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Illiteracy in Nashville

February 22, 2009

In the past four days two Nashville, TN newspapers published long, headline pieces about the state of literacy in our city.  Both articles are heartwarming, heartbreaking, and stinging.

One in 8 adult Nashvillians can’t read above a 3rd grade level, the wait list for can’t-readers to receive tutoring is 60 deep, and the Literacy Program Coordinator position is about to be eliminated because funding is drying up.


Quoting from the Nashville Scene:  

Because illiteracy is so widespread, Tennessee spends millions to pay for the consequences.  “One in eight-it’s a frightening statistic,” says Meg Nugent of the Nashville Literacy Council. “Eighty or 90 percent of people in prison read at very low levels. Low-level readers also tend to live in poverty. They have higher health problems because they don’t read preventive literature. Some overdose their children accidentally because they can’t read medicine bottles.”

The Cohn Adult Learning Center off Charlotte Pike is the only place in town offering free tutoring to those at or below a sixth-grade reading level, but it’s busting at the seams. Nugent blames the overflow on the economy-a surge not seen since 9/11-as people scramble to hike their value in pursuit of increasingly scarce jobs. And while half of the students are immigrants, the other half were born in the good ole U.S.A.

“It’s the people who can’t get jobs because they can’t fill out the application, or people who can’t get promoted because they can’t read at the next level,” says Nugent of her clients.

And if you are thinking, “Send those people to McDonald’s,” you should know Micky D’s has a two-page application form.

“Kids and puppies, people want to help,” Nugent says. “But adults? At a lower economic level? That doesn’t add up to a lot of attention.”

A single mistake in adolescence or a parent asleep at the switch or simple immigration can make the most fundamental skill for existing in America unreachable. Both newspaper pieces contain quick biographies demonstrating how people can get off-track and how whose same lives have been lifted from hard times because they were taught to read by caring tutors.  Here are the links.  Please read the complete articles–it’ll be worth your 5 minutes.  And be grateful you can read while you are doing so.

Nashville Scene–English Only: One in Eight Nashvillians Can’t Read by Tracy Moore

The Tennessean–Tutors Help Adults Fulfill Desire to Read by Dwight Lewis


(Just a thought question:  do you remember how you learned to read?  do you remember the specific skills you had to learn?)


© David P. Leach and Consequential Value, 2009

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