Wednesday, September 2

Uniting People: International Literacy Day

"Teaching children and adults to read, write, and comprehend is not only our essential duty and investment in America's future; it is also an act of love." — John Corcoran

If you are unfamiliar with the name, John Corcoran is an extraordinary man who graduated from high school and college to go on to become a secondary school teacher before becoming a businessman. What makes his particular story extraordinary is that Corcoran never learned to read. You can read his entire story here.

"It was not uncommon for me to find almost half of my students unable to read past a third-grade level. I couldn't teach them to read, but I could help them learn as I had learned." — Corcoran

I had the pleasure of meeting Corcoran while serving on the board of the Southern Nevada Literacy Coalition, which was a leading coalition comprised of literacy providers and business communicators. He was humble, almost soft-spoken, but extremely articulate in presenting his story as well as how many children and adults masterfully hide their inability to read.

"For all those teaching years, I avoided facing the real problem in their lives and my own, revealing one of the shortcomings of progressive education." — Corcoran

While some progress is being made in the United States, the National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL) estimates one child in four grows up not knowing how to read and more than 40 percent of adults only possess level one reading skills (which makes them marginally functional). Illiteracy can also be directly linked to crime, health care costs, and poverty.

"The link between academic failure and delinquency, violence, and crime is welded to reading failure." — United States Department of Justice

While not reporting on the tiered literacy system, the United Nations estimates 776 million adults lack even minimum literacy skills worldwide. And, according to United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), it is widely held that in modern societies "literacy skills are fundamental to informed decision-making, personal empowerment, active and passive participation in local and global social community." (Stromquist, 2005, p. 12)

This Sept. 8, in recognition of International Literacy Day, which was established by UNESCO, thousands of bloggers are joining and the APPLE Partnership in cooperation with Barnes & Noble;; the City of Henderson (Nevada); Copywrite, Ink.; FedEx; PBS&J; and Wal-Mart to dedicate a post, instant message, or news release related to International Literacy Day.

The APPLE Partnership, along with its sponsors, was chosen in part for its ability to provide a worthwhile example of how communities can develop public-private partnerships to improve literacy, but there are other examples around the world. On Sept. 8, we're dedicating several posts that speak to the issue of literacy. We hope you join us with the intent to help people who can read appreciate the severity of the challenge and guide them toward supporting programs that make a difference locally and globally.

"In this era of widening disparities, literacy brings not only greater self-esteem but also opportunities to those who have been disenfranchised, marginalized and neglected: neo-literates acquire greater capacity and skills to raise their income levels, build sustainable livelihoods, gain access to health and educational services, and engage in the public arena." — Ko├»chiro Matsuura, director-general of UNESCO


Anonymous said...

Mr Corcoran’s story is amazing. Thanks for the post, Rich.

I just finished reading Lou Dobbs’ book, War on the Middle Class, which has a section on education. In the cold gray light of facts and statistics, It’s clear enough that we’re all being let down by contemporary education. And it doesn’t have much to do with the money we’re spending.

Ken O

Rich on 9/3/09, 1:54 PM said...

Hey Ken,

You're right. It has nothing to do with education spending and everything to do with the quality of the education. It also has to do how children frame up education (reward mechanisms or valued), the labels some teachers assign, and many other factors.

I'm glad you enjoyed Corcoran's story. I'm also grateful that he came forward years ago, especially because he is a fine example of how the system propels students forward, even without the most basic of skills.

All my best,


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