The Brazen Word


We are getting dumber, and at the wrong time.

There have been several reports over the last few months indicating that the literacy rate of high school and college students is dropping at an alarming rate. It looks like for a lot of us, the “OC” is depleting the part of our brains reserved for appreciating William Shakespeare.

According to, the Web site of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, more than 40 percent of Nevada state high school graduates needed “remedial courses upon entering public colleges. Those classes, which reviewed material that should have been mastered in high school, cost the state about $3 million per year.”

So next time you are sitting in a core class and someone says something asinine about a text, just remember that somebody will probably drop a few thousand dollars over the next year or two just to teach that student how to read a newspaper. There is plenty of blame to pass around, though, between parents, high school and elementary school teachers. And of course, the poorly-read individual.

Some of this new literacy information is downright comical. The National Survey of America’s College Students found that, “40 percent of the nation’s college seniors are able to distinguish fact from commentary in a newspaper editorial, understand documents such as maps and instruction manuals, or calculate a server’s tip after a meal out. Only 13 perfect of the country’s adult population was deemed proficient in those basic skills.”

I can certainly attest to the decline in reading comprehension. Two of my friends from high school, whose names will be hidden to protect the guilty, attend well-known, highly respected colleges in New York and Maryland. One of these guys has not read a single book since third grade and the other has only read one book cover to cover his entire life: The Rock’s autobiography.

But at least he’s read something, I guess.

The worst part is that these guys, who are both relatively intelligent, succeeded in high school and are continuing to receive solid grades in college. I guess weekend binge drinking is just as worthy as reading James Joyce.

Then there’s this one time I was in an Intro to Government class as a sophomore. We were discussing the War in Iraq when a girl raised her hand and explained that she had read a newspaper headline that indicated the war “wasn’t working.” She then asked the professor why we would be in the war if it “wasn’t working.”

Talk about separating fact from opinion.

This decline in reading literacy goes hand in hand with a lack of critical and analytical thinking skills, which is cause for serious concern, especially in today’s political climate. If anyone, like my former classmate, cannot discern fact from opinion or spin from hard news, we are all in serious trouble.

Take two extreme political figures: neoconservative talk show host Bill O’Reilly and ultraliberal comedian Al Franken. O’Reilly markets a “No-Spin Zone” like it’s his job (because it is) and Franken recently published a book entitled “The Truth.” Both come off to their opposition as snide and arrogant, as they present arguments in a way that demonstrates little to no understanding of opposing views.

That’s not only the poorest, least effective approach for convincing intellectual critics, it is the most dangerous and irresponsible way to present an argument to a generation of non-reading, 90210-loving, logic-free lackeys.

Amid today’s relative illiteracy, all one has to do is say something a few times for it to stick- an approach to obtaining power practiced by the likes of Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin. Our poor critical thinking is the precise reason why politics is not dominated by action but by language, as seen in a national debate between “pro-choice” and “pro-life” activists.

Sans a few psychopathic murdering types, one would be hard pressed to find a handful of individuals who are not both literally pro-choice and pro-life. By just saying it enough times until it stuck, activists have hoarded enough sheep into thinking that the issue is solely about a woman’s right to choose what to do with her own body. Wherever one stands on the issue, it is certainly na√ÉØve and irresponsible to ignore the very real possibility, and probability, that a life separate from the mother’s is being terminated in the process.

In a dense political climate where two sides so fervently and predictably oppose each other on every issue (besides the recent controversy over the U.S. ports, which has divided Republicans and Democrats into strange new factions), our literacy is lacking at the worst of times.


Stephen Pasqualina is a junior English major pursuing both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English at St. John’s College.