A massive wake up call… 493 million women worldwide cannot read this headline
For someone whose chosen career is to help authors publish meaningful books and connect those books with the readers they will benefit, I am, perhaps surprisingly, a fairly light reader. I love to read; I just haven’t done very much of it lately. Let me clarify – I haven’t read many books lately. I have a Kindle Fire with nearly 100 ebooks on it, but I use it mostly to check email and read articles and blog posts. My husband and I own hundreds of books – and I still buy them frequently enough. But sometime over the last few years, I’ve gotten out of the habit of making dedicated time to read books.
Until one Sunday about two months ago, when my husband and I decided to go to the library and explore. Since then, I’ve been reading more. But I still hadn’t committed to reading one book all the way through. I’m a reader who always has multiple books going at one time. One in my bag, one in the car, one by my bed, one in the bathroom (yes, the bathroom). Until my last visit to the library, when I picked up a brand new paperback copy of the 1996 novel Pope Joan, by Donna Woolfolk Cross.
This book captivated me from the first page. I’m now 143 pages into a book that truly lives up to that frequently-bandied-but-seldom-true description: page turner. It is the fictional account of the 9th century woman who disguised herself as a man and rose to become the only female to sit on the papal throne. Of course, detractors say her existence is mere myth – but whether she was an actual person or not has absolutely no bearing on this fantastic story.
The initial part of the story deals with Joan’s desire to become educated at a time when women were considered “by nature, quite incapable of reasoning.” … “Their natural humors, which are cold and moist, are unpropitious for cerebral activity. They cannot comprehend the higher spiritual and moral concepts.” (Pope Joan, p. 82)
So here’s this impactful story about a 9th century girl who bucks trends and odds to become educated when even most men could neither read nor write. She read not one, but at least three languages. And while her struggles were a moving part of the story for me, they were simply plot points. Until, this morning, when I found myself pausing in amazement, yet again, that this story was devised from 26 characters that its author has turned into words that paint such vivid pictures that I can imagine the scenes as if I were watching a movie.
And then it hit me – what an utter misfortune it is for those who cannot read a book for pleasure. And then, of course, the next natural conclusion finally struck me: What about those who cannot read, period?
I set the book down and jumped online to do some basic research, and the statistics are amazing!
- Approximately 14 percent – or 32 million – U.S. adults are unable to read.
- In the U.S., two-thirds of students who cannot read proficiently by the end of fourth grade will end up in jail or on welfare.
- One in four American children grow up without learning how to read.
- Literacy is a learned skill. Illiteracy is passed down from parents who can neither read nor write.
- As of 2011, the U.S. Was the only free-market OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) country where the current generation was less educated than the previous one.
- Nearly 85 percent of youths who face trial in the American juvenile court system are functionally illiterate.
- More than 70 percent of America’s prison population cannot read above a fourth grade level.
- Of Americans who receive food stamps, 75 percent perform in the lowest two levels of literacy, and 90 percent of high school dropouts are on welfare.
- Teenage girls ages 16 to 19 with below-average literacy skills are six times more likely to get pregnant than girls their age who can read proficiently.
- Reports show that low literacy directly costs the healthcare industry more than $70 million every year.
- Long Beach, California has been ranked the country’s most illiterate city, followed by Mesa, Arizona (neighbor to my home city of Phoenix), and Aurora, Colorado.
- Worldwide, 774 million people are unable to read – 66 percent of them (or 493 million) are women.
I don’t know about you, but I’m inspired to do something about this. ProLiteracy is one place to begin. Or you can do a search for Literacy Volunteers in your area.
We welcome and encourage your thoughtful, courteous comments below.
Check out Laura’s newest book, Practical Philanthropy: How ‘Giving Back’ Helps You, Your Business, and the World Around You. A percentage of all book sales is donated to Art4TheHomeless.org and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.