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Functional illiteracy

Virginia Gov. Charles S. Robb's thoughtful article, ``Helping at-risk youth'' [May 30] pointed out several areas of American life in which the current school reform movement does not work. It was surprising that he did not stress the one overwhelming factor, and even cause, common to the groups and areas of life that were mentioned -- functional illiteracy. According to Foundation News (January/ February 1983), illiteracy handicaps 44 percent of black teen-agers, 50 percent of all prison inmates who are mostly under 25, 56 percent of Hispanic teen-agers, and 85 percent of the juveniles brought before the courts. To help these young people is praiseworthy and necessary. To find ways to avoid reproducing illiteracy would be 100 times better.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 24 million new jobs in the '80s. If we do not teach literacy to past dropouts and help current students from dropping out of school, we will have to import millions of workers from other countries while we watch and support an illiterate subculture that is excluded from the American way of life. Keith Conning Bexley, Ohio

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Godfrey Sperling Jr. writes that the Democrats are searching for a new identity [``When Democrats search for identity,'' May 14]. The Democrats do not need a new identity. When it becomes evident that the Reagan deficits have raised the national debt to such a level that the pyramiding interest alone will make it impossible to ever redeem the debt, the Democrats will inherit the office and -- with Reagan's luck -- be blamed for the debacle. There are some inexorable laws of economics. One of these was stated by Adam Smith over 200 years ago: ``When national debts have been accumulated to a certain degree, there is scarce, I believe, a single instance of their being fairly and completely paid. The liberation of the public revenue . . . has always been brought about by a bankruptcy; sometimes a real one, though frequently by a pretended payment.''

The pretended payment is usually printed money. When you print money, you get inflation. D. B. Lawrence Weaverville, N.C.

Letters are welcome. Only a selection can be published and none individually acknowledged. All are subject to condensation. Please address letters to ``readers write.''

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