It’s a given that English teachers are going to incessantly hammer home that today’s kids need to become highly—or at least sufficiently—literate in order to plant the seeds for prosperity and success in their adult lives.
Our collective mantra: “You need to read. A lot! And you need to write. Well!” (And it’s one in which I firmly believe.)
Of course, many students view us educators as nagging mothers telling our children that before they go out and play with their friends that, “It’s chilly, bring a sweater.”
And the reply mothers most often hear to this warning? “Awww, Mom.”
Well, the admonition that today’s kids need to be literate adults is so, so much more than an, “It’s chilly, bring a sweater,” type of warning. Who, in today’s workforce, really escapes the need to be able to read and write well? Or should I say who, in today’s workforce, earns a decent enough wage to support themselves and/or their family, really escapes the need to be able to read and write well?
For example, my wife’s car had a flat tire last week. This meant new rear tires. (The tread was pretty worn on the other rear tire, too.)
Perhaps 30 years ago, working in a tire shop didn’t require the guy who actually changed the tires to be computer literate. But after ten minutes in the shop, it became overwhelmingly clear to me that even if you work at a job which requires you to primarily use your hands, in today’s world, it’s still a job that also very much requires you to work with your brain, too. For without the ability to jump on the computer, look up my car’s compatible tire models and appropriate size (to offer me a range of prices and options), and then cross-reference serial numbers against inventory levels, the guy with grease on his hands changing that tire wouldn’t have had a job.
Why? Because the entire auto shop’s business model is predicated on employees being able to work within the demands of a computerbased system. Actually removing lug nuts and swapping out rubber appeared to be the least tricky part of the job. It was almost as if changing tires was anticlimactic; getting the right match and entering all the data looked to be the most challenging aspect of the entire transaction.
I find a quote from this article to be incredibly telling: “Auto-repair educators say they are fighting misconceptions about the profession. They point out that fixing cars has gone high-tech. A laptop computer is becoming as important a repair tool as a set of socket wrenches.”
When I drove away from the shop, I realized that if the gentleman who had serviced my wife’s car wasn’t literate, he wouldn’t have been employed. The guy could have been a witch doctor with wrenches, but still, it wouldn’t have even mattered. Illiteracy = unemployment in more and more sectors of the American workforce today.
We see waiters wielding iPads, (and in some cases, being replaced by them). We see taxi drivers use Square to process credit card payments via mobile phones. More and more we see all sorts of jobs that traditionally weren’t often associated with basic literacy skills shifting in industry after industry.
Here’s an article which asks if manual labor will still even be necessary to our workforce, ten, twenty, or thirty years from now. (Think about robots out in the fields picking strawberries or auto-driving vehicles eliminating the need for school bus drivers.)
The wages of unskilled workers has trended downwards over the past thirty years, and people in this socio-economic category are clearly in a war against computers—unless they know how to use computers.
We live in a world starving for highly-skilled labor that’s simultaneously squeezing analready unskilled labor force to the lower and lower levels of earning capacity.
“Literacy might not seem that important if you've acquired the skill, but if you don't have it your life is likely to be poorer in every sense.” The aforementioned quote comes from this article, one which I certainly think is a must-read for every 14-year old in the nation.
Problem is, not every 14-year-old can read it. And I fear for their well-beings.