I noticed this rather disturbing fact in a LinkedIn post by a colleague whose organization had just received a $200,000 grant from the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy. I knew it was bad but not this bad.
For detailed information, have a look at this report Assessing the Economic Gains of Eradicating Illiteracy Nationally and Regionally in the United States (PDF download) by Jonathan Rothwell, Principal Economist, Gallup, and Nonresident Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution, Metropolitan Policy Program.
In a nutshell, people who are functionally illiterate cannot use reading, writing, and calculation skills for their own and the community’s development. It’s one of a long list of reasons why the 21st century is the #Asian Century.
Below are some excerpts from my response.
In case you’re counting, that’s 130 million people or nearly 40% of the US population. Appalling but not surprising. Meanwhile, the US defense budget for FY21 is $753.5 billion, which is over 50% of federal discretionary spending. The US government and a majority of its people continue to be obsessed with external enemies, most imagined, when their most formidable enemies are at home, if not in the mirror.
My guess is that a lot of die-hard MAGA supporters, you know, the non-college educated white people, the ones Hillary Clinton condescendingly referred to in the 2016 campaign as the “deplorables,” who believe everything the pathological liar-in-chief says and are unable to think for themselves, don’t know much about their own country, not to mention the rest of the world, lack literary proficiency.
Many of these people are the same ones who believe all of the crazy conspiracy theories floating around. There are others, e.g., racist, sexist, and educated white men of considerable means, who support Dear Leader because he has made them richer and he’s their kind of guy.
[In general, the functionally illiterate in the US are overrepresented in the Electoral College and the larger political system. Under the current system both California, with a population of 40 million, and Wyoming, with 579,000 residents, get two senators. It is estimated that 40% of all US Americans will live in five states by 2040, which means half of the US will be represented by 18 senators and the other half by 82.]
As far as participating “in the democratic process” is concerned, I’m afraid this particular democracy is hanging by a very thin thread. Functional illiteracy is one of the obvious reasons. Another is the existence of so many unresolved societal issues rooted in the country’s history.
Yet another reason is that most of these people still believe that their country is “the greatest nation on earth,” despite abundant and ubiquitous evidence to the contrary. Nationalism is a stumbling block to societal progress.
When US politicians end their speeches with the customary “God bless America!”, that’s fine. (If there is a God of all people, I assume he would want to bless all nations and peoples.) When they continue to tell their constituents and others that the US is “the greatest nation on earth,” they’re fueling cultural mythology.
Think of it as a dysfunctional symbiotic relationship between US Americans and most of their political leaders. Two peas in a pod of deception and lies whose ideological blinders prevent them from seeing societal problems and trying to solve them.
Shalom (שלום), MAA