Why should writers (and anyone else reading this) care about literacy?

Today’s blog tour topic – What can and should writers do to support literacy? – was my question, but then I tried to write an answer. I quickly realized I needed to back up a couple of steps and answer a different question: Why should writers (and anyone else reading this) care about literacy? (Beyond the obviously self-serving – people need to be able to read before they will shell out money for reading material!)

Shut your eyes, just for a minute, and imagine: All books, and other reading material you enjoy and rely on, are all about to be taken away. Forever.

Can you imagine it? It sounds like the beginning of a bad horror novel.

Now, consider this: I live in a highly developed, first world county. My home province, British Columbia, ‘boasts’ one of the highest literacy rates in Canada. Therefore, it was a shock to learn the literacy skills of forty percent of the population, aged 16 and over, are at a level 2 or below. ( Prose literacy map of Canada: http://www.ccl-cca.ca/cclflash/proseliteracy/map_canada_e.html)

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) defines the five levels of literacy:

Level 1Very poor literacy skills.

Level 2A capacity to deal only with simple, clear material involving uncomplicated tasks.

Level 3Adequate to cope with the demands of everyday life and work in an advanced society.

Levels 4 and 5Strong skills. An individual at these levels can process information of a complex and demanding nature. (Generally, reading for pleasure requires strong literacy skills.)

Think about the complexities of modern life and the number of times, everyday, you read and write for information, for communication and for pleasure. Imagine being unable to clearly articulate on screen or paper, or struggling to comprehend even the simplest written material.

Low literacy not only excludes individuals from fully participating in modern society, there are also disturbing correlations between low literacy & incarceration, low literacy & low income levels, and low literacy & poor health.

In British Columbia, four out of ten adults are either illiterate or functionally illiterate. It’s a shocking statistic, and it should be a call to action for every citizen – unfortunately, the literacy crisis barely registers a blip on the public consciousness.

If we don’t act, the situation will get worse: Forty-six percent of Canadians aged 16 and up are estimated to fall below international literacy standards for coping in a modern society. By 2031, it is estimated this figure will climb to forty-seven percent. Source: Canadian Council on Learning 2008

Many individuals and groups are trying to improve literacy. On the surface, it seems to be a cause we can all support. But, sadly, the politics swirling around this issue prompt too many, otherwise well-meaning, adults to hurl insults at each other while they play political and blame games, instead of focusing on solutions.

Writers and their readers are gifted, by genetics and circumstance, with strong literacy skills.

Literacy is a noble cause for all authors and their readers to support. Perhaps writers and readers can, together, sidestep the politics and make a difference.

I’d love to read your thoughts on this topic. Are you involved in any literacy projects? Please share details and links.



Note: Kindly take a moment to read Ryder Islington’s post on this topic and return to Ryder’s blog for the start of Wednesday’s tour topic “Favourite websites for writers”.



  1. Would you consider homeschooling my son and making sure that classical literature with rich language is what we read ‘for fun’ as being involved in a literacy project? 😉

    I value literacy greatly and believe that it is the most vital thing in our world (in addition to kindness and compassion).

    One of my best friends is almost functionally illiterate. She is the same age as me (36). She lived in our household as a roommate for several months. During that time, she was tested for the first time in a long time to ascertain what language and mathematical skills she had.

    When she learned her scores, she told me that her reading and comprehension had increased to a fourth-grade level (from roughly second-third grade). She credited me with that, as I was the only person in her life who used “big words” and read Jane Austen books out loud with her.

    Everybody learns and comprehends differently; everybody’s brains work differently, and I think that everybody is capable of reading. If they are falling through the cracks in school at any point, from Kindergarten to 12th grade, it’s just because somebody hasn’t tried teaching them in a different manner than the “one-size fits all” mentality of public school. That is an unfortunate problem.

    • Thanks for dropping by Wendy. I think there is a lot we can each do, both at the personal and political level – helping a friend, writing a letter to the editor, contacting a politician…it all adds up.

      I agree with your last paragraph. Supporting our schools to better teach our children has to be a key component of any effective solution.



  1. […] Death Sparkles came out on October 12th. It’s available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords and iBooks, and all proceeds will be donated to literacy charities (for a related blog post on why writers need to actively care about literacy rates, click here). […]

Speak Your Mind