ILLITERATE AMERICA by Jonathan Kozol
Kirkus Star

ILLITERATE AMERICA

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Twenty years after Death at an Early Age, Kozol is writing with the same energy and anger about adult illiteracy and semiliteracy--which he reasonably calculates to include, in present-day American society, the 60 million people reading at less than ninth grade level (regardless of their years of schooling). Kozol spends considerable time on the figures, not only to arouse indignation and dismay, but because they have been much disputed. He also rejects the term ""functional literacy"": literacy is for humanistic living and political force, not just becoming employable and getting by. To Kozol, it implies Informed Irreverence, Tolerating Indecision, Respect for History, The Arrogance of Taste: the equivalent of physical health. This is one basis on which he ultimately calls for a national effort; another is our interdependence--making both schooling and eradication of illiteracy more than a local responsibility. The book proceeds from examples of the personal price of illiteracy (the evasions and fears of closet illiterates, their shame in front of their children) to some of the social costs--including the penalty to children of not being read to, or not getting help with homework: Kozol postulates that children's reading scores first show sharp differences in the fifth grade because they're now reading subject matter, which many can't comprehend. (""Too frequently, these students are the children of non-readers."") He discusses the limitations and general failure of national programs, and describes successful, community-based efforts--with particular attention to exposing the ""myth of impotence."" (Illiterates can be enlisted, can be motivated.) On the grassroots level, he considers who the instructors might be--finding a role not only for local high school and college students, and local retirees, but for outsiders (to bring in money, broaden horizons). On the national level, he would revive the '60s activism of ""academic humanists""--to amalgamate today's dual, warring drives for justice and for excellence. There is much rhetoric, much denunciation and exhortation. But Kozol, like Michael Harrington in his sphere, has assembled facts, rebuttals, and proposals--in an emotionally potent, ethically charged package.

Pub Date: March 15th, 1985
Publisher: Anchor/Doubleday