NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Poor Education And Crime

January 11, 1996

Experts have concluded that illiteracy is a large contributor to delinquency, and that fact holds vast implications for those concerned about the approaching "bloodbath" of crime forecast by demographers for the next decade. School reforms now could help children to read better and stem the approaching Maelstrom of delinquency.

  • A 1993 study found that nearly half of America's adults are poor readers -- or "functionally illiterate."
  • Another study, this by the Justice Department, found that 21 million Americans can't read at all, 45 million are marginally illiterate, and one-fifth of high school graduates can't read their diplomas.
  • The overall literacy rate has declined alarmingly from 97 percent in 1950 to less than 80 percent today.
  • More than three out of four of those on welfare, 85 percent of unwed mothers and 68 percent of those arrested are illiterate.
  • An estimated $5 billion a year in taxes goes to support people who can't find work due to illiteracy.

Illiteracy, experts say, aggravates crime because the frustration in failing in so key an area hurts the student both intellectually and psychologically.

A substantial number of educators lay the blame for illiteracy at the doorstep of a new method used to teach reading. It is called "whole language" and has replaced the phonics approach in many classrooms.

Advocates of whole language contend that systematic methods which make use of phonics are "heartless drudgery." Whole language theory holds that children can learn to read the same way they learn to talk: through context, pictures and "linguistic guessing." Advocates say children learn to read with less harm and demand on their self-esteem.

But a growing body of educators calls whole language teaching a "romantic" view of learning that is less effective than a developmental view like phonics, and least effective for those who tend to be at risk -- low-income minority children and those with learning disabilities.

Source: Mathew Robinson, "Learn To Read, Stay Out of Jail," Investor's Business Daily, January 11, 1996.


Browse more articles on Government Issues