Saturday, August 4, 2007

On the Disheartening Rates of Illiteracy

Thursday I began three six-week online courses. One of them is a repeat- a class I previously did not successfully complete due to a tendency I have to ignore my online classes when life takes over and I become distracted.

The classes I'm taking are classes I'm excited about because they cover areas I want to be more familiar with. Further, the subjects are quite intimately related and I'm therefore getting a broader perspective than I would have had I taken them individually.

The courses:
*Geography (This is good- if you try to have a discussion about Haiti with me, I'm not going to be able to picture where in the world it is because it's not on the Risk game board. That was hypothetical, by the way. I do actually know where Haiti is. I think.)
*Emerging Nations (I'm excited for this one as it will allow me to explore some of my recent interest from another course in the inequities existing within IGOs. Also, I have been increasingly enthusiastic about literature that has emerged from authors who have experienced life in post-colonial countries and am excited to learn more about how colonialism may have influenced their work. Maybe it will inspire me to finally finish reading The Satanic Verses!)
*International Relations (With all of the shit going on in the world right now, it's high time I took this course. Luckily, I'm taking it alongside the above two and will get so much more out of it.)

Now, I must talk a bit about myself before I make my point. No matter, y'all love hearing about me anyway or you wouldn't be here right now. (wink, wink)

My aunt taught me to read before I even started kindergarten. Since then, I've always cherished books, though we were very poor when I was young and I had very few of my own books until I entered middle school. I wasn't able to start going to the public library by myself until I was in fourth grade so the majority of my reading was done during the school year up until then.

I have always had a knack for grammar, spelling, and anything else English language (unlike other English nerds, however, my second strength lies in math, not history). I can't remember a time in grade school when I didn't take tremendous pride in being the best reader, writer, and *especially* speller amongst my classmates.

That began to fade as I matured and realized that there were many others who met or exceeded my level of "expertise" in the subject. While I evolved to feel less superior, I also came to be more appreciative of the passion I feel for the English language and for literature.

My "to be read" list contains literally hundreds of books and grows constantly. I will never, no matter how long I live, read every book I want to read. This does not deter me. It inspires me.

When I read about Third World countries and the plethora of barriers against which they struggle every single day, I feel a great sense of helplessness.

Most of you are aware of how strongly I feel about fighting the AIDS virus and how the issue captivates my attention in light of the sad living conditions the majority of the world's people live in.

Still, the thing that most makes my eyes well up with tears and pulls at the heart of the person I am is the high rate of illiteracy. It is frightening to me that, in twenty countries, less than half of the population can read. In another twenty, only 50-65 percent can read.

As a teacher in the public school system, the only hope I have of making a decent amount of money is through longevity (staying permanently in the school district into which I'm hired, teachers start at the bottom of the pay scale when they transfer to a new district) and through continued education (Master's and beyond). One district in MI pays their teachers (at the highest "step" on the pay scale) $80K. That, coupled with the excellent benefits teachers receive is respectable. It pleases me to know that I will be a part of a profession that will reward me for continuing my education (something I would be likely to do on my own anyway).

That said, it is disheartening to know that so many children in the world will never have the option of taking a college course over because they just didn't feel like doing it right the first time. Many won't go to school at all because their families need them to work. These children will never know what it's like to find the escape that a book can provide. They'll never have a professional title that affords them the opportunity to make more money to broaden their knowledge while doing something that they love. They don't really have any choices at all.

Someday, when I'm a bit older and my kids have found their way, I believe that I'd gladly give up my earning potential (I'm not materialistic, $80K annually would be quite enough for me to live comfortably) and three months vacation each year for the honor of teaching some of these children how to read.

I'm not sure that anything could make me happier than to give children a taste of the power that comes with possessing the ability to read.

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