Reading for Life: What it Means to be Literate

by Rhonda H. Lauer on April 6, 2011

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As part of the exciting series Reading for Life, Foundations’ President and CEO Rhonda H. Lauer shares her expertise and insights about grade level reading. Join Ms. Lauer as she offers key viewpoints and commentary based on her extensive experience working in Philadelphia–and across the country–to give our children and young people the educational opportunities they deserve.

Recently, I’ve been thinking about the meaning of the word literacy. The definition has become a bit muddled lately; these days we talk about computer literacy, cultural literacy, and environmental literacy. Used in this sense, it means “knowledge of a particular subject or field.”

Two of the most talked-about types of literacy today are financial literacy and STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) literacy. The Obama administration has emphasized the latter type, and rightly so. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show increased job growth in STEM fields between 2008 and 2018. Yet, our nation’s students continue to lag behind their peers in other countries in these subject areas: fifteen year-olds in Finland and South Korea are, on average, one to two years ahead of their American peers in math and science.

Financial literacy is also receiving quite a bit of attention, as it should. It’s important for youth to know how to manage money, budget and save, how to deal with bank accounts and credit cards, how to figure out taxes, mortgages, and contracts. In fact, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development has deemed these tasks so crucial that it has added financial literacy to its international assessment (PISA), a test that compares the academic performance of teenagers from around the world.

There’s no question: to thrive in today’s society, young people must acquire knowledge and skills in a variety of areas. They must be computer literate, financially literate, and culturally literate. But, we cannot forget – in these days of budget cuts to programs like Striving Readers, Reading is Fundamental, and the National Writing Project – that before children and youth can be literate in specific fields, they must be literate in the truest sense: they must know how to read and write fluently and well. Our first goal as educators, administrators, and parents must be to help our nation’s children and youth master these two basic – yet indispensable – skills.

 To learn more about building literacy skills, check out Foundations’ recent publication, Grade Level Reading: An Action Framework for School And District Leaders, which highlights the critical actions – both academic and non-academic – that schools and districts can undertake now to ensure that all children read on grade level by third grade.



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