Literacy: Reading has a greater effect than many would think


Lauren Alison, Copy Editor

It’s a beautiful spring day. The birds are chirping, the sun is shining and the weather couldn’t be better. Taking advantage of the spectacular weather, you decide to go to your favorite spot at the park, and maybe even make a small picnic out of it. The only thing that would make that day better is your favorite book.

According to a study conducted in August 2016 by the U.S. Department of Education, National Institute of Literacy, 14 percent of the U.S. adult population cannot read. This does not necessarily mean that they cannot read at all, but simply read below a basic level. Though these people still have some semblance of an ability to read, that is still not something people should be okay with. On a much more global scale, there are about 775 million people who are illiterate or close to being completely illiterate. A number like that should be very troubling. Though that is roughly around 10 percent of the world population, that is still around 8 million people who cannot read, which is more than the population of the U.S., Canada and Mexico combined. Think about it- that is the entire North American continent and then some.

There are some people that would ask why proficient reading is so important. Isn’t reading at a basic level enough? The answer to that is no. While it is great that people with a basic understanding of reading can interpret signs, menus and letters in the mail, there is a lot more to life than being able to get by without any true grasp on anything more than what surrounds you everyday. Reading can have numerous benefits that many people would not expect. Take stress for example. A 2009 study done by the University of Sussex found that by monitoring participants’ heart rates and muscle tension, it took participants just six minutes to start to relax once they had started reading. Another huge benefit of reading is its ability to sharpen the mind. According to The Official Journal of the American Academy of Neurology, people who engage in mentally stimulating activities, such as reading, both earlier and later in their life, experienced slower memory decline. For people who don’t often mentally engage themselves, memory decline was experienced 48% faster than the average group. Other benefits include greater empathy, better writing skills, vocabulary expansion, stronger analytical thinking skills and many more.

Without semi-proficient reading skills, there can be a number of negative side effects that indirectly occur. There have been numerous studies that have linked poor reading abilities to prison. According to the Literacy Project foundation, three out of five people in prison can’t read and 85 percent of juvenile offenders have problems reading. Along with criminal problems, there is a clear link between literacy and welfare. Three out of four people on welfare can’t read. It has also been found that 20% of Americans read below the level needed to earn a living wage. Poor literacy rates lead to more crime, fuller prisons and more people on welfare, which can often cost tax payers money. It has been estimated that approximately $20 billion is shelled out by taxpayers because of illiteracy.

In order to increase literacy, people need to want to read. Reading for pleasure is something that is important to literacy as a whole. If someone is being forced to do something, then it is probable that any effect that it could have had would not resonate with that person. The same goes for reading. If someone is forced to read a book, it is likely that they will not take the time to actually listen to the words or learn a lesson from it and hopefully try to grow from the experience. According to the Pew Research Center, the percentage of people who do not read a single book in a year has risen from 8 percent in 1978 to 23 percent in 2014. That’s not to say that books are the only form of reading- there are other forms such as short stories, poems and magazines, but the benefits in between differ. Informative articles, stories, biographies and informational texts all expand the mind in different ways. Some of the things that all of these forms have in common is their abilities to expand vocabularies, incite better analysis and expand general knowledge. No matter what form of reading takes place, it will always have a positive impact on the mind. Maybe mix it up a little bit sometimes. Novels aren’t for everyone. Many people have short attention spans and that is understandable. If novels aren’t what click because they are too long, then read a short story. There is always an alternative.

In a day and age where everyone wants instant gratification, reading has become a little out of date, mostly because it seems as though nobody has any time these days. Nobody is constantly doing something twenty-four-seven for 365 days. There are always 30 minutes here or an hour there. Take a little time out of the day to read. It doesn’t have to be for hours on end, just a chapter here and there is fine. March is the month for reading, so go find a great book and read!