Why Literacy Matters

By: Jane Murphy, Executive Director, Literacy Volunteers of Oswego County

I just returned from the first United States Conference on Adult Basic Education and Literacy. This conference, co-hosted by ProLiteracy and the Commission on Adult Basic Education (COABE), brought together more than 1,500 education experts; political leaders, including Obama administration representatives; and adult learners to discuss strategies to address funding shortages and increase collaborations as the demand for services continues to grow across the country.

The conference featured prominent speakers and advocates who are helping to draw attention to America’s expanding adult literacy crisis including:

* Brenda Dann-Messier, Assistant Secretary for Vocational and Adult Education,
U.S. Department of Education
* Jane Oates, Assistant Secretary of the Employment and Training Administration,
U.S. Department of Labor
* Byron Pitts, Chief National Correspondent for the CBS Evening News,
“60 Minutes” contributor, author and champion of personal literacy struggles
* Scott Simon, NPR Weekend Edition Saturday host and author
* David Harvey, President and CEO, ProLiteracy

As always, I came back from the conference loaded with information, ideas, and tons of useful resources. But I came back with much more this time – with a renewed passion and drive for the cause of adult education and literacy.

During the awards luncheons, we listened to adult learners as they tearfully thanked the adult educators or volunteer tutors that helped them recognize their true potential. Sometimes these were the first people to ever tell them that they COULD do something and be somebody.

There was: the homeless, single mother of two, who is now in college and just got a 3.6 grade average; the young man that was an alcohol and drug addict recovering from a serious brain injury from a skateboarding accident that got his GED and is continuing in vocational training; Byron Pitts, Chief National Correspondent for the CBS Evening News, “60 Minutes” contributor and author that was declared functionally illiterate at age twelve and told that he wasn’t college material in his first year of college.

Byron shared his lifelong struggles with literacy and how certain people in his life were willing to “Step Out on Nothing” to support and encourage him. This is what our adult basic educators and volunteer tutors do every day. I challenge EACH one of us to “Step Out on Nothing” and make a difference to: a child, a parent, an employee or co-worker, a client accessing the government or human service we provide, a family member, friend, neighbor, or fellow churchgoer.

We need to give them a “hand up and not a hand out”! This is the message that the Literacy Coalition of Oswego County is trying to spread. Our vision is 100% Literacy through 100% Community Engagement.

If you’d like to help spread this message, please contact Jane Murphy at 342-8839 or email [email protected] for more information regarding The Literacy Coalition.

“But we can perhaps remember, if only for a time, that those who live with us are our brothers, that they share with us the same short moment of life; that they seek, as do we, nothing but the chance to live out their lives in purpose and in happiness, winning what satisfaction and fulfillment they can.”-Robert Kennedy