Difference is a hallmark of every human being, and it lies in the basis of one’s nature. It is something that makes everyone special and defines their personality making one distinguished from other individuals. However, at present time, the dissimilarities between people often appear as a result of inequality that is one of the most significant social challenges that modern world is experiencing and struggling against. It emerges due to different access to opportunities, rights and privileges. Yet, one of the most striking manifestations of the challenge is unequal access to proper education that results in lack of intellectual development and maintenance of illiteracy. The skills of reading and writing are vital for the learning process and communication with the society acting as the indicator of one’s intelligence. Throughout the history of mankind it has been treated as a powerful force that can be accesses only by some people. Literacy has been used as an instrument to control knowledge and information that resulted in deepening of social segregation. However, its promotion can contribute to elimination of inequality and make positive social changes.
Inequality in education and individual development deserves high attention due to its powerful outer and inner impact. One’s acquaintance with the social environment begins with comparison of others with oneself and determination of similarities and differences. Literacy is commonly considered to be the basic skill, and any troubles with it are met with indignation, derision or antipathy. Such a state of affairs may cause inner psychological problems that result in various inhibitions and low self-esteem, unsociability, reticence, etc. In addition, one may develop unwillingness to get proper education. In the future, lack of qualifications prevents many people from self-fulfillment and engagement in well-paid jobs. Within the USA, the lack of literacy skills is often encountered among representatives of ethnical minorities or low-income families, and in past times, it was far more widespread.
Literacy as well as equality have always been something that has to be fought for. Centuries ago, it was considered to be a privilege of the white people, and representatives of all other nationalities who were the residents of the United States had to struggle for the possibility to learn to read and write. The essay entitled “Learning to Read” and written by Frederick Douglass tells the story of a black boy who lived. in times of slavery. These were the days when being a slave meant being illiterate. Those few who attempted to make a difference faced numerous obstacles, punishments and troubles. Since “education and slavery were incompatible with each other”, the protagonist of the essay had to develop the reading skills secretly (Douglass 10). He used every free minute when his mistress did not see him to engage himself in reading and did everything he could to hide his passion from her. It was impossible for him to enter any educational institution, so the main character made deals with poor local boys so they could teach him. This story exemplifies the steps taken to become literate that resemble skillful strategies of some clandestine group or spies. Furthermore, it makes it obvious that basic abilities to read and write were strictly limited and controlled.
The reason of suchlike restricted access to literacy consisted in the power of this skill. Douglas describes the effect of reading in the following way: “The reading … enabled me to utter my thoughts” (Douglass 11). It framed protagonist’s ideas and impressions, organized and shaped the opinions and broadened the outlook. Reading makes people familiar with existence of different options of power or lifestyle as well as provides different thoughts regarding the same social phenomena. Thus, at the time described in the story, society recognized knowledge as a threat that might provoke questions about the authorities and their rule. Literacy provided the access to knowledge through literature and newspapers, valuable sources of information, which resulted in people thinking. The last phenomenon was considered to be a kind of side effect that was not welcomed among those who were to unquestionably follow the orders of white masters. Too much information might shatter the order of strict social stratification and cause resistance aimed at defense of equal rights. Hence, in days of conscious inequality, it was partially maintained through the limitedness of education in general and literacy in particular.
If, in times of isolated literacy, people conducted struggles with outer enemies, these days of juristically guaranteed rights to education for everyone, an individual has to fight with oneself to acquire the skills. The essay about Malcolm X depicts a story of a man who needed to get imprisoned to start learning. At the end of the essay, he states, “Where else but in a prison could I have attacked my ignorance by being able to study intensely” (X). In the work, Malcolm emphasizes the presence of various factors that distract people from learning and diminish its significance. He himself needed to get isolated to start mastering reading and writing. Indeed, nowadays, most people have access to all kinds of resources required to practice the mentioned above skills. However, they seem to be too engrossed in their routine to spare more time for education which means that in certain way, individuals themselves contribute to the inequality since not everyone can overcome personal laziness and indifference. Therefore, in many cases, the outer help is required.
Presence of proper role model or mentor contributes to development of any skill including literacy. It possesses the inspiring effect that both encourages to start and supports to continue learning to read and write. The essay by Sherman Alexie demonstrates how father’s love to reading inspired his son to master literacy by himself. Living with an “avid reader”, the author was always surrounded by piles of books (Alexie). Even though no one of adults had a permanent and well-paid job, the father always found means to purchase a new book. Knowledge and learning of something unfamiliar was one of the values cultivated inside the author’s family and defined reading as important part of one’s life. As a consequence, Sherman grew up with deep inner striving for knowledge and mastered reading by himself. Another significant fact was his curiosity. Being young, he was fascinated with the unimaginable symbols and was curious about the message that stood behind them. In his first book about superman, he actually guessed the character’s utterance through the depicted image. Later, he learned to decode all those secret characters and opened the magnificent world of books. The author witnessed great passion towards books that provoked his interest and supported during this complicated path of reading acquisition.
As for my personal experience of reading, I must confess that I had to fight with some part of myself as well. I was not lucky enough to have neither an inspiring role model nor 15 hours per day to involve myself in this challenging and fascinating process. My parents never forced me to sit patiently and carefully align every letter or read a few pages of a book and tell about their content. Moreover, I used to have some house chores after school and wanted to spend some time with my friends outside, and in the evening, there was time for watching the TV. In-between these “primary” affairs, I managed to do some homework. However, a moment in my life when I started to enjoy reading changed it all. It was truly a heavenly coincidence that I got sick and had to stay in bed for a week in house with a broken TV. I was so bored that I started to learn which turned out to be quite interesting. After that week, I came to my class, and we had a spelling competition. Luckily, during my illness, I had been looking through the words, so I was ready to everything. I did not win, but the third place for a person from the back seat was a great success. I was extremely proud of myself as I was the same as those classmates who used to be the best. Before that day, I had considered myself to be not smart enough, but after that day, I realized that we all have equal chances to win. At that time, I was thinking about spelling competitions, now I believe that it is true about any life challenge.
All of the previously indicated arguments provide a thorough insight into the relationships between mankind and literacy. How can it address modern social inequality? Reading and writing open wide perspectives for the ones who possess these skills. They represent the bridge between ignorance and knowledge. The inequality begins in people’s thoughts about differences that result in various kinds of limitations and humiliations. Many people do not see the full picture and make judgments based on some insufficient information they get from a limited number of sources. However, the knowledge opens one’s eyes to the multiple facts, reading teaches to analyze the information and make own conclusions. Hence, equal mastering of literacy would provide all people with understanding of themselves and other nations that would result in less number of conflicts and misapprehension. On social-economic level, literacy is an important feature of qualified workers, and employees with a degree have better chances to get a well-paid job. If more people had at least high school degree, the rate of low-income families would be much lower.
To conclude, literacy is one of the aspects of human life that has been and still remains to be the basis of social inequality. In past times, people themselves propagated the limitedness of education and restrained minorities from knowledge acquisition. Nowadays, individual’s own ignorance and sloth contribute to personal underachievement. Thus, mastering literacy skills would provide people with equal basis for future development, similar opportunities for personal growth and the same chances to occupy a proper place in the society. The world of informational technologies and personal freedom has provided everyone with all the necessary means, and now, it is up to an individual to make the difference.