The Duncan Banner


October 6, 2013

Road sign reading can improve literacy

DUNCAN — For the past two decades, there has been much hand-wringing over the slide American youth have taken on the education totem pole. This is not new news to you, right?

Other nations have passed us in overall quality of education, and for years, the causes of our decline have been argued and examined, argued again and examined again, and argued yet some more.

Still, many agree the root of the problem lies at the foundation of education — reading. Too many young’uns in the two generations after mine don’t read and/or retain well.

We also have an escalating problem some would suggest is a watershed of immigration: a growing number of new Americans, both young and old, can read — they just can’t read English.

You know what these two problems mean, of course?

That’s right. I’ve once again answered the call of my nation — and all of humanity, for that matter — and have conjured a solution to illiteracy in the USofA.

Take the young folks and the new Americans on a road trip.

I’m serious. Expose poor readers or folks who can’t read English to the classroom that exists on the highways and byways, the streets and gravel roads of this great land, and they will soon master the art of reading.

Road signs, billboards, business signs galore. Bumper stickers and window scribbling of all varieties. It’s a veritable white-line library out there on the road.

The only way to avoid reading while road trippin’ is to sleep through it, and why do that? You miss such interesting material.

Like a sign at a fast food restaurant that takes a personal approach: “I’m thinking you want a Market Fresh Salad.” Who is “I’m”?

There’s a sign outside a loan company in the Missouri Ozarks that welcomes customers to: “Be sure and ask about our plans to own your home.” And what kid wouldn’t fall to the floorboards laughing about a small billboard outside St. Louis: “Jack’s Radiator Shop — A great place to take a leak.”

Some road signs are meant to teach reading interpretation. “Failure To Pay Toll Strictly Enforced?” OK, do you pay the toll or get in trouble, or do you get in trouble for paying the toll?

Other signs get straight to the point, like a hand-printed posting on a rural road south of Champaign, Ill., which noted, “The trouble with political jokes is that they get elected.” Or this direct ditty on the window of a second-hand shop in a western Indiana village: “Help Us Get Rid Of This Junk!”

There’s some spiritual impact experienced in reading signage, since God seems to be speaking from a lot of billboards — and through a lot of different denominational tongues — these days.

Plus, philosophy abounds on bumper stickers and windows, where one can read: “You all laugh because I’m different. I laugh because you’re all the same;” and a personal favorite, “The mind is like an umbrella — it works best when it’s open.”

“The more you complain, the longer God makes you live.” “You are depriving some poor village of its IDIOT!” Bumper stickers like these not only build reading skills, but also help reinforce the importance humility plays in developing character.

I sometimes wonder why it’s necessary to have a window sticker that says: “Yeah, It’s Got A Hemi.” Would seem to me all the driver has to do is engage the accelerator and I think everyone within a dozen blocks would know this bad boy’s got a Hemi.

But there are some good safety tips to be found on bumper stickers. “If you can read this, I can slam on my brakes and sue you!” “Support bingo. Help keep granny off the streets!”

At this point, good taste, and recalling I write for a family newspaper, force me to issue this disclaimer: SOME SIGNAGE ALONG THE NATION’S ROAD SYSTEM SHOULD NOT BE READ BY CHILDREN. IT’S THE RESPONSIBILITY OF AN ADULT TO COVER A KID’S EYES AT THE APPROPRIATE TIME.

Anyway, we’ve just cracked the cover on the amount of reading material found on the asphalt library, but I think you’re getting the point — road trips can help the American education system, and literacy in general, in soaring to new intellectual heights.

As always, I’m pleased to have injected enlightened thought into the public debate.

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