Illiteracy Rate Part of a Bigger Picture

March 21st, 2007 Print Print Email Email


March 20, 2007

One of yesterday’s major stories was the release of a new study indicating that about one-third of adults in Washington, D.C. are functionally illiterate. Wikipedia actually has a decent definition of functional illiteracy: “the inability of an individual to use reading, writing, and computational skills efficiently in everyday life situations.” In other words, a person may be able to read somewhat, but nowhere near well enough to hold down a job. The reality of the District’s functional illiteracy rate compares with a figure of about one-fifth nationally, and is, therefore, plainly grim.
We’ve heard a range of reactions to the news. Some readers have written to express their shock, others to shout about their continued frustration with the state of the District, and still others to share their initial reaction to the report as almost funny. And while obviously a literacy problem of this magnitude is no laughing matter, you can see how someone without much personal knowledge of D.C. as a whole could read some irony into the statistic: Overall, Washington remains one of the most highly educated cities in the nation, with 39 percent of adults holding a bachelor’s degree.

Of course, the story behind such seemingly contradictory statistics is an old one, rooted in dramatic racial differences. We all already know that white households typically have incomes nearly twice that of black or Hispanic families in D.C., and that the vast majority of the college degree holders in this city are white. We can already guess that recent Central American and Ethiopian immigrants, who have yet to gain proficiency in English, are contributing to the illiteracy rate. And we can already recite the cliché about Washington being “two cities,” separated by both race and economic class.

But just because we already know there are serious problems in the District doesn’t mean we shouldn’t rightfully be taken aback by this report, or deeply concerned about its larger implications. The State of Adult Literacy Report indicates local and federal money for literacy programs is being misallocated across D.C.’s wards and not reaching those who need help. Mayor Williams began a $4 million adult literacy campaign in 2003, which produced this report, and now Mayor Fenty will have to deal with the enormity of the problem, which must include overhauling how and in which wards literacy aid reaches the city’s adults.

If we’re committed to making this city work for people of all incomes and backgrounds, then it’s imperative that we tackle our literacy problem. The D.C. Chamber of Commerce said up to $107 million is being lost in tax revenue each year because of a lack of qualified job applicants. All the other goals associated with ensuring there is any room at all for a middle class in the District — redevelopment, affordable housing, smart growth — none of it can possibly matter if we have to import workers from outside our borders. An illiterate adult population is an excellent way to ensure a permanent underclass in the District. This report should be a wake-up call.

  1. kiil zenawi
    | #1

    Are we the scapegoat here ? Help me out!!
    This is the failure of the dc-metro educational system. Ethiopians and Latinos shouldn’t be blamed for it. Whoever did this research must be stupid, ignorant and dumb.
    Belive it or not …we are the most intelligent people in the world. Our ancestors used to be able to read and write when Europeans were cavemen and cavewomen.

  2. 21st-Century-Ethiopian
    | #2

    Please. Get a grip of your over inflated-ego. Forget that garbage about “we used to be.” Typical backward Ethiopian. Always romanticizing what was because he can’t believe the reality of the present–a dysfunctional present. Ethiopians in the d.c. area have always seemed to me rather backward and unspohpisticated. I just did not know the level of their troubles. They are Functionally MEHAIME. Of course they are. Go to school you dumb lazy bortchame morons. Stop disgracing Ethiopians.

  3. Zenawi is dead
    | #3


    You are the backward one….learn how to spell “unsophisticated” …
    The people who did this research most probably have found you and your likes which forced them to make this assumption.
    Woyanaes have domnstrated how dumb dumb they are by commenting on this website.

    Here is your mama joke for your being dumb

    Woyanaes are so dumb …when they came across one of the cemetry in Ambo they thought they landed in Addis Abeba.

  4. DeGafe
    | #4

    Yeah, I guess “we used to be…./our ancestors…” sort of talk doesn’t make any difference on Ethiopian life. Or it’s used to cover up the present shameful generation, distructive, disrespectful, selfish generation’s poor performance. Our ancestors fought and kept the nation’s freedom, made history but the present generation is disgraceful, distroying our history. We should have followed our great ancestors foot steps and work for better but that never happened. So please rather than saying “used to be…”, we should all try our best.

    On the other hand, there are many highly respectful and educated ethiopian citizens living in the DC area. So not all ethiopians who live in the DC area are “Mehaime”. Don’t be too general. There are many who are very interested attending school but can’t simple afford it with the expensive every day life in addition to trying to help families backhome. I’m sure there are master degree holders, from Ethiopian Universities, working low pay jobs. NOT EVERY ETHIOPIAN LIVING IN THE DC AREA IS MEHAIME.

    May God Bless All Ethiopians!

  5. casanova
    | #5

    Zenawi is dead,u need also to learn how to spell “demonstrated”.So u r one sample 4 the people who did the research. Anyways glorifying the past than the fast fading present is no more practical thing.

  6. kill zenawi
    | #6


    That was a test for you to figure out. You passed the test. I am impressed.

    I will give you more test in the coming days. We will see if other part of your brain functions properly as well.

  7. ET_hagere
    | #7

    Though I am proud of our past, I would rather to focus on contemporary Ethiopia. Yes, our forefathers and foremothers passed on to us a beautiful country with rich history. However, what kind of country we are passing on to our children? I will leave the answer to the readers.

    I consider DC as my adopted city (emiye DC). Having said this, as someone who acquainted to the area very well, I agree very much with what DeGafe wrote above.

  8. 21st-Century-Ethiopian
    | #8

    Folks, get real. We live by telling bull crap to ourselves. It is the essence of who we are presently. It is an extreme form of denial. Denial about the GARBAGE-like status we hold. Be it in D.C. or any where else in the world. We are known for flies around our eyes, big belly starving, we are the world singing, always begging for a handout nation. I mean if poverty was a kingdom, we the Ethiopians will be the Kings of all Kings. That is our present reality. We keep living of the glory of the past because we are FAILURES in the present. Wake up folks. The few doctors or professionals that exist are nothing compared to the level of Mehaiminet that exists. But hey, who cares, we got MINILIK, right?

  9. DeGafe
    | #9

    We are who we are as you are describing above because Ethiopia is full of damn people like yourself. You’r stupid!

  10. geremew
    | #10

    To all DENAKURT in DC,

    This is no breaking news for us, Those DENAKURT were YE HAGER SHEKIM when they were in Ethiopia and now they have become SHEKIM to the Americans.

    One doesn’t need to do reaserch to test the IQ of
    the DENAKURT up in DC area, just go to the PALTALK rooms or read what they have been posting on their websites. The sad thing is they have managed to cause division in the Ethiopian community but that was also temporary.

    This good for nothing DENAKURT are not able to educate them selfs even in the U.S.A,(IT’S LIKE A FISH THAT NEVER GETS WET) and those who managed to get education failed to help their DENKORO compatriots, instead they were leading them like YE KEBT MENGA in the series of TEKAWMO SELF, HAGEREN ATIRDU CHUHET.

    The Americans knows the background of those DENAKURT very well and it’s no surprise that they turn a deaf ear to their BADO CHUHET.


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