No. 543



If you will help me, over time, together we can solve our nation's literacy problem. If you will tune me in and really give some thought to what I am going to say, I believe you will agree with me.
It should be pretty well established in the minds of most Americans that we do have a tremendous literacy problem. We have gone downhill in the past 50 years to a point where now even our college people tell us that only 31 percent of college graduates are literacy proficient; this is to say they can read a complex book and extrapolate from it. There are many reasons for this, but it is a direct reflection on our nation's high schools. However, don't give up on them or me yet, because I am going to tell you why this is true.
Over the past several decades, we have pumped billions upon billions of dollars into public education and the numbers continue to decline. While we are making progress in some areas, and some schools, the numbers don't lie and are borne out by the statistics I just gave regarding college graduates. The primary reason for our nation's literacy problem is because parents and grandparents no longer read to their children as they did 50 years ago. In 1955, 81 percent of parents read to their children. Today that number is around 21 percent, and this goes a long way in explaining why our public schools are lagging behind most other industrialized nations.
If you accept my premise, the real question becomes, what are we going to do about it? In Conway, Ark., where I live, we have begun the process. We have a project called "A Bookcase for Every Child" and have built 50 quality oak bookcases, had more than 6,000 "gently used" books donated, had an awards ceremony to give the bookcases to children and parents in low-income families, and have started reading to these children each week and will continue into the future. We are planning to make a difference in the lives of these children, who according to statistics, do not have books in their homes.
by volunteers, and the funding for the wood to build the bookcases comes from donations and the sale of my book "Learning, Earning & Giving Back." What I want you to see here is that this is "grassroots" at its best. We don't need another layer of bureaucracy where you have salaries, rent, telephone, postage and other expenses, but rather we need parents and grandparents, along with others in the community who want to help win the battle against illiteracy.
We can do this with the sale of my book, as the funding vehicle, because I am giving ALL the profits from book sales to this cause. The way it's broken down is the book sells for $15.95, and $3 goes to buy wood for bookcases, $3 for the Newspaper in Education program in our schools, $3 to state press foundations to fund journalism internships (my way of giving back) and the rest of the profit being used to spread the project to other communities. It will take a long time and a lot of hard work, but when "Learning, Earning & Giving Back" becomes a symbol for literacy in America, and each time someone buys a book they know where the money is going, we will begin to win the battle.
They tell me that with the number of papers that run this column, and the combined circulation, that I have close to a million readers. I know most of my readers are parents and grandparents, and I want to challenge you and to plead with you to get involved. Buy one or more books, volunteer to help in your community and help us by telling family and friends about what we are doing.
Also read to your children and grandchildren. People who know me will tell you that I am not motivated by money. The reward I am seeking is simple. When I come to the end of my days, if the Lord will say, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant" that's more than enough for me.
(EDITOR'S NOTE: Jim Davidson is a motivational speaker and syndicated columnist. You may contact him at 2 Bentley Drive, Conway, AR 72034. To support literacy, buy his book "Learning, Earning & Giving Back.")