Literacy inclusive, not exclusive: Of international effort, relief society leader speaks on need to read

The Relief Society Gospel Literacy Effort is inclusive, not exclusive, Elaine L. Jack told a small gathering of people outside a bookstore in downtown Salt Lake City Sept. 8.

"It's inclusive of everyone because we think everybody's life can be enriched [through enhancing their reading skills]," the Relief Society general president added.Pres. Jack addressed the crowd outside the Church-owned Deseret Book store in the ZCMI Center. She was the guest speaker as part of Deseret Book's commemoration of the eighth annual International Literacy Day, which was proclaimed by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) and the International Reading Association. Pres. Jack was accompanied by several members of the Relief Society general board.

Introducing Pres. Jack was Roger Toone, retail vice president for Deseret Book Company, who also offered brief comments.

In her remarks, Pres. Jack said: "When I see a crowd like this outside a bookstore, I think, Could we ever imagine that there's somebody in this world who couldn't read?' Do you know in the world there are 950 million people who can't read or write? We think,Well, that's probably in a developing area. It's not here.' But do you know one out of five Americans has difficulty reading well enough to perform simple functions that must be done in this complex world."

Continuing, she explained the Gospel Literacy Effort, which was launched as part of the 1992 Relief Society sesquicentennial celebration. The project is ongoing. (Please see Jan. 30, 1993, Church News.)

"We had two purposes in

launching the literacy effortT," Pres. Jack explained. "The first was to provide basic literacy skills to those who couldn't read or write. The second was to encourage every person to seek lifelong learning."

Pres. Jack said that the majority of the 950 million people who can't read or write are women. Speaking of the importance of women being literate, she added, "What an influence women have in the lives of those around them. We think everybody needs to have the opportunity to learn what's going on around them, to enrich their lives, improve their circumstances and particularly to teach in the families no matter the make-up of their families. There is so much that can be done in the home to make that home a learning center.

"I'm an avid reader," Pres. Jack continued, "and I want my children to love books just like I do. Can you imagine not being able to read a letter from a son or daughter who's living away from you? Can you imagine not being able to read a story to your grandchildren? Can you imagine not being able to read a recipe?

"I was talking to a grandmother in Canada who lives a number of miles from her grandchildren. She said, `I send books to my grandchildren, and then I call them periodically and ask them questions about the books. I send stickers if they answer the questions right, and then when they come and visit we go out for a banana split and celebrate that we've read a book and accomplished it together.' "

Pres. Jack continued: "I think children are much more able to absorb things of substance than we sometimes give them credit for. We think they need light or frivolous reading, but they can absorb good literature.

"What an opportunity books give us to experience vicariously things that we might never have the opportunity to understand. We can visit with the greatest minds that have ever been known, and what a treat that is. In fact, I have a personal theory that if people would understand better what is available in books then they wouldn't be so prone to settle difficulties or family disagreements with violence or with running away. I think they could understand problems that face them and be able to solve them."

Pres. Jack explained: "When we talk about stressing literacy in lives of the people around us, we're not stressing literacy just so people can get better jobs, so they can move into more expensive homes or earn more money. We want them to be able to fulfill their full potential so that they can feel satisfied within themselves that they're doing the best they can. Their self-esteem will be raised; they're going to be better people for themselves and also for their families and for others.

"We say we can't guarantee that people will read good literature if we teach them how to read or write, but we can guarantee that they won't read good literature if they don't know how to read or write."

After her remarks, Pres. Jack and the general board members cut a red ribbon on a Deseret Book window display on literacy. She then spoke with the Church News about the impact International Literacy Day could have on others. "It's a matter of making them more aware of the need for reading. One hundred years ago people were considered literate if they could sign their name, 50 years ago if they graduated from the sixth grade. Now more is required just to live in today's world."

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