Recently, at a nearby restaurant, I left my table to go to the bathroom. Looking back, I remember thinking this particular bathroom looked, somehow — well, different. I soon found out why. While washing my hands, the door opened and a woman stood there looking at me with an inane smirk. “What is she grinning about and what’s she doing in the men’s room?” I thought, but maintaining my composure, I politely smiled and then gasped as she pointed a finger to a sign which clearly said — WOMEN.
“Can’t you read?” she asked and started laughing, hysterically. After a mumbled apology, I hurried back to the table and hustled my family out of the restaurant before she could come out of the restroom and tell the whole world about this bizarre man who visits women’s bathrooms.
Okay, you can stop laughing now! It was a silly mistake but suppose I really couldn’t read?
How would I know which bathroom to enter, drive a car, fill out an employment application, read a newspaper or study a Bible? How would you hold a job, shop for groceries or order a meal? Is there anything more traumatic than being unable to read in our information-driven society?
- According to information distributed by ProLiteracy.org: Literacy is the ability to read, write, compute, and use technology at a level that enables an individual to reach his or her full potential as a parent, employee, and community member.
- There are 774 million adults around the world who are illiterate in their native languages. Two-thirds of the world’s illiterate adults are women.
- In the U.S., 30 million people over age 16 — 14 percent of the country’s adult population — don’t read well enough to understand a newspaper story written at the eighth grade level or fill out a job application. The United States ranks fifth on adult literacy skills when compared to other industrialized nations.
- Adult low literacy can be connected to almost every socio-economic issue in the United States: More than 60 percent of all state and federal corrections inmates can barely read and write. Low literacy’s effects cost the U.S. $225 billion or more each year in non-productivity in the workforce, crime, and loss of tax revenue due to unemployment.
Why? There’s no single reason. One non-reader dropped out of school early. Another has an emotional or physical disability. Another grew up with non-reading parents. English is a foreign language for some non-readers. Regardless of the cause, illiteracy hurts us all. Illiteracy costs our society financially, emotionally and spiritually.
Proverbs is clear: “Happy is the person who finds wisdom and gains understanding. For the profit of wisdom is better than silver and her wages are better than gold. Wisdom is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her. She offers you life in her right hand and riches and honor in her left. She will guide you down delightful paths; all her ways are satisfying. Wisdom is a tree of life to those who embrace her. (3:13-18)
“So, Larry, what can I do?”
“You can volunteer to help someone read by volunteering or supporting a literacy group in your community.” Volunteers in a typical group meet individually with students and help nonreaders learn basic skills. Tutoring is usually offered free of charge to anyone with the desire to learn. Your donations provide training for the tutors plus books and other materials for the student.
One student dictated this letter to a tutor after only a few months: “I started school when I was 7. I liked going through the 4th grade. When I got in the 5th grade, I started having problems— I got in trouble that summer. I was sent to reform school when I was 13. I never went back to school. I can read a whole lot better now since I’ve been coming here (to reading class). I enjoy reading more too. I want to get my GED so I can get a good job. My ‘tutor’ is really helping me.”
Would you like to “really help” someone in need? Contact your library and ask about a local literacy group. Most organizations desperately need donations and volunteers. Nationally, you can contact www.ProLiteracy.org. You really can make a difference.
Meanwhile, please pray that I learn to visit the right bathroom. This could be embarrassing!