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Campaign Launched To Raise Literacy of Black Adults

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Washington--Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell and his senior aides met last week with the representatives of national black organizations to discuss strategies for improving literacy among black adults.

In his address to the members of the Assault on Illiteracy Program, a project to increase literacy in the black community, Secretary Bell said adult illiteracy is of particular concern because "we have every reason to believe it affects future generations."

Among minorities, he added, the lack of opportunity associated with discriminatory practices has led to "persistent alienation" from the mainstream of society.

According to the Education Department, an estimated 23 million adults are unable to read well enough to fill out simple questionnaires, and another 40 million adults can read but not very well. Officials of the Assault on Illiteracy Program report that about 47 percent of all black adults ages 18 and older are functionally illiterate.

Campaign Objectives

Mr. Bell explained that the objectives of the Reagan Administration's adult-literacy initiative, which was announced last year, are "to raise a common level of awareness" about the nature of the illiteracy problem, to promote information-sharing among organizations concerned with the problem, and "to see that new knowledge is put to use to form partnerships."

"I'm sure you're all wondering and saying deep down inside: 'Is this commitment and concern genuine? Is it more than posturing?"' Mr. Bell said. "And, believe me, we want to see that it's more than that."

Clarence Thomas, chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the former assis-tant secretary for civil rights in the Education Department, said during a panel discussion that "illiteracy is a social problem that, like most others, has far greater impact on blacks." For generations, he added, blacks have been the "victims of inferior schools."

Calling last week's two-day workshop a "historic" occasion, Ozell Sutton, general president of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, a black community-service organization, asked each of the representatives from more than 80 educational, fraternal, religious, civic, and business organizations to dedicate themselves "to the elimination of illiteracy across this land."

Donald Smith of the National Alliance of Black School Educators urged members of the coalition to adopt "a culturally based campaign" against illiteracy that focuses on the needs of minorities. Such a campaign, he said, would be a "stimulating, appropriate, and enticing way of teaching."--sgf

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