The Four Way Test by Ryan Brennan

The Rotary Club of Pismo Beach / Five Cites
Ryan Brennan, Second Place
Grade 12, Coastal Christian School
Teacher: Mrs. Alison Limon

The Four Way Test

Words are astronomically important in today’s society; signs, menus, books, articles, and even this essay, require reading words. Although these facts may seem obvious, unfortunately there are still many people living in America who are unable to read, who are illiterate. Literacy is defined by as “the ability to read, write, compute, and use technology at a level that enables an individual to reach his or her full potential as a parent, employee, and community member”. The statistics are alarming, and according to the U.S. Department of Education and the National Institute of Literacy, 32 million adults are unable to read. Illiteracy drastically affects all of society in a negative way, from government to careers to simple schoolroom dynamics, literacy is extremely vital in all areas. The facts seem dismal, and this has been a festering issue in our country for years, yet individuals can overcome this with attentive action and a use of a specific guideline to improve the state of this problem. The Four Way Test proves as a worthy code that produces beneficial results and can be applied to this specific topic as well. The Four Way Test asks these questions: Is it the truth? Is it fair to all concerned? Will it build goodwill and better friendships? Will it be beneficial to all concerned? Using this test to ask these eye opening questions is an efficient process to unearth the root of the problem and the steps it will take to fix it.

Truth and honesty are significant factors in any situation, and when asking this question in regards to the issue of  illiteracy, one must look at the evidence this subject has produced. Fourteen percent of all Americans cannot read, and this number does not include individuals who have a significantly lower reading level than their age and life circumstance require of them. The truth of the matter is that illiteracy can result from a great number of things; whether the inability to read stemmed from a poor financial background, lack of confidence to seek more help, or negligent family and teachers, the issue must be confronted head on in order to discover an effective solution. Fifty­five percent of adults with below basic prose literacy skills did not graduate from high­school, thus proving that secondary education is a ginormous lender to literacy. As that is a given and may seem obvious, many people underestimate the responsibility the education system has on society today, and an attitude shift regarding the way students view school must happen before one can see the importance of it. Americans are privileged in the sense that we have the opportunity to attend school and strive to learn. It is true that the opportunity may be smaller for some people, in financial dilemmas, or environments that discourage school attendance, whatever the case, it is important for every individual to look at the issue and recognize the truth behind all the perspectives and backgrounds illiterate people are coming from.

Is it fair to all concerned? When asking this question in regards to illiteracy we must look at the consequences it has on the entire spectrum of society. Illiteracy creates economic instability; people struggling with financial budgeting and many other important tasks are less likely to be hired, which stunts the employment rate. Many people who are unable to comprehend complicated mortgage, political, medical, and professional documents are more likely to either make mistakes, or be targets for people who would take advantage of them in that way. A plethora of those who are illiterate are very eager to be part of the work force, but unfortunately, low literate people are twice as likely to be unemployed (, which is drastically affecting the rate of jobs in America. Illiteracy produces an unlevel playing field in the workforce which not only creates division and barriers to employment, but it also is detrimental to the economy as whole.

Literacy and communication are very closely related, and when asking if it will build goodwill and better friendships, it is vital to discuss both. Modern society is technology driven and many people are unable to complete basic tasks on computers to apply for jobs online, email potential employers, or simply do not have access to one. A fully literate culture will most certainly increase friendships across the nation, whether that means simply through technological conversations or letter writing, it will break down the barrier of communication throughout all areas. Another instance of illiteracy preventing goodwill and better friendships is that many people have trouble expressing their opinions when they are unable to through reading and writing, which creates a dilemma for voting and politics in general. People who are unable to read have limits to the ways they are informed about local and national government, which also contributes to their participation level. Illiteracy has to also be connected with crimes and destructive lifestyles, one study states, “More than 60 percent of all prison inmates are functionally illiterate”( Inmates having this obstacle certainly does not produce goodwill, nor better friendships, and although crime and illiteracy have not been proven to always be directly related by any means, it certainly is a contributing factor. Furthermore goodwill and better friendships will be encouraged through literacy which ultimately provides an improved way of communication and expression.

Hopefully the previous evidence has already answered the question: is literacy beneficial to all concerned? Looking at the consequences of illiteracy on society, and the extreme benefits literacy has on all aspects of culture proves that the answer to this question is certainly and obviously a yes. But before this change can happen motivated individuals who are informed and passionate about this issue need to step up and begin to take action. Literacy tutors are a very relevant need and tangibly affect students and adults who require the help. You can sign up as a literacy tutor at your local library, an elementary school, or any other number of places. There are also a myriad of foundations that are serving the community to encourage reading which accept financial or book donations, and direct these resources to the people that need them in order to excel. The entire country as a whole would benefit if literacy was encouraged and addressed; the workforce would grow and be better equipped, communication and politics would become less convoluted and produce more successes.   (

The value of reading is incomparable, and to imagine a fellow human being not having the resources or encouragement to experience this is devastating. A mother of a second grader in Tennessee was unable to read her daughter bedtime stories, and yet she experienced a breakthrough with various literacy tutors and study groups and is currently studying complicated study guides in order to become a nurse sometime soon. The truth of this issue is that many people are coming from their individual backgrounds which contribute to their specific reason. Illiteracy creates an unfair dynamic in the workforce and classroom, yet the field can be evened through active solutions. Goodwill and better friendships can be expanded through increased literacy, which also furthers communication abilities. In the end not only the individuals, but the country as a whole will benefit from increased literacy through the help of those who are motivated and passionate enough to take action.

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