Perhaps it’s not news when a textbook company comes out in favor of reading, as a major educational publisher recently did in a new campaign called Right2Read.
Even so, it was striking to pick up the latest copy of Education Week, a national journal for educators, and see the words “Reading is a Universal Right” splashed in huge letters across the cover.
Houghton Mifflin had bought the space — and the messaging — to promote a new line of classroom products.
We’re not in the business of product endorsement, so we’ll leave judgments about Houghton Mifflin’s books and educational tools to others.
We were intrigued, though, by the notion of reading as a fundamental right. That idea isn’t mentioned in the Constitution, although this much is true: Those among us who can’t read cannot fully participate in their workplaces, their communities and the public square where citizens make their voices heard.
It’s an important reality to consider here in Louisiana, where too many residents are functionally illiterate — a huge drag on the economy and quality of life. Those who can’t read are much more likely to require government assistance and break the law, another drain on taxpayers. That’s why all of us have a stake in making sure that more of our fellow citizens can read and write.
The challenge is daunting. According to UNESCO, a United Nations agency, 115 million adolescents around the world are illiterate. In the United States alone, there are 36 million people who cannot read better than the average third-grader.
That’s no way to guarantee our country’s continued competitiveness in the global marketplace.
The maxim “think globally, act locally” couldn’t be more apt on this issue. The most encouraging progress we’ve seen in expanding the circle of readers is taking place at the grass-roots level in communities across south Louisiana, thanks to the hard work of organizations such as the Literacy Alliance of Greater New Orleans, Adult Literacy Advocates of Greater Baton Rouge and Volunteer Instructors Teaching Adults, or VITA, in Acadiana.
We encourage residents to support these organizations. Our collective goal for 2016 — and the years beyond — should be increasing the number of Louisiana residents who are able to do what you’re doing now: looking at a block of print and unlocking the door of written language.