It's hard to believe, but at the start of the 1999 school year in the richest industrialized country in the world, a whopping 62 percent of the adults in its capital city continue to function at the two lowest levels of reading proficiency. And, 131,000 residents - 30.2 percent of the total D.C. population age 16 or older - are out of school or have no high school diploma or equivalency degree.
What happens if you are one of the 40 million illiterate adults in America and can't leave a note alerting your family of your unexpected departure because you can't write? What happens if you don't understand the note on the courtroom door because you don't read? What do you do if the computerized cash register malfunctions and you can't count?
No wonder that with all the knapsacks, lunch boxes, yellow school buses and cool breezes as visible reminders of schooling or the lack thereof, the phones were ringing off the hook yesterday at two area literacy councils.
Sylvia Keene of the Metropolitan Delta Adult Literacy Council Inc. and Robin Diener of the Washington Literacy Council were busy fielding calls from folks who not only want to learn but also want to teach.
Leonard Dungee, a real estate developer in the District, was invited to join the board of the Metropolitan Delta Literacy Council and serve as a tutor. He sees the need for such service because he employs a cadre of ex-offenders as day laborers, and he has come to believe that many can't get jobs because they can't read.
"I wanted to do this so I could help others to live in society successfully," Mr. Dungee said. "We need to make a commitment to help people and, in turn, life rewards you."
"Each one teach one," reads the motto of the Washington Literacy Council. With good reason. To help one person learn to read is to help an entire family or maybe even an entire community raise its skills and quality of living.
Ms. Diener talked about two students enrolled in her organization's program that uses the Wilson Reading System, a new method of teaching designed for people with dyslexia. One woman volunteered to read at her grandchildren's school after mastering the program. Another, the coach of a boys intramural basketball team, took her lesson board to practice and demonstrated how she had learned to read.
As a result, Ms. Diener said they've established a literacy program for parents at Benning Elementary School in Northeast. She spent the first day of classes at the school yesterday passing out leaflets and pencils to recruit students and tutors.
Studies by the National Center on Educational Statistics show that in elementary schools with high parental involvement, children do better in reading comprehension. …