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Sometimes I really question whether we're sisters. I know you love research, but some of us, myself included, find studies and statistics boring. And tedious.


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Ah, but at least you can read and understand them; you just do not want to. Huge difference.


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Good point. Although I do struggle with statistics as, unlike you, I've never been comfortable with numbers.


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Is this going to be one of those philosophical conversations, or do you have something specific in mind? And, FYI, having skill with numbers and mathematics is called numeracy.


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Whatever. Although I'm guessing numeracy falls under the umbrella of literacy. And, yes, I'll admit that, until recently, I thought "literacy" just meant the ability to read and write.


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Most people do, which is understandable since it is the dictionary definition. I will not quote statistics on how many people do not have those basic skills, but even if you do, it does not mean you know how to apply them to ask questions, get information, and make informed decisions. That is functional literacy.


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Even though I was a straight-A student with a college degree, that's one of the first things you had to teach me when I had my "crisis". So, why do I feel like I'm about to become a poster child for illiteracy?!


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I hate the word "illiteracy" as it has a negative connotation of being ignorant or uneducated when, in reality, it probably is never having been exposed to the subject matter and/or recognizing its importance.


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Like me when it came to money. I was 40+ years old and not only didn't know how to budget, I never even thought about why it was important. But it wasn't until we were asked to develop and teach a personal finance course at KIPP Houston High School that we learned it's called "financial literacy." At the time, I thought it was the education world using an impressive-sounding phrase instead of being more straightforward.


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Terminology aside, financial literacy is about making informed financial decisions. Regardless of your financial situation, as I have proven. Remember, early in my career, I almost declared bankruptcy because I did not apply what I learned in business school and the corporate world to my finances.


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That story always seems to resonate with so many people, myself included. Especially if we're looking for a reason, or at least an excuse, for not knowing what we should know. I used to think, "Ignorance is bliss." Until you made me understand that what I don't know can hurt me. And my family.


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It is even more far-reaching as there is a ripple effect on communities and cities, and so on. Before reading Houston's Adult Literacy Blueprint, the joint initiative between the Mayor's Office of Adult Literacy (when created in 2019, the only office of its kind in the nation) and the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation, I never realized the impact of literacy – including financial, digital, and health literacy.


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I admit that when you sent me the Executive Summary, I only looked at the quotes and sentences that "pop out" from the rest of the text. But, even so, I was truly shocked to learn that one in three adults in Houston lacks the necessary skills to fully participate in the workplace and society! And when I saw the "What is functional literacy?" diagram, I not only didn't even know what digital and health literacy meant, I was almost too embarrassed to ask.


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Hence the purpose of the Blueprint. It is a strategic plan to ensure more adults acquire the literacy skills they need to succeed in the workplace and in life, but also is a document to raise awareness of the issues.


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Be honest. Besides people like you, how many will read the summary, let alone the full report?


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For organizations or companies addressing the problem, it is a valuable document. If you are looking for employees or are interested in breaking the cycle of poverty, it will be of interest. Or, maybe you merely need documentation to satisfy people who want "proof" or supporting backup about the importance of literacy.


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But isn't it important for all of us to understand the importance of literacy since it impacts all of us?


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Yes. But, as you said, it is unlikely people will read the studies. Good news is September is Adult & Family Literacy Month, and that should help increase awareness. So, how did you find out more about digital literacy? And, I am talking about the concept, not you personally, as I know that in an ideal world, you would never have to deal with technology, whether your computer or your cell phone. Although you have become more tech-savvy than you realize.


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Until we met with Jackie Aguilera from the Mayor's Office of Adult Literacy, I never thought about how you need basic digital skills (such as emails and other communication tools, using the internet, and even the ability to get on a Zoom call) not only to be able to get a job and move up the ladder but now, thanks to the pandemic, to attend online classes.


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Plus, using the internet means you need the ability to find and understand information, especially to make sure it is accurate and credible. Unfortunately, so many people repeat whatever they find, thinking it must be true.


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That's a topic onto itself. But let's face it, not everyone's as critical as you.


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You say that like it is a bad thing.


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Cute. But lately, there's no shortage of conflicting information, whether on the internet or in the media. And it's confusing. For example, the COVID-19 vaccines. Which brings up health literacy. Again, I didn't know what it meant until Jackie explained it could be something as basic as the instructions on a prescription or the nutritional information on food packages, but it's all part of understanding general health information and services to be able to make smart decisions.


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Even I find health issues confusing. Too many moving parts to our body and, like a car, so many things that affect its performance.


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Of source, a car analogy! Well, it turns out that I'm health literate and I didn't even know it. Who knew that all those years asking questions about the girls' health issues – ranging from routine ailments like colds and stomach aches to sports injuries and reading challenges – to the more complicated and long-term issues that first daddy and now mommy faced – were all part of my "training" in being health literate?!


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Yes, but remember when it specifically came to health insurance, you initially needed plenty of help deciphering it. Until you realized it followed the same formula as everything else … ask questions, get information, make informed decisions.


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The funny thing is that, at first, when it was financial matters, I didn't think I could do it. But once I tried, I realized I could. Which then gave me the confidence – and motivation – to tackle other topics. Now we just need to tell more people about the power of literacy and how it can be a blueprint for life.


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We just did.

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Design by Sawyer Pennington, Underlying photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Quick! Define literacy (without Google or Siri's help). Ok, finished? We bet that you may have stopped at the ability to read and write. Which, technically, isn't wrong. It just isn't completely right, either. Which is what Red found out when she discovered, much to her surprise, that it includes such critical areas as financial, digital, and health literacy.

Red even admitted to Black that she didn't understand all those terms, although she had another concern … was Black going to use her as a poster child for her lack of literacy skills in this month's column, "RED & BLACK … A Blueprint For Life?!"

P.S. – This month's column is in honor of September being Adult & Family Literacy Month.

Want to read other columns? Here's a list.

Underlying photo by mphillips007 on iStock


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I can't believe how quickly the year's flying by. And that tomorrow's already the fall equinox.


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I cannot believe that you know that but did not know when Rosh Hashanah fell this year.


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I got the dates mixed up. And I'll admit I had to look up the fall equinox date because it also varies slightly from year to year.


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Technically, the equinox is not a day, but rather an exact moment – when the Sun crosses the Equator.


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Picky, picky, picky. But if I remember correctly, although science class was decades ago, on the equinox, we have 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of nighttime.


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Not exactly, but close enough. But, why are we even talking about this?
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Initially, I just chalked this up to being "old" and accepting the fact I remember telephones before they were "smart" (and will admit they can make me feel "less-than-smart"). I am old enough to remember rotary dial phones (see the image above) where you had to place a finger in the hole associated with the number, then rotate the dial round to the end-stop and let the dial return under its own power. I will not go into the science behind it, but it was extremely reliable – although very hard on your manicure.

But, this is not about the history of telephones or the associated technology that has improved to the point computers that once required a large, air-conditioned room can now fit in your back pocket or handbag. This is not about us all (regardless of age) needing to be digitally literate. It is not about the fact the older we are, the larger the screen size we prefer, although we might claim it is a function of what we are used to versus admitting to declining vision as we age.

Rather, this is about a recent experience that first made me feel old. Then roll my eyes. And then open my eyes to an opportunity.

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