Barbara Bush has called on the nation's newspaper publishers to step up their efforts to fight illiteracy.
"We know the job of building a literate America is far from done and newspapers have a crucial role to play," the first lady told an audience of about 1,000 gathered at the American Newspaper Publishers Association's 103rd annual convention on Wednesday.Mrs. Bush's talk came on the final day of the three-day meeting, which President Bush addressed Monday.
The Deseret News supports the first lady's efforts. For more than 10 years the newspaper has had a Newspaper in Education Department, which focuses on teaching teachers how to use the newspaper as an effective part of the classroom curriculum.
"We're expanding our efforts to families through a new family focus program that teaches parents a fun and easy way to use the newspaper at home to further their child's reading and literacy skills," said Carolyn Dickson, the NIE manager.
Mrs. Bush plans to direct much attention to the nation's literacy problems during her husband's presidency.
"Tens of millions of Americans will never pick up a newspaper," and that has obvious implications for the industry, she told the publishers.
She said one of the main thrusts of literacy programs should be family literacy, "where it all begins."
"Parents are their children's first role models," and illiterate parents are likely to raise children who cannot read or write, the first lady said.
"To break this cycle of despair we have to establish literacy as a value in every American family."
She gave several examples of disadvantaged people across the country, who, with the help of literacy programs, have gotten off welfare and continued their educations.
One woman, Evelyn Vega, 29, of Stamford, Conn., was a third-generation welfare mother who learned to read and got off public aid last year with the help of a United Way literacy program.
"These are the stories of struggle and triumph that newspapers nationwide have used to mobilize" literacy efforts, Mrs. Bush said.
Newspapers also should look within their own ranks, she said, citing the case of a typesetter at a Washington, D.C., publication "who could not read what she produced."