A comment made by Janet to my Quick Tourist's Conversion between Fahrenheit and Celsius post inspired these thoughts, and it seemed better to give them their own post rather than to comment on that one.:
The Orlando Sentinel of January 31 contained an article by a pediatrician, highlighting the efforts of those in his field to combat illiteracy. It included the following sentence:
One in four children grow up without learning how to read.
I have grave doubts about that statistic. If true, there should be rioting in the streets on behalf of the 25 percent, who, under our compulsory education system, have wasted at least ten of the most important years of their lives in school. True, there are a few (very few) children who have handicaps that keep them from learning to read, but there is absolutely no excuse for confining children for most of their young lives if they can't read when they come out. As certain as I am that the institution of school has serious problems, I simply don't believe that it can be doing that badly.
On the other hand, true literacy is more than the mere ability to read words on a page. Understanding, and the ability to reason, are necessary for making sense of writing. That we fail one in four school children that way is still unbelievable, but reading comments written to news websites and blogs (especially those where the subject is political, or controversial in any way) has made it a more credible failing.
I can't get out of my mind the question someone, alas long forgotten, once asked: Is there any material difference between someone who can't read and someone who doesn't? It's not surprising that the mantra among teachers and parents has long been, "I don't care what they read as long as they're reading." But comprehension and logic are skills that must be honed with practice. To that end, what we read is critical: Garbage in, garbage out.