words with which you are unfamiliar so that you can learn something new.” Many laugh at my “ridiculous-ness.” This issue is, however, no laughing matter.

To be continued…


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