D.C. One-Third Illiterate
When I saw the YahooNews headline “Study finds one-third in D.C. illiterate,” I presumed it was some sort of play on Mark Twain’s line that, “Those who can read and don’t are no better off than those who can’t.”
Apparently, they’re serious.
About one-third of the people living in the national’s capital are functionally illiterate, compared with about one-fifth nationally, according to a report on the District of Columbia. Adults are considered functionally illiterate if they have trouble doing such things as comprehending bus schedules, reading maps and filling out job applications.
The study by the State Education Agency, a quasi-governmental office created by the U.S.
Department of Education to distribute federal funds for literacy services, was ordered by Mayor Anthony A. Williams in 2003 as part of his four-year, $4 million adult literacy initiative.
The growing number of Hispanic and Ethiopian immigrants who aren’t proficient in English contributed to the city’s high functional illiteracy level, which translated to 170,000 people, said Connie Spinner, director of the State Education Agency. The report says the district’s functional illiteracy rate is 36 percent and the nation’s 21 percent.
D.C. is a strange town, consisting of one of the most highly educated workforces in the country, those working in politics and the various industries that seek to affect public policy and which mostly lives in the suburbs of Virginia and Maryland and an underclass that constitutes most of residential D.C. Still, it’s unfathomable that a third of even this latter group is illiterate, even factoring in the immigrant population. After all, the literacy rate of the United States and other developed nations is variously calculated at somewhere between 99 percent and 99.9 percent.
Certainly, filling out a job application or, much less, reading a map, is a more complex task than basic literacy. Then again, a bureaucratic agency in the business of pretending that we have a substantial problem with adult illiteracy and seeking places to hold out money in support of combating same will likely be able to find it.