JUNE 16, 1958
JEFFERSONVILLE, Ind.—There has just come to my attention an important organization called the National Commission for Adult Literacy, a non-governmental group established by the Adult Education Association of the USA and with headquarters in Washington, D. C. This commission, working in cooperation with the Office of Education, is trying to meet a situation which under modern conditions of life is a great threat to our democratic form of government and our ability to function well as leader of the non-Communist world.
In spite of the fact that we have a free, universal and compulsory educational system in the U. S., our last census showed nearly 10 million adult citizens 25 years of age and over who were illiterate—that is to say, they had had less than five years of schooling. Broken down into groups, this meant that we have 4,000,000 native whites, 3,000,000 foreign-born whites and 3,000,000 Negroes who cannot read or write.
This is not a problem for particular states only, for the count reveals that practically every state in the union has large numbers of illiterates. A higher proportion of them are over 45, but every year about 60,000 functional illiterates reach the age of 14. It is true that illiteracy is slowly decreasing in the country, but we cannot afford to get rid of this block slowly since the demands made on adults increasingly require that they be literate.
It is for these reasons that the National Commission for Adult Literacy has been established. Its purposes are to inform the public of the problems created by illiteracy and to point out the need for constructive action.
To prevent duplication, the commission will collect and study facts and coordinate the knowledge about all programs now working on this problem. It will try to obtain cooperation in all communities so that the communities will improve adult education in their regular educational program. If it succeeds in its objectives and we can do the kind of quick educational job for adults in this country to meet our need for educated citizens, then the commission can leave the work in the hands of the Office of Education to prevent such a situation from arising again and to keep every part of the country stimulated to prevent illiteracy in their own community.
Until the present objectives are reached, the commission must raise its budget from private contributions, assemble a staff of able people and do a publicity job which will take much concentrated effort. I believe this work is of concern to every thinking American citizen, and I hope that the commission's headquarters at 2700 Ontario Road, N. W., Washington, D. C. will be a very busy place where many people come to offer their help and to get the necessary information.