Awhile ago I heard the term “functioning illiteracy.” Since then, I have paid attention to the writing and reading comprehension of the people around me. Until I took my current job, I never realized how horribly deficient these skills are in the country. I have been blessed with an intelligent family and husband. We are not necessarily the most educated bunch. Neither my husband nor I have a college degree. But we can communicate in writing. I have realized this is fairly unusual–and it scares the crap out of me.
I’m not talking about literary writing skills here. I’m talking about being a able to form a comprehensive sentence. I’m certainly not one of those hoity toity people who looks down on people who only use words with three syllables or less. I don’t use fancy words in my writing–I don’t honestly know that many, and I want my readers to enjoy my stories, not get a vocabulary lesson.
In my job, I deal with the public much, mostly questions about the memberships and services the company I work for offers. Most of this communication is in writing. I’ve seen everything–entire pages of writing with only one period at the very end; misspelled everything, so bad that I had to call the person to make sure I understood what they wanted; sentences that make no sense, no matter how many times I read them. Sometimes it seems as though the person was just too lazy to go back and check what they’ve written–that’s a whole other problem that I won’t go into. Much of the time, though, I can see the person just has no idea how to form thoughts onto a page.
My fear is what in the world is going to happen to this world if we lose the ability to communicate effectively in writing? Not only will literature cease to be produced–or heck, even just comic books. All the writing we have available to us, the works that have come before us, will lose potency. We will stop learning from the great minds that came before.
I don’t think it’s that we will stop being able to read at all, hence the title functioning illiteracy. The basics are still understood–you know, “see spot run.” But anything more complicated than that seems to be getting lost, slowly. I believe depth of thought is not possible without depth of reading comprehension. We learn from great people that came before then learn how to think for ourselves.