Stop The Fighting: Government Shutdown Kills Literacy & Research

I'm furious about the government shutdown.

This morning, I started writing a picture book for children. A child tries to help his crossing guard when he learns she cannot read. It's inspired by a true story.

Debra Clark, a crossing guard in Evanston, Illinois. As a young student in the Chicago Public Schools, her teachers ignored her inability to read.

As a young student in the Chicago Public Schools, Debra Clark's teachers ignored her inability to read.

Now, the first rule in writing for children often boils down to identifying the problem needing to be solved.

In this case, the problem is: A child wants to teach a grown-up to read.

While I've often found inspiration in the phrase "We write to change the world or to save a life," I also seek information to help shape my story. How will the girl solve the problem? What are the obstacles she'll face?

Another important question: How many adults are illiterate in America? While the number won't figure into my story, it plays a critical role in how a publisher will look at my manuscript. Eventually, I'll be asked: What's the market for a story like this? What's already been done to tackle adult literacy and where are the gaps? Will this story complement existing literacy programs? Are there opportunities to promote this book with literacy initiatives?

These and many other questions must be considered during this writing journey.

I know the general stats: 32 million (or 14%) of U.S. adults cannot read, and nearly 1/4 of U.S. adults read below the 5th grade level. Still, I Googled "adult literacy statistics" this morning, and the search led me to the National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL), sponsored by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). The NAAL is the nation's most comprehensive assessment of adult literacy. A good place to start, right?

Not today.

And so, I've put my notes in a drawer. The book will have to wait. The kids will have to wait. Promoting literacy with children will have to wait until other "more important" problems like political infighting and ridiculous government shutdowns are "solved".

The National Assessment of Adult Literacy website.October 1, 2013

The National Assessment of Adult Literacy website.
October 1, 2013

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Please comment: How is your job affected by the government shutdown?
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