Boosting Literacy in the United States

Children grapple for books in a library.

Image: Shutterstock

A barber in Dubuque, Iowa, is doing his part to ensure that kids are reading. Courtney Holmes, father of two, is offering free back-to-school haircuts to kids who sit in his barber’s chair and read, according to USA Today. Some children read just fine on their own, and for the ones who don’t, Holmes offers to read the book with them.

Getting children to read is an important part of growing healthy, productive communities—and it’s especially important because, as of last year, the literacy rate in the United States has not changed since 2004, meaning that a high 14% of American adults did not possess basic reading and writing skills.

Part of the problem with the literacy rate now, according to William Teale, professor of language, literacy, and culture at the University of Illinois Chicago, is literary deserts, or places where people don’t have access to books. Teale says that reading to children is advantageous for many reasons, but it isn’t always possible for parents to engage their children in books. For one thing, books are expensive, and if reading or writing don’t fall under a parent’s strengths, they are less likely to interact with their kids through literature.

A Huffington Post article cites statistics from the Department of Justice regarding the correlation between juvenile delinquency and literacy: “’The link between academic failure and delinquency, violence, and crime is welded to reading failure.’ The stats back up this claim: 85 percent of all juveniles who interface with the juvenile court system are functionally illiterate, and over 70 percent of inmates in America’s prisons cannot read above a fourth grade level.”

The statistics are disheartening, but simple endeavors like Courtney Holmes’ are helping children connect to literature and acquire those basic literacy skills.

Other things are being done to boost literacy, too. Soar with Reading is installing book “vending machines” at some places in Washington, D.C., which will offer up to 100,000 books to children free of cost. Gestures like Soar with Reading’s and Courtney Holmes’ make literature more accessible and reading more commonplace for America’s children. If we keep efforts like this up, hopefully the literacy rate in our country will soar too.

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