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Theologue

When I was a Navy recruiter stationed in the DFW area years ago, I signed up to help adults learn to read through the Tarrant County Literacy Coalition and had to go to a one-day training session. I recall entering a conference room with about a dozen tables and a flip chart on an easel with a cover over it (curious!).The facilitator introduced herself and announced that we all had to prove that we could read at an adult level before we could begin the training. She then asked for a volunteer to read aloud in front of everyone. I raised my hand and she picked me. Then she told me to read as much of the text that was on the easel as soon as the cover was removed. She pulled off the cover and I saw Russian. And so started reading. The look on the woman’s face was priceless—she probably thought I was being a smart aleck. She then asked me if I knew what language I was reading. When I told her “Russian,” she practically barked “What’re the odds of finding one literacy volunteer in Texas who can read Russian!” The literacy training folks apparently try to find a language that would be totally foreign to prospective volunteers, in order to simulate what English looks like to someone who can’t read. Just like the title above, which is the (you guessed it!) Russian word for “literacy” (pronounced GRAHM-ot-nost). If you can’t read Russian, then this gives you an idea of what they were trying to show us during that training. I bring this up because English literacy—or illiteracy, rather—is a rampant social ill affecting not just Texas as a whole, but in particular the Rio Grande Valley. In fact, according to the Rio Grande Valley Literacy Center, half of all residents in Hidalgo County cannot read a newspaper in English. Many other obvious social ills can be traced to illiteracy, such as unemployment, poverty, and secondary drop-out rate; the less obvious are intolerance, bias, racism, crime, addiction, unplanned/unwanted pregnancies, the list goes on and on. As a pastor and former public high school teacher, I can confidently say that a person with access to books, who learns to read, is more likely to become a better global citizen. Those who read can, for the most part, try to see the other person’s point of view. They learn that there may be ...

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