Americans reacted with shock and sadness when they learned of the Taliban’s attempted assassination of young Malala Yousafzai, a brave, visionary 14-year-old Pakistani girl whose only so-called offense was to advocate for the education of girls and women in her home country. The outrage is justified and has resulted in Malala becoming the central figure in an international demand for the educational rights of women and girls.
For idealistic Americans, the pursuit of excellence, diversity and equality is a part of our national DNA. The Taliban’s crime is unquestionably foreign to our values and contradictory to the importance Americans place on educating all children. That’s why National Family Literacy Day and Month is so vitally important. It’s a time to set an example for ourselves and the world – as Malala has done – and to redefine family literacy, a high school education, and the chance to succeed, as fundamental rights, regardless of age.
It’s a time to showcase programs that bring children and parents together in classrooms where they learn together. This has been my passion for decades, and the need for programs that reach across generations is more crucial than ever in taking our country to new heights.
Still, more than 25 million Americans are not fortunate enough to have a high school diploma and an estimated 90 million suffer from low literacy, lacking the reading skills necessary to be the kind of parents, grandparents and citizens they want to be. Illiteracy impacts some of the most pressing social problems we face, and it limits opportunities to achieve the American Dream. That’s why I champion family literacy programs as an effective means to strengthen both families and our country.
The Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy is proud to be on the front lines of making universal literacy a reality. Our mission is simple; making it happen isn’t. But it can be done. It is being done.
I am proud my own children, Jeb and Doro, are picking up the torch to co-chair the Foundation, ensuring my vision of a country where everyone can read remains evergreen. Thank you also to my son, Neil, and his wife, Maria, for hosting the Houston Celebration of Reading to be held April 18. I also can’t thank enough the friends and believers in family literacy who have enabled my foundation to grant more than $43 million over 20 years to establish programs in every one of our 50 states and the District of Columbia.
The majority of the children attending our programs pre-tested below the average reading level. As a result they lack basic literacy skills like knowing numbers, letters and colors. After attending our program, children’s post test scores reveal they catch up to their peers who test in the medium-range of age-appropriate literacy skills.
Family Literacy programs also educate parents, preparing them to support their children’s educations. On average, parents in our programs improve 1.5 grade levels in reading, writing and math. They learn to be their child’s first teacher, creating an environment in the home in which the cycle of illiteracy can be broken.
I hope at this point you are asking yourself: “What can I do?” The answer can be as simple as making a commitment to spend time reading to and with your children or buying a book for a child you love. You also can support family literacy in your community. To learn more and get inspired, visit our website at www.barbarabushfoundation.com.
Malala Yousafzai is a symbol of the powerful human desire to learn. On National Family Literacy Day and throughout the month of November I am moved by her example and am reflecting upon the joy and success literacy has brought to me and my family. Will you join us in our efforts to support family literacy in every community and make a better America for everyone?