These are the lead paragraphs from a story published last week in Hagerstown Maryland’s Herald-Mail about a “Summit on Childhood Literacy” held in Washington County Maryland last Thursday:
The adult illiteracy rate in Washington County is estimated to be at 17 percent, which poses economic and cultural problems for the community’s future, the director of the Washington County Free Library said Thursday.
Library Director Mary Baykan was speaking at the Summit on Childhood Literacy at Hagerstown Community College, where more than 100 people from education, government, civic and other organizations had gathered to discuss how to prevent the county’s children from joining that illiterate adult demographic.
Note that the county currently has an adult literacy problem that is purported to be a threat to its economic future. Whatever benefits result from boosting children’s literacy, the economic benefit is a generation away (assuming those kids stay in the community). If the current adult literacy rate is posing economic problems for this community right now, improving the literacy skills of children isn’t going to fix that more immediate problem.
Not meaning to be critical of this event or the participants. I have no idea if, or how well, this community is addressing adult literacy. But reading these two paragraphs reminded me of the time an elected official of some prominence in a different part of the country told me with a straight face that he was addressing his community’s adult literacy problem by investing in pre-K. I’ve never read about anyone calling a meeting that began with a summary of the statistics on children’s poor reading scores, followed by a discussion on how to improve those numbers by investing in adult literacy. But you could.