The resurrection of Detroit begins with tackling two core issues no one ever discusses in public when they are running for office. Adult illiteracy and restoring core family values to our community.
I have spoken on this issue many times, however, looking at those state representative races last week I have a serious concern about the number of voters in our city who cannot read, write and comprehend information. Functional illiteracy relates to the inability of an individual to use reading, writing and computational skills in everyday life: filling out a job application, reading traffic signs, figuring out an election ballot, reading a newspaper, understanding a bus schedule or a product label—or an address on a sheet of paper. Illiteracy is the inability to read or write simple sentences in any language. This is a pandemic in Detroit and with the Black middle class leaving the city we are becoming poorer and poorer. I cannot understand why ANY elected offical has discussed this.
In fact, those who are functionally illiterate may be subject to social intimidation, health risks, stress, low income, and other pitfalls associated with their inability.
The U.S. population grew to around 300 million in 2000 but 45 million are functionally illiterate. 44% of the American adults do not read a book in a year. A publishing industry study showed that from April 2000 to March 2001, 6 out of 10 households did not buy a single book. It's no wonder the country is falling further and further behind in skills and competency. The Japanese statement that many of the U.S. workers are lazy and illiterate may be reasonably accurate. While the aspect of being lazy is subjective, a illiterate person working hard probably isn't worth that much anyway.
Here in Detroit, it is killing us politically and economically. We are so illiterate that we vote only by name recognition. For example, national studies suggest Detroit's illiteracy rate is the highest among major American cities at 50%. According to a 2002 United Nations report, Detroit falls short even when compared to developing Third World nations, such as Cuba, which has 2.7 percent illiteracy rate. In Ecuador, 7 percent of adults can't read, and in El Salvador, 18.9 percent of adults.
My point is when you are functionally illiterate it causes fear and confusion on many fronts. Our children are graduating on a 6th grade level. Only 24% of students come out of Detroit Public Schools. Over 75% of high school students cannot read a political or physical map. We stress so much on math and science we often forget about geography.
More than 10 million workers in small businesses (about 40%) in the U.S. have trouble doing their jobs because their basic skills in reading, writing and math skills are so low. 23% of manufacturing workers and 11% of management are functionally illiterate. Other estimates put the illiteracy rate at 20% of working adults overall. So why are people upset when foreigners take over and control the economics in our community?
A recent study by the U.S. Department of Education in 2003 stated that 90 million Americans possess only rudimentary literacy skills. 47 percent of America adult population perform only the simplest reading skills. As many as 40 million of the nation's 191 million adults have only the lowest level of skills- meaning they can add the total on a bank slip or identify a piece of specific information in a brief news article.
Each year over 700,000 graduate from high school unable to read their high school diploma. The US. Department of Education says that 20% of American adults are functionally illiterate. Functional illiterates can read words but they cannot comprehend their meanings, synthesize information or make decision based on what they read. And marginally illiterate people feel most comfortable receiving information in a visual format, relying more on television than print for information.
In Detroit nearly half of Detroit’s citizens between the ages of 16 and 60 are jobless and not seeking work. Why? It’s a fair guess that most of them do not have the required literacy skills to apply for available jobs, or even to be trained for them. How can any of these people vote?
Illiteracy and unemployment go hand in hand: 70 percent of functionally illiterate adults have no ob or only a part-time job. Those who are employed have it tough. Illiterate adults work an average of 19 weeks a year, compared with 44 weeks a year for literates. Workers without a high-school degree earn four times less than those with a college degree. And they often can’t cope at work.
What’s worse, the standards and requirements for literacy have increased in recent years, as computerization has taken over the world. “You’ve got mail” may be the defining slogan of our age, but it excludes those who can’t decipher their mail, electronic or otherwise. In a world where you can tell the rich from the poor by their Internet connections, the poverty line trips over the high-speed-digital line. The portal to the computer age is the keyboard—but too many Detroiters literally cannot read the keys.
It is really a national security threat because we cannot transform Detroit into a financial market unless we fight this illiteracy problem head on. People vote by name recognition because they cannot read. Therefore, the leadership we elect is uneducated (in many but not all cases).
According to the U.S. Census.
Detroit has 871,121 and shrinking.
Population, percent change, April 1, 2000 to July 1, 2006 was -8.4%. This number is going to rise.
81.6% of the city are Black while 12.3% are Whites. 5.0% are Hispanic. Only 2.3% are other races. That same 2.3% (which includes Arabs/Chaldeans) control 90% of the economics in the Black community.
11.0% possess a bachelors degree. 4.2% possess a graduate degree. 13.8% are unemployed and mean travel time to work is 28.4 minutes on average.
Only 54.9% own homes in Detroit while the median household income is $29,526. 26.1% are living below poverty and 43.6% of the residents in this city has never been married while 31.2% are married. 12.7% are divorced.
How come no one talks about the breakdown of the family unit through illiteracy?
John Hope Bryant, Founder and CEO of Operation HOPE talks about how there is a difference between broke and being poor. Being broke is a temporary economic condition, but being poor is a disabling frame of mind and a depressed condition of your spirit, and you must vow to never, ever be poor again.
I heard NO ONE talk about this on their election or re-election campaign the past several months. We have successfully moved into a technology-based society with the Internet as our primary source of information. With 7 out of 10 families living in poverty in Detroit and no telling how many are using a bridge card we need to begin to address the severity of family illiteracy in our community.
Family illiteracy is also severe in itself. By the time a child enter the first grade in Detroit., he or she has already spent the equivalent of three school years in front of a TV. Children that have computers spend less time in front of a TV. By the seventh grade, according to one study of 1,200 families, those children that had computers spent only 11.9 hours watching TV while the computerless children spent 12.8 hours per week. In the forth through sixth grades, girls spent 8.9 hours with a computer; boys 7.2 hours. In the seventh and eighth grades boys spent 12.4 hours at a terminal; girls, 11. In high school, it was 12.3 hours for boys; 10 hours for girls. While this is nice to see, the study does not state what they were actually doing on the computer. Was it video games? Trashing on the Internet? Spending just slightly less time in front of a TV, but hours upon hours in front of a terminal viewing even worse trash only promotes further concern.
• The average U.S. household has at least one TV set turned on for about seven hours a day.
• The average school-aged child spends 27 hours per week watching TV (some preschoolers watch much more).
• Over the course of a year, children spend more time watching TV than they spend in school or participating in any other activity except sleep.
• Children’s TV shows contain about 20 violent acts per hour.
• A high percentage of a child’s viewing time is spent watching shows intended for adults: 40 percent of a 6-year-old’s viewing time, and about 80 percent of a 12-year-old’s viewing time.
• The average American child will have watched 100,000 acts of televised violence, including 8,000 murders, by the time he or she finishes the sixth grade.
A study in late 2005 showed that at least 30% of 2,659 patients had inadequate functional health illiteracy- meaning that they could not comprehend the written instructions on the prescription bottles. A doctor noted that "adults with limited literacy face formidable problems using the health care system. They are less likely to use screening procedures, follow medical regimens, keep appointments or seek help early in the course of a disease".
What about the high rate of illiteracy that leads to sexually transmitted diseases that both adults and children are completely clueless about? Or basic health that can expand our longevity of life?
What about the 85% of kids appearing in juvenile court are illiterate or 85% of prisoners are illiterate?
Further, a study of students in 41 countries showed that American eighth graders ranked in the middle of the international group- between Romania and Bulgaria- in math and science. Businesses are spending millions on remedial education. Schools can do better, but the parents are to ultimately blame. The only way to live in this world is through the written word. Once you can read, you can think. Once you can think, you can speak on many issues intelligently. Once you can read, think and speak intelligently, you can live. Until that point you merely exist. It all starts with reading.
About 30% of first time college students take remedial courses because they cannot read, write or do math adequately.
In 2001 former Board Chairman of the Federal Reserve Alan Greenspan noted that improving financial literacy among children and adults is crucial given the ever-expanding financial choices facing consumers. He stated,
"In many respects, improving basic financial education at the elementary and secondary school level can provide a foundation for financial literacy, helping younger people avoid poor financial decisions that can take years to overcome."
This will never happen. Certainly some info will be taught. But not the real life application. Why? The brokerage firms will never allow the knowledge (diversification) be taught to students since it would slow trading and sales. Think that is not true? You decide. Unless we decide to do it ourselves it will not happen.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics in 2005 only 45 percent of parents read to their children. Children who read with their parents have higher intelligence and reading ability and are better able to comprehend language, improve communication skills, speech recognition and verbal ability.
400,000 Detroit adults — about one in 20 — have such poor English skills that they can't read the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press or Michigan Chronicle newspaper, understand the directions on a bottle of pills or, in many cases (in which I personally complain about daily), carry on a basic conversation. Recent immigrants with limited or no English skills account for most of the group, adult education advocates say, but the survey suggests that even the average adult has low skills. Only 10%, for instance, are able to compare viewpoints in two editorials; interpret a table on blood pressure, age and physical activity, or compare the per-ounce costs of two cans of soup. Keep in mind these people vote, pay bills and run family households. Most of these households are union households. Now you see the effects of the unions, their households, the economy and politics in Detroit. Also, keep in mind that these same people who were bought out by Ford, GM and Chrysler in a package deal are now trying to go back to school because they had a cushion for 25-30 years and now those days are gone. They did not take education seriously, did not have a vision for their families and was not building a legacy for their children like other races of people do on a daily basis.
On average, adult literacy in Detroit is virtually unchanged since 1992, with 400,000 people struggling with basic reading tasks. While adults made some progress in quantitative literacy, such as the ability to calculate taxes, the study showed that from 1992 to 2006 adults made no improvement in their ability read newspapers or books, or comprehend basic forms here in Detroit.
Aliteracy is defined as an ability to read but an indifference and boredom with reading for academic and enrichment purposes. This is a severity in Detroit because more than half of all Detroiters read a half-hour or more every day. By 2005, that had dropped to 45 percent.
In fact in 2007 daily circulation fell 2.8% at U.S. newspapers in the six-month period ending in September.
How does this affects families in our community? One of the major causes of divorce or breakup in the community is the lack of financial literacy. One general conclusion one can draw is that Detroit households do not consistently demonstrate the basic skills of financial literacy.
A clear majority of Detroit households with credit cards do not shop around when applying for a card and end up paying finance charges on the cards they use. These facts alone might support the conclusion that credit management is poor in the average Detroit household. Another indication of poor credit management is the fact that virtually all households that are paying high rates of interest on credit-card balances simultaneously hold balances in low-yielding assets, such as checking or savings deposits or money-market mutual funds, or have housing equity against which they could borrow at a lower rate.
In sum, Detroit households’ average level of basic financial literacy is moderate at best. Cash management is done reasonably well by most households, while long-term investment decision-making—including retirement planning—is done poorly by the average household (in some cases by doing nothing at all).
If we cannot get our home together what makes you think we are going to move Detroit forward. When you hear people say NEXT DETROIT, Welcome to the D, etc. those are sound bites to capture your mind for a second. There is absolutely no way we can tackle name recognition or even interpret the Bible correctly unless we increase our literacy rate in Detroit. There is a church on every corner because many pastors are biblically illiterate and their egos get in the way of real progress.
The politicians in Lansing have eliminated the social studies portion of the Michigan Merit Examination (MME) for the high school students. Why are they slowly eliminating social studies from the curriculum? Furthermore, why are pouring more money into K-12 education when that is not the problem? The core problem is NOT enough money going into adult education for the parents to TEACH their children how to read, count and write.
Detroit has a higher illiteracy rate than countries in Africa -- where the children have never seen a book. This is a serious concern. I urge you to join with groups like the Emerging Leaders Think Tank, or the Parent Literacy Project Group here in Detroit to increase literacy, stop the flow of name recognition and begin to increase our future with literate children and adults. Then we can say welcome to the Next Detroit. Unless illiteracy is address FIRST Detroit will never come back.
I would like to hear your feedback. Do you think illiteracy in the City of Detroit is a pandemic to the extent it is stopping us from reaching our potential as a community and as a global competitor? Let me hear you soundoff on this one.