Tuesday, September 13, 2011

School sucks

There are no schools in STORMDANCERNot in the sense that you or I understand, anyway.

Sounds awesome, right? No homework. No teachers. No jerks or Cool Kids.

*puts on ranty-pants*

But the truth is, in historical times, illiteracy was a tool used by governments to control their populace. An illiterate populace couldn’t educate themselves on concepts like ‘Liberty, Equality, Fraternity’. They couldn’t easily be exposed to new ideas. They were completely reliant upon the literate (usually the people who wanted to keep them down) to interpret law, history and philosophy. This is the way it works in STORMDANCER.

The sad thing is, even today, illiteracy is a weapon being used in the same old war. We're not talking fantasy. This is real life now.

According to UNICEF, nearly a billion people entered the 21st century unable to read a book or sign their names and two thirds of them were women.

In the US 85% of all juveniles who interface with the juvenile court system are functionally illiterate. Over 70% of inmates in America's prisons cannot read above a fourth grade level. Penal institution records show that inmates have a 16% chance of returning to prison if they receive literacy help, as opposed to 70% who receive no help. 90% of welfare recipients are high school dropouts.

In America today, right now, this very second, 22% of adults are below Basic level literacy (indicating they possess no more than the most simple and concrete literacy skills). 14% are functionally illiterate (meaning they cannot read or write with any degree of proficiency)

14%. In America. Today.

School sucks. I hated every minute of it. No doubt. But compared to the alternative, it's pretty frackin' awesome.

Make with the clicky:
The Reading Tree - http://www.readingtree.org/
National Literacy Trust UK - http://www.literacytrust.org.uk/
Oxfam Australia - http://www.oxfam.org.uk/education/resources/rights/

Jay Kristoff is the author of STORMDANCER, a dystopian fantasy set in steampunk feudal Japan, out in Spring 2012 through St Martin's Press & Tor UK.
You can watch him rant some more here and here.


  1. The problem is a combination of things. There's the fact that most kids in America go to public schools. Obama is all "more teachers yay!" But it doesn't take more teachers. I takes better ones. I've sat in class with bored and old teachers have tenure and don't even TRY anymore. So you have a class of 30 something kids who do whatever they want.

    Then you have things like TV, videogames, Sparknotes (and that doesn't even cover all of the impeding factors) that derail students from trying.

    And this is going to sound unfeministic but it isn't meant to. When women started working, the entire family system went to shit. You have both parents working and your kids are left in after school programs or with baby-sitters who stay on their phones all day. it's hard. Especially in this economy where BOTH parents DO have to work. But when family systems crumble, kids are left in a wasteland. I consider myself lucky coming from a single mother whose brothers and sisters helped her raise me.

    When we moved to America, my mom worked and I stayed with distant relatives who lived in our building. But I WANTED to learn. Some of the kids I grew up with DONT know how to spell.

    It baffles me when I find out someone can't read. And I agree with your angst because I feel it also. I've made sure my little cousins are constantly well read despite the fact that they attend NYC public schools.

    Also, this has nothing to do with anything. But I was working admissions this Sunday at my club, and got a slew of Australian guys. One who told me, "'am from thee boosh." I've decided that I love Australian accents.

  2. The literacy rates for my province seriously depress the heck of out me (over 50% of the adult population cannot read at what's considered an acceptable level). What scares me more, though, is that almost no one talks about this.

  3. Wow. Great post, Jay. Reading is such a large part of my life, sometimes I forget that there are people out there who can't.

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  5. @Zoraida - The problem is fundamental, in that the people who this society depends upon to survive (police, teachers and nurses) are paid shit. You pay peanuts, you get monkeys (not saying all teachers are monkeys, but those that are good are good IN SPITE of the conditions in which they are forced to work) and, despite claims to the contrary, this system exists by design, not happenstance.

    As history has shown countless times, it's not in the interests of government to have an educated populace. So why would government want to improve the education system?

    And lol, I'm not frum thee boosh, but I appreciate the sentiment :D

    @Kathleen - 50%?!? Jesus, that's the scariest stat I've read in a while.

    @Jenn - hard to imagine, isn't it? I shudder to think what my world would be like without words.

  6. Jay: The stats I've seen in the last few years have all been somewhere between 50 and 60 percent of the province's population reading at a level considered below what's necessary to function well in today's society. Of course, that raises a few questions and I really wish I knew a bit more. Chiefly: How does that level stack up against other countries and does the study take into account language? For example, the province has a large Acadian population, for many of whom English is a second language. If they're only testing literacy in English, the numbers would be skewed since there are areas in the province (like where I grew up) where you can function with only a basic grasp of English.

  7. 50-60% does seem extraordinarily high, unless your province has some endemic fear of books or something - I think your suspicions might be right about English as a second language playing a factor. But then, government testing being skewed towards English speakers is no real switch either.