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The evolution of man, from prehistory to modern technological society, can be mapped with man’s development in literacy, from the beginnings of spoken language to the development of a formal alphabet. Broadly speaking, the consequence of literacy is the world we live in. As man’s ability for language advanced, so did social organization, allowing for ever greater range and complexity. The civilizations grew as the language system did, from pictographs, to spoken word, writing and reading.

The reason for this linked advancement is simple. Literacy allows for understanding. It is such a simple statement, but one that holds unlimited possibility. Understanding, comprehending, knowing, illuminating, reasoning, envisioning, creating, realizing; all these power filled words can be accomplished with one action – reading. Reading is not simply identifying the words. Reading is thinking, realizing cause and effect, learning how to effectively communicate ideas to others. Attaining literacy skills helps us think through the consequences of actions, communicate effectively with others and set appropriate goals for ourselves. Literacy skills also protect us.

We are protected when we can read signs on the road, labels on medication, and other potentially harmful products. We are also protected when we can read contracts and bills of sale. Literacy skills, or the lack of, are directly linked to poverty and gender inequality. The examples of it can be seen in our own history, right here in the United States. An increase in literacy for women played a large part in the popularity of the women’s movement. Moreover, when African-Americans became literate, the black rights movement grew in power. The power of literacy is the power it gives to one to think, to dream, to create, to achieve. Literacy is what makes it possible for an orphaned child to graduate medical school or for a poor black minister to rally hundreds of thousands to one cause.

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