If you can read this thank a teacher. If you can read it in English, thank a soldier.

We’ve seen this bumper stickers, but how many of us actually think about its meaning?

According to the US Department of labor, 50% of unemployed Americans are functionally illiterate. And according to the National Right to Read Foundation, 42 million adults can’t read at all while 50 million can’t read above a fourth grade reading level. Even more troubling is the fact that 20% of high school seniors will graduate functionally illiterate.


So, who’s to blame for the rise in illiteracy in a country filled with so many opportunities for success? Parents? Teachers? The government?

Perhaps, we can blame standardized testing.

I graduated in 1978, but I remember essay questions and writing research papers. I remember actually learning in school because teachers were allowed to educate and not just teach end of grade tests. But mostly, I remember three very special teachers who taught me to love reading and writing.

My eighth grade teacher, Miss Patricia Black, taught language arts. Once, she asked us to use our spelling words in a fictional story. The story was supposed to be about three pages long. Mine filled a spiral notebook. And my love for writing was born.

Long after the writing assignment was over, I continued to write. I filled page after page in spiral notebooks that year and later burned them in the fireplace so my sisters wouldn’t find them, read them and make fun of me. I remember my dad’s irritation when he found charred spiral rings in the ashes every time he cleaned out the fireplace.

Then in high school, Mrs. Joy B. Averette taught me the importance of grammar, punctuation, and spelling. I loved the creativity of writing, but I didn’t like proof-reading or using a dictionary. But Mrs. Averette gave two grades in class. One for creativity and one for mechanics. I usually got an “A” for creativity but a “C” for mechanics.

Mrs. Averette stayed on my case constantly, lecturing me about my sloppy writing habits and my failure to use available resources, like a dictionary. Eventually, her lectures paid off, but it took years–and the computer–for me to develop the anal habits I have today.

Then there was Mrs. Marguerite Stem. Her husband was author and poet, Thad Stem.

Besides teaching the classics, Mrs. Stem took a creative approach to literature. For Christmas, she put us in groups and as a group, had us re-write the birth story in modern slang. For another assignment, she allowed us to choose books from popular fiction so we could later discuss the categories of books and how they differed from literary writing. I chose a historical romance and my love of reading was born.

The most important thing I learned from Miss Black, Mrs. Averette, and Mrs. Stem was this: If you can read and read well, you can learn anything.

So, I thank three very special teachers that I can read. And I thank the American soldier for my ability to read it in English.

Governments might declare war, but it is the soldier who carries out the order, putting his or her life on the line to protect this great nation–a nation that has been at war for one reason or another since before it was a country.

The first documented war in 1675 was between the British colonists and the Wampanoags, the Nimpucks, and the Narragansett Indians. It lasted about a year. Then thirteen years later, our ancestors were fighting again, this time, with the French.

Even before America was America, this country has gone to war, on average, approximately every 11.26 years–sometimes fighting more than one war at a time. Between 1759 and 1761 The French and Indian War overlapped the Cherokee War. And in 1813-1814, the War of 1812 (1812-1815) overlapped the Creek War.

Sadly, the longest expanse of peacetime in this country since the first English settlement in Jamestown in 1607, was the 33 years between the Civil War and The Spanish American War. (1865-1898)The longest period of peace before then was a period between 1713 and 1744, the time between Queen Anne’s War with France and King George’s War.

Since 1898, the longest period of peace America has known was the 22 years between the “War to End all Wars” and WWII.

But it is still the American soldier who protects us from enemies, both foreign and domestic.