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Essays About Literacy

essays on literacy

Example #1 – The Importance of Literacy

Literacy is a skill that is never late to acquire because it is essential for education, employment, belonging to the community, and the ability to help one’s children. Those people, who cannot read, are deprived of many opportunities for professional or personal growth. Unwillingness to become literate can be partly explained by a lack of resources and sometimes shame; yet, these obstacles can and should be overcome.

First, one can say that literacy is crucial for every person who wants to understand the life of a society. It is also essential for the ability to critically evaluate the world and other people. In his book, Frederick Douglass describes his experiences of learning to read. Being a slave, he had very few opportunities for education.

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Moreover, planters were unwilling to teach their slaves any reading skills because they believed that literacy would lead to free-thinking and slaves’ aspirations for freedom (Douglass, 96). Overall, they were quite right in their assumption because literacy gives people access to information, and they understand that they can achieve much more than they have. This can be one of the reasons for learning to read.

Yet, literary is essential for many other areas of life, for example, employment. Statistical data show that low-literate adults remain unemployed for approximately six months of the year (Fisher, 211). This problem becomes particularly serious during the time when economy is in the state of recession. It is particularly difficult for such people to retain their jobs especially when businesses try to cut their expenses on workforce.

One should take into account that modern companies try to adapt new technologies or tools, and the task of a worker is to adjust to these changes. Thus, literacy and language proficiency are important for remaining competitive. Furthermore, many companies try to provide training programs to their employees, but participation in such programs is hardly possible with basic reading skills. Thus, these skills enable a person to take advantage of many opportunities.

Additionally, one has to remember that without literacy skills people cannot help their children who may struggle with their homework assignments. Moreover, the ability to read enables a person to be a part of the community in which he or she lives. In his essay The Human Cost of an Illiterate Society, Jonathan Kozol eloquently describes the helplessness of illiterate people.

This helplessness manifests itself in a variety of ways; for example, one can mention the inability to read medicine prescriptions, contracts, ballot papers, official documents, and so forth (Kozol, unpaged). While speaking about these people, Jonathan Kozol uses the expression “an uninsured existence” which means that they are unaware of their rights, and others can easily exploit them (Kozol, unpaged). To a great extent, illiterate individuals can just be treated as second-class citizens.

This is a danger that people should be aware of. To be an active member of a community, one has to have access to a variety of informational resources, especially, books, official documents, newspapers, printed announcements, and so forth. For illiterate people, these sources are inaccessible, and as a result, they do not know much about the life of a village, town, city, or even a country in which they live.

In some cases, adults are unwilling to acquire literacy skills, because they believe that it is too late for them to do it. Again, one has to remember that there should always be time for learning, especially learning to read.

Secondly, sometimes people are simply ashamed of acknowledging that they cannot read. In their opinion, such an acknowledgment will result in their stigmatization. Yet, by acting in such a way, they only further marginalize themselves. Sooner or later they will admit that ability to read is important for them, and it is better to do it sooner.

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Apart from that, people should remember that there are many education programs throughout the country that are specifically intended for people with low literacy skills (Fisher, 214). Certainly, such programs can and should be improved, but they still remain a chance that illiterate adults should not miss. If these people decide to seek help with this problem, they will be assisted by professional educators who will teach them the reading skills that are considered to be mandatory for an adult person.

Although it may seem a far-fetched argument, participation in such programs can open the way to further education. As it has been said by Frederick Douglass learning can be very absorbing and learning to read is only the first step that a person may take (Douglass, 96). This is another consideration that one should not overlook.

Overall, these examples demonstrate that ability to read can open up many opportunities for adults. Employment, education, and ability to uphold one’s rights are probably the main reasons why people should learn to read. Nonetheless, one should not forget that professional growth and self-development can also be very strong stimuli for acquiring or improving literacy skills. Therefore, people with poor literacy skills should actively seek help in order to have a more fulfilling life.


Example #2 – How Literacy Help People Become Free From Powerful People Essay

As we look upon this young black man reading a Bible, one question that comes to mind is whether or not the subject is an enslaved person. If he is a free man in the North, it would be legal for him to read at this time in 1863. But what if he is not free? Or what if he is a free black man residing in a slave state?

The issue of literacy among blacks during the Civil War was a complicated one. Before the 1830s there were few restrictions on teaching slaves to read and write. After the slave revolt led by Nat Turner in 1831, all slave states except Maryland, Kentucky, and Tennessee passed laws against teaching slaves to read and write.

For example, in 1831 and 1832 statues were passed in Virginia prohibiting meetings to teach free blacks to read or write and instituting a fine of $10 – $100 for teaching enslaved blacks.

The Alabama Slave Code of 1833 included the following law “[S31] Any person who shall attempt to teach any free person of color, or slave, to spell, read or write, shall upon conviction thereof by indictment, be fined in a sum of not less than two hundred fifty dollars, nor more than five hundred dollars.”

At this time, Harpers Weekly published an article that stated “the alphabet is an abolitionist. If you would keep a people enslaved refuse to teach them to read.” There was fear that slaves who were literate could forge travel passes and escape.

These passes, signed by the slave owner, were required for enslaved people traveling from one place to another and usually included the date on which the slave was supposed to return. There was also fear that writing could be a means of communication that would make it easier to plan insurrections and mass escapes.

Slave narratives from many sources tell us how many enslaved people became educated. Some learned to read from other literate slaves, while at other times a master or mistress was willing to teach a slave in defiance of the laws.

Former slave and abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass was taught the alphabet in secret at age twelve by his master’s wife, Sophia Auld. As he grew older Douglass took charge of his own education, obtaining and reading newspapers and books in secret. He was often quoted asserting that “knowledge is the pathway from slavery to freedom.”

Douglass was one of the few literate slaves who regularly taught others how to read. Younger slaves frequently listened outside school houses where their masters’ children were learning. Enslaved people who were caught reading or writing were severely punished, as were their teachers. In every instance, these slaves and those who taught them undertook a profound risk, which for many was surmounted by the individual’s passion, commitment and imagination.

The following are two telling examples of slave narratives that discuss how slaves became literate. This first account is from James Fisher of Nashville, Tennessee, who relayed his story in 1843:

Artist Eastman Johnson was active in the abolitionist movement in the 1860s, so it is plausible that he read slave narratives that demonstrated the importance of literacy and, specifically, the reading of the Bible to slaves and former slaves. One possible source Johnson might have come across was the narrative of former slave James Curry, published in the abolitionist newspaper The Liberator on January 10, 1840. Curry recalls his quest to learn to read:

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My master’s oldest son was six months older than I. He went to a day school, and as I had a great desire to learn to read, I prevailed upon him to teach me.

My mother procured me a spelling-book. (Before Nat Turner’s insurrection, a slave in our neighborhood might buy a spelling or hymn-book, but now he cannot). I got so I could read a little when my master found it out and forbad his son to teach me any more.

As I had got the start, however, I kept on reading and studying, and from that time till I came away, I always had a book somewhere about me, and if I got an opportunity, I would be reading in it. Indeed, I have a book now, which I brought all the way from North Carolina. I borrowed a hymn-book and learned the hymns by heart.

My uncle had a Bible, which he lent me, and I studied the Scriptures. When my master’s family were all gone away on the Sabbath, I used to go into the house and get down the great Bible, and lie down in the piazza, and read, taking care, however, to put it back before they returned. There I learned that it was contrary to the revealed will of God, that one man should hold another as a slave.

I had always heard it talked among slaves, that we ought not to be held as slaves; that our forefathers and mothers were stolen from Africa, where they were free men and free women. But in the Bible, I learned that ‘God hath made of one blood all nations of men to dwell on all the face of the earth.’


Example #3 – The Importance of Literacy

Try and imagine our society without a common language. This could be quite a hard idea to fathom. Allow me to assist you. If this hypothetical idea were in fact true, a typical conversation between two individuals would be as follows: one of the two would begin the conversation by making noises representing their language, the other person would not understand these noises and respond with unrecognizable noises to the first individual. As you can well imagine, this would get quite frustrating.

Rita Mae Brown describes literacy as, “a social contract, an agreed-upon representation of certain symbols” (420). If the symbols (letters) meanings are not agreed upon by those attempting to communicate, then interpreting one another becomes difficult. Simply stated, literacy is very important. Society has proven time and time again, it will reward those individuals who are competent and impede those who are not, whether expressed in terms of employment opportunities (job success) or just on a social level.

One need to look no further than their everyday activities in order to realize how important literary skills are. Without adequate literary skills, one may not be able to identify on a label the correct amount of medicine to give a child or read and interpret a sign giving instructions on what to do in case of a fire. These two examples bring perspective to literacy’s importance.

Nevertheless, recent surveys have indicated that “4.5 million Canadians, representing 24 percent of the eighteen-and-over group, can be considered illiterate” (”Adult Illiteracy” 5). Illiteracy is truly a problem in Canada. Although many groups are working to render the problem of illiteracy, much work still lies ahead.

As our society moves on into the next century literacy is proving vital to economic performance. Without basic literary skills in one’s possession, they will become lost in our rapidly changing society. The modern worker must be able to adapt to the changing job-scene. This often means gathering new skills and knowledge from printed material, whether instruction manuals, computer programs, or classroom training (textbooks). It is quite commonly the case that highly skilled jobs require a high level of literacy.

Therefore, the literary skill level is an important factor in predicting an individual’s economic success. It will affect an individual’s income, employment stability, and whether they even receive employment opportunities.

Presently, our world revolves around literacy. Simply being literate allows one to continuously upgrade one’s literary skills to a higher level. It allows one to stay informed of happenings in and around the world through mediums such as newspapers and magazines. Knowing current news about what is going on in this ever-changing world of ours is the key to staying ahead.

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Another thought to ponder is this, we rely on those with high literacy levels to record and document findings and happenings for future generations to reflect on. These writings would most likely be dull and inaccurate or would not exist at all without our current levels of literacy.

When viewed from a social standpoint, literacy remains just as important as when viewed from an economic standpoint. Linda Macleod of the National Associations Active in Criminal Justice points out that, “65 percent of people entering Canadian prisons for the first time have trouble reading and writing, low literacy is part of a constellation of problems that can limit choices in life and thus lead people to criminal activity” (20). Somebody in possession of a high level of literacy will most likely be well informed and tend to make wiser decisions.

By obtaining this level of literacy they have also gathered a large vocabulary giving them many words to choose from to express their ideas and feelings. Conversely, many would agree that a conversation with one who has a good grasp of the English language is always more delightful than with one who is less educated.

Literacy can act as a window, opening one’s view of the world. Presently, we are being bombarded with information, news, trivia, and gossip (not that this is always a positive feature in our lives). Without sufficient literary skills, one cannot even absorb any of this information. These people will miss out on many of life’s benefits, socially as well as economically.

Without sufficient literary skills, one would have a tremendously difficult time functioning in our current world. Think about your average day, consider how many times you refer to your literary skills to aid you, could you function without those skills? Finding an address, reading a map, reading a menu, performing a bank transaction, these are just a few common tasks that require your literary skills.

Also, when looking at the importance of literacy to our nation, its value is evident. High levels of literacy throughout all sectors of Canada’s workforce are necessary, “low literacy levels of workers’ affect Canada’s ability to perform in the increasingly competitive international marketplace” (”Literacy” 7). Literary skills become building blocks.

First creating a well- educated society, then a highly skilled labor force that can compete and adapt to the changing market. These factors lead to an increase in economic growth within the nation which in turn, results in a higher standard of living for its people.

As our society moves forward into the future, a higher level of literacy will become more important to one’s level of success. Where would our society be without our ability to exchange knowledge and information? How many times have you made a purchase that read on the outside – instructions inside? You and I think nothing of this, and in a sense take our gift for granted.

For many, deciphering written instructions is a near-impossible task, asking for assistance does little more than to further lower their self-esteem. Literacy is important. To truly seize the benefits possible in one’s life it has to be accepted that literacy is the key. Society will continue to reward skilled individuals and disadvantage those who are not.

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