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RUSH: All right, here’s Marcia in Syracuse, New York. Marcia, I’m glad you waited. Welcome to the EIB Network.

CALLER: Hi, Rush. Thank you. How are you?

RUSH: Fine. Very well, thank you.

CALLER: Well, I was calling in response to your discussion earlier about the report about illiteracy in the District of Columbia.

RUSH: Yeah, it’s terrible, isn’t it? One-third of the residents of the District are functionally illiterate.

CALLER: Yes, they are, and it is a terrible shame that adults in the nation’s capital have such incredibly low literacy skills.

RUSH: Well, it’s one-in-five nationwide. It’s a shame nationwide.

CALLER: Yes, it is a shame. Out of the total population of 30 million adults estimated to have barely marginal literacy skills, the system of adult literacy and instruction in the United States — both publicly and privately funded — is only serving about three million of those adults. Only about 10%. We have a real disconnect between the Department of Education’s own numbers on the estimate of this problem and the number of people who can be served.

RUSH: By the way, for those of you in Rio Linda, ‘illiteracy’ means you can’t read.

CALLER: Yeah, in the United States, some of these adults do have some very limited literacy skills, and it may not be that they cannot read or write altogether, which would be the definition that you would see in, for example, developing countries. But here in the US, most adults do have some rudimentary literacy skills, but they don’t have the skills they need to be fully effective in society as workers, as family members, to be able to take care of their health care concerns and so forth.

RUSH: I can see where that would be terrible. I mean, if you can’t read a label on a bottle of cleaning fluid, you don’t know whether it’s dangerous or not.

CALLER: Exactly.

RUSH: If you can’t read the nutrition labels on food, you don’t know if you’re violating your diet or what have you.

CALLER: All those things.

RUSH: I’ll tell you something, Marcia, you sound like you have some officialdom in this, like it’s a cause for you. Is that right?

CALLER: That’s right. I work for ProLiteracy Worldwide, which is an international, nonprofit organization that helps adults to become literate.

RUSH: Where did you get your funding?

CALLER: Our funding is entirely philanthropic. We do not receive any federal funding at all, although many local literacy programs do get some funding through the Workforce Investment Act.

RUSH: What about state funding? Do you have access to that?


RUSH: You do.

CALLER: We do not at ProLiteracy, but again, local literacy programs do get some of their funding through states which appropriate additional funds over and above what the feds appropriate, but as I said earlier, even taking all of that into account — including donations from people and corporations and foundations — we’re still only able to provide instruction to a very small percentage of the people who need it and want it. All of our programs report significant waiting lists.

RUSH: You’re headquartered in Syracuse?

CALLER: We are, yes.

RUSH: All right. Now, here’s the way this impacts me. I’m an American, and I have full knowledge of the greatness of this country and the wealth —

CALLER: Right.

RUSH: — the opportunity, the prosperity that’s been achieved in this country that exceeds every other civilized society in history. And when you read that a third of the adult population of the nation’s capital can’t read and one-fifth of the nation’s population can’t read, and then you couple it with all the money spent on public education —


RUSH: — you want to get to the root problem in order to solve it.


RUSH: And it seems to me that we’ve heard the horror stories of graduating seniors in high schools around the country who can’t read their diplomas.

CALLER: That’s right.

RUSH: How can this happen?

CALLER: You have a number of things going on here. For one thing, in the adult population, you have immigrants who have come into the country with a variety of literacy skills in their native language. So they may come to the US with no literacy at all, or they may come with highly advanced degrees, but still be functionally illiterate in English. But for those who are born —

RUSH: Wait, wait, wait. But that’s not the majority of who we’re talking about, is it?

CALLER: It’s a significant percentage, not the majority. Roughly half of all the university enrollments in the US are actually speakers of other languages.

RUSH: All right, but if they’re still graduating from American high schools, how in the world are they passing tests in order to go from grade to grade to grade?

CALLER: Right. Well, and in fact one of the problems is that our schools have so many issues. The teachers are dealing with so many issues in their classrooms that when children who are in that system struggle to learn to read. Maybe through learning disabilities or because of issues going on at home, like poverty, they may be living in abusive situations. They may have health care problems. The teachers are not equipped to give them the kind of individualized attention that they would need to overcome those issues.

RUSH: Wait. Why…? With all due respect, what possible impact could poverty or health care problems have on somebody’s ability to learn to read in a school? We all learn to read in the first grade. It starts there. What does poverty at home have to do with this?

CALLER: Poverty at home has everything to do with this. When a child comes to school who hasn’t had a good meal in several days —

RUSH: What about the school lunch program or school breakfast program? They’re all over the place.

CALLER: Yeah. We have stories from all over the country from teachers who will tell you that the last hot lunch the students in his or her classroom got was last Friday. Children who come in with clothing that is not appropriate for the weather, lacking boots in cold communities. The list goes on and on. All those issues do impact a child’s ability to learn to read and to write. A child living with those kind of conditions at home or are with trauma doesn’t come to school prepared.

RUSH: But how do they advance, then? If the charge at any school is to teach them to read —

CALLER: Right.

RUSH: — and it isn’t happening, and yet they still get promoted to the next grade, the next grade, the next grade.

CALLER: Which, I think, with the No Child Left Behind reform that is happening now, less and less of that is happening, but we still have all of these adults who went through the system didn’t acquire those skills and who now are adults, who don’t have the skills they need to be effective in their lives. Also what we’re seeing a great deal of now is kids, teenagers, either dropping out officially from school or being pushed out because they’re not able to meet the requirements for graduation, and all those kids are going into the population of adults who don’t have skills equipped to work and to take care of their families and so forth.

RUSH: Well, there’s a common denominator here in my opinion, and the common denominator is that the public schools in way too many communities around the country are just hopeless.

CALLER: You said that, I didn’t.

RUSH: No, no, no. I’m offering you my opinion. The public school system today is full of bureaucrats. They are top-heavy. That is where way too much of the money allocated for education goes. The public schools are full of teachers who have tenure and can’t be removed. We spend hundreds of billions of dollars, and it only gets worse, and the common denominator here is government, and government cannot run things. You don’t hear of people moving from grade to grade to grade in private schools unable to read. You just don’t hear about it.

CALLER: Well, that’s true. But on the other hand, the resources available for those kids in those private schools are quite a bit greater than they are in many of our schools —

RUSH: Well, imagine that, and their parents are paying for it. How about that?

CALLER: Well, that’s true. But the kids who are growing up in — and particularly in urban communities that are very poor, where the per capita income rates are very low, as is the case in the District of Columbia, there’s not enough money.

RUSH: There’s another factor there, though, too and there’s something cultural in those urban schools where doing well in school is not cool racially. You’ve heard this, Marcia. It’s ‘too white’ to be able to learn or read, write and speak the language.

CALLER: There’s no question that what’s going on in those schools is very complicated, complicated on every level for those kids. But we’re very concerned about the number of adults currently in the country who don’t have the skills they need, and the number of highly motivated adults who do come to adult literacy programs looking for assistance, wanting to acquire these skills, and we can’t serve them all because, frankly, there just isn’t enough money to go around.

RUSH: Well, I’ll tell you what. Try removing the sex education class. Try remove all this diversity stuff. Try to take conflict resolution out of the curricula, all these crazy things that prevent doing the basics, you know, get rid of all these esoteric bureaucratic liberal things and start getting back to the basics. We’re talking about not having to add the school day from three p.m. to five p.m., eight to five. Clearly history shows that’s not necessary. And plus now we’ve got people trying to eliminate homework because it isn’t fair. Some people don’t have the nice environment to do homework whereas others do. But the focus is all wrong. We’re teaching a bunch of sociology and liberal social mores rather than basic education, good old readin’, writin’, ‘rithmetic.

CALLER: Well, I would certainly agree with you that getting back to the basics, there is a lot of research about what effective reading instruction looks like, and it’s available out there to the K-12 system as well as to anybody else, and I would certainly agree with you that focusing on that research and incorporating it into the classroom would take us a long way toward solving this problem.

RUSH: You know what, I’ll tell you something here, Marcia, the reason this irritates the American people. You go to New York and New Jersey, $17,000 per student in the classroom, Washington, DC, ten grand, and for this we’re getting a third of the students who are illiterate and New York half of them dropping out?

CALLER: Yes. It’s a terrible situation. And I think in DC we should all be ashamed that people who live in the nation’s capital live in such poor conditions and have such limited literacy skills.

RUSH: Yeah. Well, I know. A lot of people should be ashamed, but not the people paying for it. The people paying for it ought to be angry they are not getting any bang fobs buck. The people should be ashamed are the ones are running the education system. I’m really glad I called. I wish I had more time here but I’m up against it on the official program format clock. I hope we speak again. Thanks again so much.

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