Literacy: Don't Take it for Granted
For 99% of Americans, reading is something we more or less do subconsciously, like breathing or walking. Naturally, this means it is easy for us to get complacent about it or diminish the value of such a skill. Let's take a moment to pay our respects to the parents and teachers, who dedicated their time to giving us the gift of literacy, by examining why it is so incredibly important.
Reading is the the load-bearing wall and/or the cornerstone of education if it only had one wall or one corner. It is the foundation of the structure a child's education is built upon. If a student struggles or is delayed in their reading ability early on, they are six times more likely to leave school before receiving their high school diploma (ReadingPartners.org).
Essentially, literacy has two effects early on in their lives. The first is how it affects them socially among their peers. Children are begin comparing themselves with their peers around them at about the same time they begin learning to read. Shortly after, in upper elementary, the natural development of hyper-competitiveness and self-esteem take priority in the mind of each student. So, if they are shy or struggle with reading early on, they begin comparing their skills to their peers. This, if not corrected, can worsen and lead to major self esteem issues in later years. Eventually, this illiteracy leads to behavioral issues, and possible dropout. But, how could reading impact a child so much? Let's continue.
The second effect of literacy on young students is with their relationship with education itself. School work for students as young as first grade relies on reading. Sure, the teacher may offer verbal directions or visual examples, but those may be missed by the student. What they, or their parents, are left with is written instruction. If a student cannot read, they are presented with a large hurdle in every subject in school, regardless of their relative ability with it. I once worked with a boy who could conceptualize negative numbers and basic algebra upon exiting first grade. He was struggling in all areas of school because he could not read. He showed his astronomically advanced understanding of math with verbal work I provided him, but he could not read the problems to even begin his school assigned work.
Expression and Performance
Educators rely on a student's ability to express their understanding of content material through written work, a reliance that grows with each grade level. A first grade math problem will request a simple digit based answer for the educator to assess the student's ability. The necessity for linguistic expression grows massively even by the fifth grade, when students are expected to write a small text summary detailing the mathematical process they undertook to find the answer to a given problem.
Lastly, the older a student gets and rises through the ranks of their academic career, the more the expression of themselves through writing becomes absolutely necessary. The simple concept of receiving information, processing it, and then offering personal input on the subject through written expression is the basic method of schooling from sixth grade through the highest levels of higher education. This process is also how professionals in various fields communicate with each other regarding findings, advances, and proposals, marking the skill as one of a successful worker.
Successful, participatory adults within society all have one thing in common: they are literate. Moreover, the higher the level of literacy and written expression, the higher chance of success for an individual. Much like any academic skill, parents/guardians can help their students develop and build such skills at the earliest of stages through practicing reading and writing together, sharing examples of higher writing/reading skills from an adult's life, or even simple tasks such as individual reading and journaling time can make an exponential difference given enough time and commitment.