The Importance of Being Literate  

We live in a world of hashtags and texting abbreviations; gleeful laughter has been replaced by “LOL”,  “carpe diem” has been killed by “YOLO”, words are being replaced by numbers 4 heaven’s sake! (That was painful, but consider my point made.) It seems I cannot go through one day without being confronted by enough grammatical atrocities to make entire graveyards of authors flip in their coffins. Just yesterday, for instance, I was looking for some insight on symbolism in Dracula and nearly fell out of my chair when I came across this question on Yahoo:

Screenshot_2014-08-29-20-41-46-1

But all of this conventional chaos is really just mildly annoying in the grand scheme of things; what makes me sad is that the people who are guilty of these word crimes have the opportunity to read and write, to explore the shelves of libraries or buy books at the store, to go to school and learn the fundamentals of language. What makes me sad is that these people, for the most part, have the opportunity to sharpen their literacy skills into tools for effective communication, but do not, simply to save a few text characters.

Many people do not have this opportunity.

32 million American adults, in fact. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/06/illiteracy-rate_n_3880355.html)

Why? Poverty, broken homes, insecure social situation, etc. Do Something, an organization that seeks to involve teenagers in reaching out to other teens in need, has a list of the top eleven causes of illiteracy in America, which I highly recommend looking into:

https://www.dosomething.org/facts/11-facts-about-literacy-america   logo

But why should we care? Not being a bookworm never hurt anybody, right? WRONG. So wrong that I broke my commitment to proper conventions and used all caps. Studies show that illiteracy is associated with crime, substance abuse, unhealthy relationships, and poverty. Again, the link above provides excellent information on the effects of illiteracy.

There is another reason to care about promoting literacy, a more personal reason that I fear some may “LOL” at scornfully. It is that literacy is freedom: freedom from ignorance, freedom from helplessness. If you doubt me, just think for a moment of every great epoch in the history of humanity: words were there to propel mankind forward. John Locke’s philosophical writings changed the way we view government, Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address” marked a turning point in the Civil War, Shakespeare set the precedent for entertainment through the centuries, Martin Luther’s “95 Theses” sparked the Protestant Reformation, Upton Sinclair saved society from impure food, C.S. Lewis revolutionized fantasy. From the first clay cuneiform to the Egyptian hieroglyphics to the Torah Scrolls to The Federalist Papers to Harry Potter. Words were- and are- there, giving flight to our imaginations, strengthening our beliefs, and preserving our ideas. If this doesn’t convince you of the necessity of literacy, perhaps this quote will:

“Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.” – Frederick Douglassb_359ae7827c956d90a4946a8711c13635

By the way, the author of that quote? An African American slave who learned to read and not only escaped slavery, but went on to become one of the most influential authors and abolitionists in American history.

If my words have resounded with you as I hope that they have, I encourage you to take action to promote literacy, whether by volunteering as a tutor, donating to a charity such as Do Something, or even just lending a book to someone in need. The DoSomething.org site has further tips for getting involved in the fight against illiteracy, as well as Grammarly.com at the following link:  http://www.grammarly.com/blog/2014/promote-literacy-with-grammarly/

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