The Ability to Read Gets More and More Critical Every Day

Do you realize right now as you read this, you are more fortunate than many people – not only the world, but also right here in the United States?

What makes us more fortunate?

Our Ability to Read

 Have you ever thought of what would your life be like if you couldn’t read?  What impact would not being able to read have on you?

You may haven’t thought about it but the ability for us to read has become more and more important as time has passed.

At one time, there were a variety of jobs people could get if they could not read.  Typically, those were blue collar and manual labor jobs.

Here in Knoxville and Knox County, most of those jobs no longer exist.  Work in factories has just about disappeared.  There are some major manufacturers like Denso. However, even there, the workers have to be skilled. More and more of the work is being computerized.

We are using more and more electronic things.  Even cars and trucks have many electronic components.  Many of these are made by robots. To repair all of these, technicians and mechanics need specialized training.

Even electricians, plumbers, welders and workers in the other skilled trades need specialized training.

In the Future It Will be Worse

Computers and robots will be doing most of the work. If a person can’t read, it will be difficult not only for them to get ahead in life but also survive.

Those who cannot read definitely are at a disadvantage.

Let me ask.

  • How well do your children and grandchildren read?
  • Are they doing as well as they can or could they be doing better?
  • Do any have a problem reading?

If they have problems reading or can’t read, what does the future hold for them?

Reading Problems Start When a Child is Young

You may not know it, but children’s reading problems start when they are very young.  Actually, the problem for most exists prior to when they’re in the fourth grade.

Many studies confirm this. In fact, if a child is not a good reader by the time they start the fourth grade, they will comprehend less than 50% of what is being taught to them.

Here are some interesting points which you need to know:

  1. Students who are poor readers by the time they complete the third grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school than other students.

2. 88% of those who don’t get a high school diploma struggle to read by the time they finished the 3rd grade.

  3. 82% of sixth graders who fail an English class don’t complete high school.

From Birth, Up to When They Complete Third Grade, a Child is Learning to Read.  From the Fourth Grade on, They are Learning to Read.

By now you may be wondering how well students in the third grade here in Knox County and in the state of Tennessee are reading.

2018 was the most recent year a study was done.  This revealed:

  • Only 37% of those completing third grade statewide were reading at a third grade level.
  • Knox County third graders were slightly better. 40% of those in Knox County schools were reading at the third grade level.

You may be shocked by how poorly third graders in Knox County and the state are reading here.  Nationwide, it’s worse.  Only 35% of those nationwide were reading at a third grade level.

While children in Knox County and Tennessee are doing better than those nation-wide, there is still a big problem. 60% of the children in Knox county and 63% statewide have a serious reading problem. They are going to have challenges getting work and even surviving as adults.

This has not gone unnoticed.

Efforts are Underway to Address the Problem

You may be surprised.  Dolly Parton was the first. You may have heard of her Imagination Library.  The library sends books free to children from birth until they begin school. This was launched in Sevier County in 1995. In 2004, every child in Tennessee became eligible to receive books from it.

While in office, our former governor, Bill Haslam, set a statewide goal to have 75% of all third grade students reading at the third grade level by 2025.

Knox County started working on this several years ago. An initiative was created to help our children reach the state’s goal. More recently in March of 2019, Mayor Glenn Jacobs, in conjunction with Knox County Schools and the Knox County Public Library, launched Read City USA.  This encourages young children to read.  A website was created.  You can check it out here –

.Two months later, Mayor Jacobs went further and issued a challenge – to make Knox County the most well- read community in America. The first step in that was to have people in the county read for 250,000 hours by the end of 2019.

Residents of Knox County took up the challenge. They tracked the minutes they spend reading on a special tracker set up on the Read City USA website. The goal of 250,000 hours was reached by late October and the residents continued recording the hours they read during the rest of the year. In response, a more ambitious goal – to read for 500,000 hours—has been set for 2020.

Were you aware of this?

Have Your Grandchildren Been Participating in This Challenge

How are they doing? How many hours have they spent reading?

If this is the first you have heard of this, why don’t you talk to your grandchildren and their parents about it. See where they are.  See if you can help them.

Your children and their spouses may both have to work to provide what they and their children need.  Sometimes a parent has to work two jobs. They may not have much time to spend with their children. Most frequently they are spending that time doing other things besides reading.

You Can Help Your Children and Grandchildren

 Why not read your grandchildren for a certain amount of time every week? Think about it.  You will not only help them with their reading. You will also build a stronger relationship with them.

If your grandchildren are three or less, you will be reading to them.  They will have certain books they want you to read.  In addition to those, read them books that you like and that will help them learn about a variety of other things.

As they get older and are starting to read on their own, ask them to read to you. This will help them tremendously.

All the while you are reading to them and they to you, you will see how much they are growing.

As you read with them, you may notice one of your grandchildren has a problem reading.  Let their parents know about it. You and they can take the steps necessary to correct before it causes major problems for that child as they get older.

Not Having Your Own Grandchildren Doesn’t Have to Stop You

You may not have any grandchildren of your own, but you may have a sibling or siblings who does.  Why not ask them if you can read to their grandchildren?  It’s a great way to help them. You will probably benefit more than they will.

Do you have time on your hands? Looking for something to do? Contact your local library and see if you can read to young children who attend there. You also may be able to volunteer at a local boys or girls club.

There is also the Foster Grandparent program at the Office on Aging of the Knoxville- Knox County Community Action.  One of the things a foster grandparent can do is read to the children they are working with. If you want more information on the Foster Grandparent program, please contact Gina Whitfield at 865-524-2786.

Perhaps you would prefer not to be a foster grandparent. The Office on Aging also has a Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP). You can contact Sam Pohlot and let her know you would like to help young children read at schools, libraries, youth centers or other places in the community. Sam’s phone number is also 865-524-2786. She will be glad to help you.

Former Governor Haslam’s goal to have 75% of all third grade students reading at the third grade level by 2025 is impressive, especially since only 37% of the students in the third grade statewide in 2018 were reading at that level.

We here in Knox County can do better.  Let’s blow right past that and shoot for 85 to 90%. I challenge you to get involved and help the county do that.


If you have any comments on what you have read in this post, please email them to me. Also – if you have any ideas about subjects you would like to see discussed in future posts, please send me an email and let me know. My email address is