Fallout from illiteracy

Letter to the editor

Posted: Thursday, December 29, 2005

Wasn't that U.S. Department of Education adult literacy study interesting (Empire, Dec. 16)? Fourteen percent of American adults can't read English - illiterate; 29 percent comprehend basic reading material when pressed to read - functionally illiterate; 44 percent can read at a moderately difficult level and can conduct simple research to learn - moderately literate; and only 13 percent can competently read and research to be able to conduct "complex activities such as comparing viewpoints in two different editorials" - truly literate.

This apparently shows why 43 percent of American adults will believe what they are told if 1) the material is artfully verbalized in media addresses catering to their prejudices, and 2) a manipulated media censures conflicting news to keep the message simple.

This apparently shows that only 57 percent of American adults can competently participate in the polls politicians are using to "understand the will" of informed citizens.

This apparently shows why listening to trusted lobbyists is so popular in the Alaska Legislature. Vested interests merely must make an issue appear complicated enough to scare the moderately literate away from taking the time to personally study it.

This apparently shows how we can make excuses for a president who has admitted publicly that he reads no newspapers, few books and only gets briefings from trusted advisors.

This apparently shows why presidents for the last 50 years have gotten away with making the role of commander in chief more important than the role of chief executor of U.S. law.

And it also shows the truth of Thomas Paine's observation in the preface of his 1797 "Rights of Man": "Reason and ignorance influence the bulk of mankind. If either of these can be rendered sufficiently extensive, the machinery of government goes easily on. Reason obeys itself and Ignorance submits to whatever is dictated to it."

What can each American adult do? Model himself/herself after Abraham Lincoln - who self-educated himself from illiteracy to become arguably the greatest American statesman ever. And consider if this statement is true: just the power of minds willing to learn, acting in concert, will always conquer the physical force and weapons wielded by intellectual slaves.

Stuart Thompson


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