Sample English Essays on The Negative Effects of Illiteracy in America

The difference between an educated mind and an illiterate mind is that an educated mind can entertain a thought without accepting it. In contrast, an uneducated mind will entertain a thought and eventually accept it. Aristotle points out that a population that has acquired education through school or parents have the audacity and choice to accept or reject different ideas. In other words, educated people can make great decisions with a common voice and a collective recourse for the country’s good. Literacy forms the foundation of being educated, yet not everyone in the US has the luck of acquiring literacy. In his literary work, Jonathan Kozol, “The Human Cost of an Illiterate Society” points out how illiteracy has negatively impacted the lives of illiterate Americans and deprived them an opportunity to be served accordingly.

Illiteracy can affect the credibility of an electoral process. In such a scenario, one wonders how someone who cannot read or write manages to cast a vote. To come up with a wise decision before casting a vote, at least one needs to know how to read and write. Surprisingly, illiterates in the US rarely vote, and those who vote make unwise decisions. “Illiterate voters who are forced to take part in an electoral process, cast a vote of questionable worth as their decisions are based on print information” (Kozol). The impact of illiteracy on an electoral process is further demonstrated using the 1980 presidential election, whose credibility was affected by many illiterates who turned up to vote. He states, “In 1980, the number of adults eligible to vote though illiterate exceeded 16 million votes cast that saw Ronald Reagan win. If only a third of the 16 million voters could read and write, and vote for their interests, President Ronald Reagan would have lost” (Shields 19). Maybe America could have avoided a possible recession if President Reagan was not elected.

Also, illiterates are likely to make serious medical blunders due to the inability to read instructions. Illiterate patients have had had time following instructions given to them by doctors, resulting in significant medical mistakes. “Since illiterates cannot read what instructions on medicine containers, they cannot tell if the medicine has expired or not; or allergy and diabetic warnings, or sedative effect that is associated with some non-prescription pills” (Kozol). In worst cases, illiterate people might die due to failure to read and follow the physician’s instructions. Furthermore, some women have had to pay the price of illiteracy by undergoing incorrect surgeries to deny them the right to bear children. Kozol states, “Illiterate women cannot read waivers before signing for a surgical procedure. In Boston, some women have ended up being subjected to hysterectomy despite signing for a tubal ligation. That is the problem of signing documents as an illiterate”. Such indescribable injustice has been able to happen because of illiteracy.

The illiterates have a problem handling expenses and are likely to spend more unnecessarily. Kozol illustrates how illiterates have to rely on other people to tell them what is going on around them and explain every detail. Kozol states, “Illiterates are compelled to take their wishes from another party. Be it purchase groceries, perusing through a menu, picking drinks; illiterates must rely on a family member, relatives, and friends, a grocery, or a stranger”. Their rights are openly violated because they have no idea what is going on. On several occasions, illiterates have paid more for items due to their inability to differentiate prices. In worse situations, illiterates buy wrong items, and because of embarrassment, they do not seek clarification. “…a woman who bought a full gallon of Crisco, thinking there is a fried chicken inside after seeing an image of chicken on the package…” (Foster). She ends up with an unwanted item, therefore, no dinner. In other words, illiteracy is a burden, and it can put the victim in an awkward position.

Landlords take advantage of the illiterate by putting up demands that are not in the actual lease. In his literary work, Kozol further illustrates the difficult and embarrassing moments illiterate people undergo at their landlords’ hands. “A landlord tells a woman that her lease gives him the authority to evict her if her baby cries to cause inconveniences,” Kozol states. If she challenges the landlord’s words, she faces the danger of being evicted without knowing that the landlord’s demand is not in the actual lease. There is even more danger when she admits that she does not know how to read, making it easier for the landlord to exploit her. Kozol says, “The moment she admits that she cannot read the lease’s terms and conditions of tenancy and tries to seek help from a friend, she will have given herself a definition of an illiterate and the landlord will capitalize on that” Kozol. Such scenarios are a little embarrassing and likely to make life unbearable.

Jonathan Kozol’s essay “The Human Cost of an Illiterate Society” has illustrated how the illiterates have been negatively affected and missed an opportunity to get good services. Illiterate people have in the past voted without putting their interests at heart because they lack the wisdom to make better decisions. Besides, Kozol has illustrated how illiterates cannot get medical assistance or have wrong surgical procedures carried out on them. Some landlords take advantage of illiterate tenants by putting up demands that are not in the actual lease, making life a little unbearable for them. Lastly, illiterate people have problem handling expenses.


Works Cited

Foster, C. “OVERCOMINGILLITERACY.” The Christian Science Monitor, 8 Sept. 1988,

Kozol, Jonathan. “The Human Cost of an Illiterate Society.” Axelrod, Rise B, and Charles Raymond Cooper.

Shields, David L. The Color of Hunger: Race and Hunger in National and International Perspective. Rowman & Littlefield (1995):19