Close this search box.

The tension between learning and earning

"In a nation whose education system is among the most unequal in the industrialized world, where race and geography play an outsize role in determining one’s path to success, many Americans are being failed twice: first, by public schools that lack qualified teachers, resources for students with disabilities and adequate reading instruction; and next, by the backup system intended to catch those failed by the first."

In December 2022, ProPublica published an article about the ongoing literacy crisis in the United States. This blog post is one of a series of reflections on that article.

Folks with low literacy usually don’t need someone to point that out to them. They’re usually crucially aware of their lack of skills – and what that lack is stopping them from achieving.

But the devil’s always in the details. Someone might know they need to take a class – but how much will that class cost? How far away is it, and how much will they pay in gas or bus fares to get to and from the class?

Most crucially of all – how does a low-income person fit classes into their week?

ProPublica reporters heard time and again that in communities stricken with low literacy, programs had to close sites because not enough students had enrolled. Meanwhile, more than two dozen adults in these hot spots told us that a lack of transportation or child care or busy work schedules prohibited them from attending classes.

How would you manage that Catch-22? You can’t afford not to work – but all you can get is a minimum-wage position with an inflexible schedule. Maybe you need a second job in order to make rent. Maybe it’s an exhausting job where you’re on your feet all day. And family and home responsibilities like making sure kids do homework, caring for babies or elderly relatives, cooking, cleaning, and laundry don’t take a break.

How do we solve the tension between learning, and earning?

The article highlighted Skills for Life, a Detroit program that provides paid time to learn alongside a city job. It was the turning point for Steve Binion, whose story is outlined in the article. And once someone’s broken the dead-end link of low literacy and low pay, their prospects improve dramatically – along with those of their family and the community.

What can we learn – and emulate – from these programs that work?

This blog post is a reflection on the ProPublica article, “A Fifth of American Adults Struggle to Read. Why Are We Failing to Teach Them?” Find the previous installment here.

Get Texas literacy updates

Make sure you’re on our mailing list so you don’t miss any news:

  • Conference updates
  • Regional symposia
  • Online training
  • Advocacy 
  • …more!

Sign up for our newsletter and receive adult literacy news and events.

Copyright 2024 Literacy Texas | All Rights Reserved | Web Design and Marketing by Web International | View our Privacy Policy