The Stiff Penalties of Illiteracy

Here’s David Fowler making a good case for the importance of reading ability in the post-secondary world.  Fowler worries that voters may sometimes lack the literacy skills to be aware of what exactly they’re voting for or against:

After explaining that the reading of Amendment 8 was one of those tricky ones that you had to read closely, we laughed about their error. Yet, I began to think about this as a larger concern for our community. How many others who voted faced the same dilemma? Was it that they simply did not read it, or more importantly, that they did not comprehend the paragraph as written?

As Fowler explains, Amendment 8 is written at a Lexile level of 1340L – at about the same level as a university textbook.  Given that 45% of the citizens in Fowler’s county have only a high school diploma or less, Fowler worries that many of the voters may have simply lacked the basic literacy skills to comprehend what they were reading.

His point is worth considering.  Over the last fifty years, the text complexity levels of college and career materials have continued to rise, while the complexity levels of many secondary textbooks have declined.  If students are graduating accustomed to reading texts around 1100L, they face obvious challenges when confronted with texts, in the post-secondary world, that are significantly higher than what they have been reading. 

In an increasingly global environment, this alarming lack of preparedness translates into reduced educational, social and economic opportunities – not the least of which is the inability to comprehend ballot measures and the language of the voting booth.

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