By Craig Funston
Let’s talk for a moment of a crisis of epidemic proportions. If it doesn’t get addressed soon, we’re going to have to head back to drawing on cave walls, and scrawling our life away, in between grunts.
It crosses all cultural, colour, gender, and social barriers. It crosses age barriers to a point, though like other crises in society, it tends to affect the young (“young” being a relative term).
In case you didn’t get the play on words, I am working with the “I Can’t Breathe” movement that has taken a certain segment of the youth culture (and other anarchists) by storm with our friends to the South. The issue I’m considering is far, far more serious, and ironically, transcends whatever we’ve read of stateside.
You see, an illiterate, unskilled (better: not able to read or willing to learn) workforce is a serious drag on the economy. That in turn leads to financial, moral, medical (mental and physical health), and social issues.
An illiterate populace, in other words, is a pathetic and impotent populace.
As a father, writer, teacher, and citizen, I am alarmed at the systemic illiteracy of kids everywhere. I suppose I am to blame as much as anybody, though I have tried for decades to inspire my own children to embrace reading—and ditto for my role as a teacher.
“I Can’t Read” is actually an all-encompassing term for the following: “I don’t want to read, I don’t want to think, I can’t comprehend, I am lazy, and I don’t care.”
The most fundamental form, of course, is that they pick up a paper or book, but can’t read the words on the page. Or, if they can read the words, they have no idea what they just read.
Beyond that, there’s the form of illiteracy whereby they read and comprehend the words, but stagnate: limited vocabulary with absolutely no motivation to expand or deepen it. Have you ever tried talking to these people? It’s very draining.
There have never been more aids to assist said readers, yet, ironically, these aids may, in fact, be the greatest stumbling block out there. A screen here, a click there, and there is no need to investigate, search, or even expand both their vocabulary or people skills. Rather than stimulating thinking skills to develop, they actually assist this mindlessness.
We have become a nation of surfers and watchers, loafers and spectators–not readers and thinkers. Even at the till of my favourite fast food outlet (which I won’t identify, unless I get a commission), I often “help” the associate with the change—all in my head, of course.
And I don’t consider myself particularly bright in math. I happened to be raised in a different generation where we had to write out everything by hand, knew our times tables by grade three, and revered reading books. We weren’t dumbed-down by computers. To this day, I rarely go to bed without reading a chapter or two.
Computer games and other virtual cyber toys don’t cut it for me. Mindless, moronic sit-coms alarm me: This is what so many of our people “feed” on for their intellectual stimulation? Try talking to someone who has spent an hour on a virtual battlefield, or any one of those other mind-dulling, butt-numbing, time-wasting games, and you’ll know what I mean.
A grunt here and a scrawl there makes one wonder where we’re heading.
Remember the three R’s? In case you’re too young, or have spent too little time connecting with the past, they are “reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic.” Stated another way, literacy and numeracy. Where have they all gone?
If young people cannot read or compute (both which lead to basic thinking skills), they are in serious trouble. And because their numbers are increasing, then our whole culture is in serious trouble. And as this present generation lurches into adulthood, it is followed by a yet another generation of dullards…oh boy.
We all need those skills for basic, daily processes, namely, following instructions and directions, reading maps, and assembling things—just for starters. Like you, I have been around people who have limited vocabularies, whose every second word is “like,” “well,” and “thingy.” Or, when really frustrated, drop the f-bomb like it was part of their respiratory system.
I hope everyone is able, uh, to read and understand this column. If not, maybe I should scramble over to the nearest cave, get some mammoth blood ink…