Barbara Bush’s Literate America

This week’s post is in honor of the lovely former first lady, Barbara Bush. She passed away on Tuesday, April 17, 2018. Known as the nation’s “first grandmother” or even “America’s grandmother” due to her motherly nature and white locks, she was respected by millions of Americans, regardless of race, class, or ethnicity. Throughout her husband’s presidency, she became an advocate of family literacy, with a passion for books and reading.

In 1991, Lady Bush helped pass the National Literacy Act. The goals of this act are to,

“(1) conduct specified research and demonstrations; (2) assist Federal, State, and local agencies in developing, implementing, and evaluating literacy policy by establishing a national data base and providing technical and policy assistance and development model systems; (3) provide program assistance, training, and technical assistance for literacy programs throughout the United States; (4) collect and disseminate information on a variety of promising methods; (5) review and make recommendations on uniform reporting, performance measures, and program standards; and (6) provide a toll-free long-distance telephone line for literacy providers and volunteers.”

The Literacy Act established a literacy center that focused on adult education through state grants and monitoring of local programs. The goal was to amend the Adult Education Act so it could provide educational resources to adults through eligible programs, such as commercial drivers in partnership with educational agencies, colleges, or universities. It also set up parameters for literacy programs for incercerated adults. Additionally, it amended the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to allow for better distribution of inexpensive reading materials to children with special needs and provide grants for public literacy programs- especially those functioning in areas with low education levels or areas with few financial resources. Additionally, it provided amendments for the Higher Education Act, as well as the Domestic Volunteer Service Act.

In addition to this, Lady Bush founded the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy. The mission of this organization is “providing access to family literacy programs in which both parents and children work toward their educational goals.” This is a noble goal because a reported 36 million adults in the United States have low literacy skills, and 1 in 4 cannot read above a 5th grade level. Due to this information, the foundation has worked in community outreach with goals to improve our nation’s literacy levels. As a matter of fact, the Foundation, “has raised and provided more than $110 million in support to create or expand family literacy programs in all 50 states and the District of Columbia” in addition to supporting more than 160 programs, creating positive results throughout the nation.

Why does literacy matter so much? Well, not only does a parent’s literacy level predict their child’s future literacy level, it also plays a major role in their health and functioning in society. For instance, this study indicates that individuals with low literacy levels are “unable to adequately prepare for or respond to an emergency” because most health information is written at an 8th grade reading level or beyond. This is much higher than the average 5th grade reading level of many Americans. This is so much of a public health issue that even a Canadian study recommended that physicians give written instructions to patient at a 5th grade reading level or below. A great example of the impact illiteracy has on someone’s health and wellness can be found here.

Lady Bush was not alone in her passion for creating a literate nation. The United Nations has recognized the issue as public health problem to be addressed. The American Public Health Association has a very definitive stance on the issue, stating that communities, organizations, and the government should be involved in improving health literacy rates because “limited health literacy affects Americans of all ages, races, incomes, languages, cultures, and education levels.” As such, Barbara Bush was not alone in her stance, but rather a national leader for a movement that is backed both at home and globally. Her efforts pushed the envelope and fueled the national efforts to improve our country’s literacy, for all.

The former first lady and “first grandmother” will be missed by many, but her efforts will continue to move forward. Even in death, she still contributes to the improvement of the lives of millions of Americans through her various organizations.


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