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The Foundational Role of Literacy

August 31, 2020
Weekly Columns

The month of September marks National Literacy Month, which importantly draws attention to the foundational role of literacy in fostering a lifelong love for learning, supporting a quality education and ultimately opening more doors of opportunity for success.

Certainly, in the earliest years of life, there is great value in reading aloud to your kids, helping them practice the alphabet and teaching them how to count before they learn to read or write. As a voracious reader, I remember my own parents reading stories aloud to me and how that eventually stirred up a desire to read and learn for myself. To this day, books remain a central part of my life. In fact, I regularly share the books I’ve been reading and learning from on my website here: cole.house.gov/about/books-im-reading.

In my role as the former chairman and current ranking member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee that funds the Department of Education, I am proud to advocate for programs that improve literacy of the American population. While I was subcommittee chairman, I helped advance incremental increases every year for education and literacy programs. This included funding to support the programs authorized by the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act and the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act. These efforts give adults the opportunity to improve their reading, mathematical and English language skills to both actively participate in their children's education, as well as to improve their ability to engage in information systems around them.

Of course, we cannot discuss the importance of literacy without remembering the significant contributions of former First Lady Barbara Bush. Indeed, her tireless efforts particularly shone a light on the fact that literacy affects all ages and communities nationwide. In 1989, she launched the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy, which sought to support parents with unmet literacy needs and help them learn alongside their young children. A few years later in 1991, President George H. W. Bush signed into law the National Literacy Act, which offered millions of adults in the United States the opportunity and resources necessary to return to school and earn their high school diploma.

While our country has clearly made significant progress in prioritizing literacy improvement efforts over the last couple decades, there is still more to be done. According to the Barbara Bush Foundation, an estimated 36 million adults still struggle to read a basic sentence. As we seek to further change this reality, I encourage you to lend a hand where you can. That could include donating books, volunteering with your local library or helping with tutoring programs. For parents and guardians, please read to your kids and take advantage of the resources available through your local libraries.

Though the coronavirus pandemic has disrupted the traditional classroom experience during much of this year, that doesn’t have to result in a setback for literacy, particularly for our youngest Americans. Through our collective efforts, we can foster learning and pave the way for literacy for all.

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