3.5 Million Texans can't read this

Joshua Daughrity

Staff Writer


Sitting in a sub-floor office, nose deep in a book of some kind or another, Phyllis Wall wondered out loud how she could make a dent in the Hale County illiteracy rate. For over four years, the school council woman has tried to lower the number of the 6,665 adults in Hale county who could not read well enough to pass an 8 th grade reading test.

The numbers, while staggering, are nothing compared to the state illiteracy rate of 3.5 million adults. This, in itself, is nothing compared to the national rate of over 42 million adults. Phyllis Wall knows the stark truth, it’s getting worse. Current national estimates show that the number of functionally illiterate adults is increasing by approximately two and one quarter million persons each year.

In 1986, a group of concerned townspeople put together the Hale County Literacy Council to combat a growing problem. The problem? Over 25 percent of adults residing in this county could not read. With the help of many volunteers, and the hard work of people like Phyllis Wall, that number has dropped to around 21 percent, which is still considered too high. They say that one out of four people you meet probably cannot read. The Literacy Council, residing on the bottom floor of the Unger Library at 825 Austin St., takes upon itself the onerous task of teaching basic skills that we, as college students, mostly take for granted. As of right now, there is a large percentage of people who go into a restaurant and aren’t able to read the menu, or read the funny clips on billboards and in the newspapers. They aren’t even able to read overdose warnings on medications that they might give to their children.

According to Eastside Literacy, a program of Hopelink, in the United States, 40 million adults are functionally illiterate. The U.S. economy suffers an estimated $225 billion annually in lost productivity, traced directly to adult illiteracy. 43% of adults at the lowest literacy level are living in poverty. 75% of the prison population is illiterate. The U.S. ranks 49 th among member nations of the United Nations in literacy. Of American non-literate adults, 63% speak English and 37% are non-English speakers.

The numbers are indeed staggering, and when asked, Phyllis Wall said, “The way to improve the numbers is to reach the families, start early, assure compliance, and reach each and everyone who cannot read. To do that, we need volunteers who are passionate about literacy, and about making a difference in the community.”

This is Phyllis’s fourth year as head of the Hale County Literacy Council.

“I see it as a sort of ministry that has been set before me as a way to reach out to people, some of which don’t know they even have a problem. I didn’t grow up enjoying reading, and I never read anything I didn’t have to. Until I had a teacher in High School who asked me to read a book, and told me I would enjoy it. It was the first time someone told me I would do something, and how I would feel about it. The book was The Pearl .”

Ask anyone involved in the literacy program, and they will tell you that Phyllis Wall is the person to go to, to get things done. She was born and raised here in Plainview, has been a part of the Plainview School System for countless years, and has been a huge supporter of local United Way charities.

Making up the heart of the volunteer part of the literacy council is the Junior Literacy Council. It is made up of 50-60 High School sophomores, juniors, and seniors, and governed by a ten person board. These teens run many of the programs the literacy council provides free of charge to illiterate adults here in Hale County. The teens must pass through an application process, and receive no school credit for their hard work. The motivation for the job? Lowering the staggering 21% of adults in our county who cannot functionally read.

One of the programs that the council provides is ABC’s for Babies. This is a program for young parents of infant-through-preschool-age children, designed to develop good reading skills early.

Adult Tutoring provides one-on-one tutoring for adult non-readers, or those needing basic reading improvement skills.

Babes-in-Bookland, a partnership with Covenant Hospital, provides every new parent with their child’s first book. They also educate them on the importance of reading to their children.

Computer Literacy, designed to tutor area adults in basic computer skills, teaches adults the skills necessary to succeed in today’s computer-lead industries.

Read 1 st , partnering with various organizations and institutions, is an after school reading opportunity for every 1 st grader in our community. It is a way for the citizens of our city to give back to literacy.

First Thursday Reading Night, partners a junior council member with a community reader to share selected books with children ages 4-8 and their families. It also teaches parents important reading tips and each child leaves with a copy of one of the books read.

The numbers signify the need for attention. At Wayland, many entering students might feel overwhelmed with the study skills, reading assignments, and paper writing skills they need to achieve success. A great way to sharpen your reading skills is to teach another person.

There is a growing awareness that adult illiteracy can and must be addressed through the family, as well as through the broader community. The family literacy concept reflects the fact that literacy, the ability to read and understand, begins at home. Family literacy programs help increase adult literacy, increase reading skills for the children, and foster good reading habits that reflect in the community.

The Literacy Council can always use help from people in the community.

“Volunteer to tutor, teach an adult how to read, and make the long-term commitment to see it through.” Wall said. “Being a guest reader, or helping plan a literacy event would help as well. The only thing I ask is that the person be passionate about fixing the problem, or doing what they can to help. We have such a long way to go, but I can assure you, any little bit helps.”