If the U.S. does not teach its students to be more literate, Americans could find themselves falling further behind other countries technologically, according to an award-winning California educator.

Jo M. Stanchfield, an education professor at Occidental College, said literature promotes learning and enriches life. She said U.S. students' apparent lack of interest in literature means "we could be finished by the 21st century."Fifty-two percent of this country's high-school graduates are "not usable," and 82 million U.S. adults are functionally illiterate, said Stanchfield, the keynote speaker in Friday's 20th annual convention of the Utah Educational Library Media Association.

"We're just not producing a product in our students that can compete with more industrial nations. And if we cannot compete with those countries, we could lose our standard and way of living."

Stanchfield, a past president of the California Reading Association, has most recently been involved in the 10-year Project Arise and the current Project Literacy, two programs that promote more interactive learning about reading. From those research programs, she has con-cluded that library media specialist/teachers can use literature to increase achievement and improve students' attitudes.

She said there have been impressive results. There was, for example, an approximately three-year gain in reading comprehension and retention from at-risk and disadvantaged New York City students involved in the study.

Both programs involved teachers reading aloud to students on a daily basis as well as discussing material read for at least 10 minutes daily. "You just have to be consistent in doing it and be enthusiastic," she said. "That's the key."

Additionally, getting students involved in their reading has led them to comprehend more complex ideas - such as inference, sequence and cause-and-effect - that may seem astounding for some of the students.

For example, some of Project Arise's elementary-school students in Los Angeles averaged in the 82 percent-range of California students tested, she said.