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Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2016

The learning gap is our next challenge

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

I'm really not sure where to begin. Let's start by acknowledging that this great nation of ours has many strengths and a fair share of weaknesses. Our weaknesses can be traced to a wide range of issues and causes. But a new report out this week sheds some interesting light on one of our glaring weaknesses. It's so simple and yet so difficult to address.

Here's the bombshell. Out of an adult population of 222 million Americans, 95 million adults in this country have "intermediate" reading skills. A full 11 million adults are totally illiterate in English. And 30 million adults have "below basic" skills in reading and writing. But the amazing number is the 95 million - 44 percent of the total population of this country - have reading and writing skills that make them face challenges comprehending the most basic written instructions.

Now think of this for a minute. If you think we have an income gap in this country, imagine if you will the gap in understanding. It's no wonder the government has problems with people understanding tax forms or Medicare information. Nearly half the population just flat out can't understand simple written information or cannot put their thoughts on paper.

Obviously that translates into high incomes for those who can understand the written word. And that lack of understanding dooms many to a life of poverty or isolation.

The study said many students have problems because they go home to parents who lack the basic skills to understand and help that student. And thus the cycle continues.

I was absolutely floored by these numbers. That means nearly half the population has trouble completing a job application.

Way back 100 years ago when I was in college, we were taught to write for newspapers at an eighth grade reading level. I thought that strange then. But this study clearly illustrates why we must often "dumb down" society because far too many people simply would not understand otherwise.

I'm not sure if we can address this problem. And even if we could, it would take generations to change these numbers substantially. But few other problems will pose a greater challenge in the future as this learning gap.

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Michael Jensen
Michael Jensen