As I noted last week, there is a vacuum in leadership about adult education, and this has been made worse with the passing of Barbara Bush. But truth be told, we know that Barbara Bush did not have huge influence over the past 10 years, and our country has taken its eye off of adult education; but our children and our nation pay the price for this.
How much have we taken our eye off of this? Well, in 2003, nearly 1 in 7 adults were “functionally illiterate”, as measured by the National Adult Literacy Survey. This survey has not been done again since then, even though it has been a decade and a half! We have had some new statistics from the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), but these have not helped us focus on our nation’s need, or given clear information about how many adults are illiterate.
So what is the cost? There is clearly an economic cost. There is a cost to our democracy. And there is a cost to our greatness as a nation. But most importantly there is a personal cost. There have been several great articles recently about this, including about adults who face the stigma of illiteracy and work to learn to read better. And the personal experience of other adults who struggle to read and write, and the most interesting, and in many ways most heart breaking story, is of the teacher, who couldn’t read or write.
So what can be done? First, support libraries that have adult literacy programs. Next, support public adult education in your state. In California, there has been a long history of successful public adult schools that support adult literacy. And finally, support adult charter schools that can be another alternative to helping adults learn basic skills, including literacy.
And you can help by signing the Petition to Betsy DeVos to support adult education.