The Human Cost of an Illiterate Society Essay

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The Human Cost of an Illiterate Society Essay
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  • University/College:
    University of Chicago

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Words: 468

  • Pages: 2

The Human Cost of an Illiterate Society

Précis: In “The Human Cost of an Illiterate Society”, Jonathan Kozol, a Harvard graduate, argues that illiteracy cause the loss of choice or freedom and leads to many problems. Kozol highlights his argument with examples of when illiteracy can be binding such as “Many illiterates cannot read the admonition on a pack of cigarettes. Neither the Surgeon General’s warning nor its reproduction on the package can alert them to the risks.”(20). He gives extensive and detailed scenarios in order to raise awareness on the harm of illiteracy. Kozol addresses his readers so that they may spread awareness on illiteracy and eventually resolve the problem.

Questions: 1. These explanations confuse the effects of illiteracy with the causes by saying that laziness is the cause of illiteracy, when in reality illiteracy is the cause of innovativeness, that an illiterate has to adopt, that is seen as laziness and stupidity. Kozol refutes these stereotypes with his examples of just how much illiteracy affects a person showing that they become almost immobilized and isolated by it. In his opinion the nation and it’s leaders are at fault for not addressing this problem.

4. The complexity of the problem seems to determine the order of the examples where they begin with simple problems and then escalate. The most memorable example for me is the one about the woman who mistakenly underwent a hysterectomy, it appears in the middle in paragraph fourteen.

SOAPSTone: Subject: Kozol discusses the causes and effects of illiteracy in our society.

Occasion- 1985 is a time when illiteracy had a big impact on our American society and we weren’t coming up with any solutions creating larger amount of illiterates.

Audience- This writing is directed to all of his readers and people who can make a change and come up with a solution to this problem.

Purpose- Kozol wrote this book in order to raise awareness on illiteracy and its huge negative impacts and encourage people to do something about it.

Speaker- Jonathan Kozol, as a Harvard graduate, a Rhodes scholar, and an owner of the National Book Award on his first critique on American Education, was a renown writer that used his fame to bring attention to the problem of illiteracy.

Tone- Kozol assumed an informative but sympathetic tone in which he is siding with illiterates on the fact that life is difficult and harmful because of illiteracy. He places blame on the leaders of America for not seeing this huge problem in front of them.

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The Human Cost of an Illiterate Society Essay

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The Human Cost of an Illiterate Society Essay
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  • University/College:
    University of Chicago

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Words: 1075

  • Pages: 4

The Human Cost of an Illiterate Society

Jonathan Kozol is an American author, professor and activist. He is 76 years old. He spent his childhood in Boston, Massachusetts. In 1958, Kozol earned his Bachelor of Art (B.A.) degree in Harvard University and was offered a Rhodes scholarship. However, he declined it and moved to Paris, France in 4 years. He began to write “The Fume of Poppies” (1958). After that, Kozol moved back to the United State to participate in “the civil rights movement and issues of social justice” enthusiastically. “The Human Cost of an Illiterate Society” is a part of “Illiterate America” which was released in 1985. It is very persuasive and effective essay that showed the fact of people without literacy have lower quality of life and how they deny their rights and their interests in the society. They don’t have enough knowledge in writing and restrict their abilities in written world. Illiterates will be automatically eliminated from modern world. Kozol is skillful and talented when using many credible sources and quotations to persuade the readers and attracted them into his article.

At the beginning of the article, Kozol mentioned how American government faces with the effects and dangers of an illiterate society. The number of illiterate adults was increasing and created many issues for their countries. He equated these problems as “a farce or a tragedy, or perhaps both” because people without literacy cannot make their own knowledgeable decisions about important documents or controversial news. Furthermore, they can be given the high signs to their benefits because of bellicose voter education or “more frequently, they vote for a face, a smile, or a style, not for a mind or character or body of beliefs” (253) since they are outdated. These were the reason why “illiterate citizens seldom vote”: more than 60 million people who are significantly refused to participate in democracy (253). They gave their rights and their opportunities away. Illiterate is a threat to government. After showing the effect of illiteracy on politic field, Kozol provided many evidences and instances to prove another his point of views. He “drew a picture” about the illiterates’ daily lives to show to the reader “millions of adult illiterates experience each day within the course of their routine existence in the U.S.A” (254).

The illiterates are unable to read school letters that their children emailed them. They cannot even follow directions of ethical drugs on a bottle or read and sign in the contracts to live in an apartment; they also cannot go or take journey freely by their own ways. The illiterates can easily make mistakes in every single day. All of these reasons are commonsense. They will not only contribute many bad effects for themselves but also for the government and society. Kozol went from general to specific reasons; he used logic and critical reasoning to appeal to the intellect. The words he used were very persuasive such as “illiterate Americans must trust somebody else: a friend, a relative, a stranger on the street, a grocery clerk, a TV copywriter” (257). One of the best arguments that he wrote was: “You don’t know where you are…You’ve lost” which is very meaningful and realistic in our modern lives in 21st century. According to The Impact of Illiteracy of National Adult Literacy Survey, 23% of the adult American population is basically unable to read and write (estimate around 40 or 44 million).

They are deficient in general skills before a fourth-grade level. There are 40% of the working classes in the United States have the circumscribe skills. Every year, American commercial enterprise loses more than $60 billion in capacity to employees who are deficient in basic skills. Moreover, adult illiteracy also costs society an estimated more than $240 billion per year due to many cases such as: productivity reduction industries, un-realized tax incomes, social benefits or malfeasances, living in penury and related social illnesses or diseases. All these statistics make people have to think about the problem and figure out ways to help themselves. Kozol was very clever when linking experiences of the illiterates with the social issue. It made his article objective and engaged the readers. The tone was passion and informal but serious. Besides defining some new terms and phrases, Kozol also evaluated the problems, provided reasons and gave solutions such as: “Democracy is a mendacious…our electorate” (253) or “Not knowing the right word…is a form of subjugation” (257).

He also showed many examples and evidences to prove his ideas. The readers can see how actual they are in every single day. Kozol wrote very well that his article became a vivid issue to everybody. But sometimes, he uses some academic terms and words like “Socrates’ belief”, “stigmatized” that make them hard to understand. Besides, he mentioned about politic at the beginning of the article “The Human Cost of an Illiterate Society”; if someone doesn’t interested in that field, he or she will not keep reading to see what the author wrote about next.

In conclusion, illiteracy is a common and widespread- an issue in every society and countries, especially the undeveloped or poor ones such as Africa, Vietnam and China. It is absolutely not limited to any pedigree, area or social-commercial class. It is not only government but also all of us should think about problems in “The Human Cost of an Illiterate Society” (252). We are human beings. We have to act immediately to change our lives, especially the illiterates. Government should find solutions or pass more new laws and create opportunities to help the illiterates. It is the parents’ duty to encourage their children go to school to avoid illiteracy to make a better world.

Work Cited
“What We Know about Illiteracy in American.” Literacy Resources., n.d. Web. Oct 2010. Hirsch, E.D., Jr. “Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know.” 2nd ed. New York: Vintage, 1988.

“The Impact of Illiteracy.” National Adult Literacy Survey., n.d. Web. 3 Jan. 2011. Kozol, Jonathan. “The Human Cost of an Illiterate Society.” The Arlington Reader. Ed. Bloom, Lynn Z, and Louise Z. Smith. Boston: Bedford/St.Martin’s, 2011. Print.

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The Human Cost Of An Illiterate Society Essay

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The Human Cost Of An Illiterate Society Essay
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  • University/College:
    University of California

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Words: 1100

  • Pages: 4

The Human Cost Of An Illiterate Society

  1. The existence of illiteracy as a festering social problem clearly mocks the democratic values that American society claims to champion. The effects of illiteracy on the individual and collective lives of communities with low literacy rates, and the dangers that the inability to read and follow the simple precautionary instructions, point to the atmosphere of uncertainty and distrust that ultimately erode the people’s confidence in the ability of democracy to protect and safeguard human security as well as equip its individual members with the ability to pursue their full human development. The dangers that illiteracy brings to the home, the community, and other private and public spaces are too real; accidents, lost income, and costly legal battles are but few of the events that happen because of illiteracy.

Likewise, the fact that illiterate people are often systematically devoid of their most basic rights by their condition, from the simple act of choosing an item from a restaurant menu to the ability to comprehend the contents of a lease or an authorization form for a medical procedure, also contradicts most of the beliefs that people have about democracy.

It points to the degrading existence of illiterate individuals who are often trapped in both the literal and figurative sense, as exemplified by the terror that accompanies the experience of being lost in a foreign city without the ability to read simple directions and streetsigns, and the powerlessness that results from the inability to take advantage of opportunities that could lift illiterate people from poverty.

2.         Most of the reactions to the problem of illiteracy, which range from pity towards people who are unable to read or write to a nagging sense of shame that some people are actually suffering from a condition that poorer countries in the Third World have actually made strides in solving while an affluent society like America continues to deny the presence of the problem.

This inevitably leads to contempt for the institutions and policymakers and test one’s belief in democracy because the persistence of a problem that is as basic as teaching citizens to read and write reveals the weaknesses of so-called democratic institutions and societies in responding to problems that have caused misery for millions. It also raises damning questions about the priorities of the government and policymakers of this country, including how public funds are being used to solve pervasive social problems and if, indeed, these funds are actually being put into programs that benefit the majority of the poor and the illiterate.

Clearly, the existence of illiteracy tests one’s faith in a democratic society. Illiteracy keeps people mired in the cycle of poverty, which contributes to their continued marginalization. As Kozol aptly demonstrates, illiteracy prevents an individual from active participation in the labour force, despite their overwhelming interest to do so.

Illiterate individuals cannot vote wisely, they cannot choose their candidates based on the responsiveness and quality of political platforms, and they are often shut off from the important avenues of political participation. Illiteracy systematically denies the individual access to basic social services and hinders him or her from demanding a better quality of public service. Thus, illiteracy only empowers those who are already in power, which mocks the very foundation of the democracy that the American public professes to champion.

  1. Illiteracy often leads to legal problems and courtroom complications. Given the fact that illiterate adults are unable to read a lease or a consent form for a medical procedure, they often sign legal documents without knowing what these documents state about their and the other party’s responsibilities and liabilities. They are also unable to analyze the effects of agreeing to particular arrangements on a contract, and in effect are often lead to condemn themselves by signing heavily biased or disadvantageous arrangements. Most illiterate people are also hindered from seeking remunerations for damages done to them by contracts they enter into through legal avenues such as courts because their inability to comprehend written documents effectively puts them in incriminating situations.

The stigma associated with being illiterate also hinders many adults from seeking needed help, as they fear that their identities would always be associated with their perceived disability. Hence, illiterate people may also find themselves unintentionally breaking the law because they do not know, and they cannot read signs that a particular action is illegal. Illiterate people also cannot defend themselves and their rights, as they are usually not familiar and have not read that such rights exist in the society they are in.

  1. Unfortunately, people are not doing enough to solve the problem of illiteracy. While Kozol shows that some individuals are particularly sensitive to the plight of illiterate people, he also notes that illiteracy has been a much neglected issue both by politicians and American society in general. The continued denial of American leaders also promotes complacency in the rest of American society towards the problem and leads to the worsening of the problem. As a result, illiterate people are held in their misery, alienatied from the rest of society, and effectively kept from building better conditions for themselves.

One cannot adequately stress the negative impacts of illiteracy on American society, particularly on its effects on the daily lives of the illiterate. Beyond the consequence of illiteracy on individual human lives, however, the American public must reflect on the wholesale impact of the inability to read or write on American values. American society must contend with the growing alienation of many of its members who are kept from engaging in informed decision-making, which not only undermines the democratic values that America purportedly adheres to, but also casts doubt on the ability of democratic institutions to fully realize the ideals of equality and support the full development of human potential.

Work Cited:

Kozol, Jonathan. “The Human Cost of an Illiterate Society.” Patterns for College Writing: A Rhetorical Reader and Guide, 10th Edition. Ed. Laurie G. Kirszner and Stephen R. Mandell. United States: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2007. 252-259.

 

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