POINT OF VIEW: As literacy plummets, discernment fades

When I was an elementary school student in the 1950s, we all learned to read well. Classes were larger than I remembered. I count 36 in my fourth-grade class photo.

Because we could read, all my classmates went on to get life-sustaining jobs with the exception of two who had syndromes that were not understood or treated in those days.

So why is literacy plummeting today? Some point to crowded classrooms, or to special-needs students, or to dysfunctional families, but those challenges existed 50 years ago. While there may be more difficulties for teachers today, there are also underlying causes for literacy decline. In a world relying more on hearing and seeing through television and videos, reading can seem cumbersome and unnecessary to younger generations. Reading, however, is an important part of discerning, and writing depends greatly on organizational skills. The loss of discernment and organizing one’s thoughts will impede the efficacy of our society.

Those who can fill out employment applications with good spelling and grammar and provide essay answers detailing knowledge and experience will have the edge. If you file a federal job application, you will find you need a high level of word comprehension just to manage the process of providing answers to 10 pages of questions.

If you become a musician or a sports figure, lack of literacy may not hold you back. However, once you succeed in gaining contracts, you will want to understand what you are signing. When you hire investment managers, you will need adequate understanding of what you are agreeing to. Many agents and investment counselors have bilked those who blindly trusted them.

New legislators learn how hard it is to write accurate and comprehensible legislation. Choice of words makes a big difference since some words are broad in meaning and others are narrow, and some phrases won’t hold up in court. Lawyers and judges know how precise words must be. Without solidly written laws our legal system mires and confusion reigns.

Texting and tweeting employ shortcuts. Those posted short statements are often cutting and harsh without sufficient context. Tweets are basically today’s spitballs. Hit and run. Hurt and hide. With the loss of precise speaking, courtesy exits the discourse.

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The skill of reading is especially necessary in science and medicine. You must be exact. The same is true of medical diagnoses and surgery. When reading history or news, one needs to discern whether the author is accurately explaining what happened.

When too many Americans cannot tell fact from fiction, or fabrication from verifiable details, our votes will become meaningless. We might as well use tarot cards to guide us.


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