Getting literacy rolling in South Carolina
Learning to read is not quite as easy as ABC. But it's also
not differential calculus.
Our goal as a state is to ensure that every child in South Carolina
has the opportunity to learn to read. That's why the School of
Library and Information Science at the University of South Carolina
has launched its $6 million Children, Libraries and Literacy
As USC President Andrew Sorensen said in announcing the initiative
last week: "Reading is our vehicle, and a library card is
our passport. Reading can take us all over the world and introduce
us to ideas and places we've never dreamed of."
Park that vehicle idea close by. We'll get behind the wheel
in just a moment.
Like a TV or boom box turned too loud, the statistics blare
the need for a literacy program to reach all corners of the state:
• One-third of South Carolina students reading below state
standards in eighth grade (in 2002).
• The third-highest adult illiteracy rate in the United
• Illiteracy rates higher than 40 percent in five counties — Allendale,
McCormick, Williamsburg, Clarendon and Lee.
If we do not reach today's children, the problem among tomorrow's
adults will only worsen. It's impossible to overstate the importance
of a literate population. Any effort to boost the state's economic
growth hinges on an educated work force. In simplest terms, young
people who cannot read at an adequate level are doomed to enter
the work force looking for subsistence jobs, if they can find
jobs at all. And the state will face the dilemma of either importing
better-trained workers or continuing to export jobs.
What do we do about it? Our initiative is about as simple as
• A: The Augusta Baker Chair in Childhood Literacy. In
an academic position, named for USC's former "storyteller-in-residence" and
a pioneer in advancing children's literature, the chair holder
will conduct research and lead teaching to determine the most
effective ways of overcoming illiteracy. The General Assembly
this year appropriated half of the $3 million needed to fully
endow this chair in the School of Library and Information Science.
It will be the first at USC and one of only a handful in the
country honoring an African-American woman.
• B: The South Carolina Center for Children's Books and
Literacy. In collaboration with the State Library, the center
will develop the best practices that can be used to stimulate
reading. A satellite center is being developed at the Gateway/Child
Development and Research Center at USC to serve as our literacy
laboratory where our faculty and graduate students work with
the center's children and parents.
• C: Outreach and Training. The delivery system for getting
programs to local libraries and communities, especially in underserved
areas of the state.
The center and outreach components account for the other $3
million that we are seeking to fund the initiative.
Now, time to get back in that vehicle to make the deliveries.
We call it the "Readmobile." It's still on the drawing
boards, but library school director Dan Barron likes to describe
it as "a tripped-out RV that can park at the town's Wal-Mart
or Target and invite children and their families to explore the
joys of reading."
Dr. Barron's retirement dream is to drive the Readmobile from
town to town. One summer when I was in college, I drove an ice
cream truck and saw the buzz that brings to a neighborhood. The
Readmobile would be more nourishing.
This is not competition for libraries, many of which have their
own bookmobiles. They are our collaborators. The initiative is
designed to complement existing literacy programs and work in
tandem with them. Our partners include organizations such as
First Steps, PAIRS — Parents and Adults Inspiring Reading
Success — the state's Education Oversight Committee, the
USC College of Education, child care providers such as Gateway/USC
and Sunshine House. The more of us involved, the better our chance
And that's where you come in. You can read to your children
and grandchildren, as I do. You can volunteer in schools and
libraries, helping nurture the notion that reading can be as
much fun as TV or video games. You can get on board with us.
Corporations, foundations, community groups and individuals
can help fuel Children, Libraries and Literacy. We envision having
all parts of the initiative in place by 2008. But we're not waiting
to put it in gear, and we're not going to be intimidated by today's
gas prices. The price of inaction is too high to pay.