Back to The Underground History of American Education:
(George) Washington had no schooling until he was eleven, no classroom confinement, no blackboards. He arrived at school already knowing how to read, write, and calculate about as well as the average college student today. If that sounds outlandish, turn back to Franklin’s curriculum and compare it with the intellectual diet of a modern gifted and talented class. Full literacy wasn’t unusual in the colonies or early republic; many schools wouldn’t admit students who didn’t know reading and counting because few schoolmasters were willing to waste time teaching what was so easy to learn. It was deemed a mark of depraved character if literacy hadn’t been attained by the matriculating student. Even the many charity schools operated by churches, towns, and philanthropic associations for the poor would have been flabbergasted at the great hue and cry raised today about difficulties teaching literacy. -- John Taylor GattoAccording to this source:
'At a time when estimates of adult male literacy in England ran from 48 percent in the rural western midlands to 74 percent in the towns . . . adult male literacy in the American colonies seems to have run from 70 percent to virtually 100 percent . . . .' (See Traditions of American Education, NY: Basic Books, 1977, and American Education: The Colonial Experience, NY: Harper & Row, 1970.)Today? The National Assessment of Adult Literacy tests for three kinds of literacy: prose, document, and quantitative, described thus:
Prose literacyPer their 2003 survey, the NAAL concluded that 14% of the American population tests "below basic" for comprehending prose, 12% "below basic" for document comprehension, and 22% "below basic" for quantitative reading.
The knowledge and skills needed to perform prose tasks, (i.e., to search, comprehend, and use continuous texts). Examples include editorials, news stories, brochures, and instructional materials.
document literacy example
The knowledge and skills needed to perform document tasks, (i.e., to search, comprehend, and use non-continuous texts in various formats). Examples include job applications, payroll forms, transportation schedules, maps, tables, and drug or food labels.
quantitative literacy example
The knowledge and skills required to perform quantitative tasks, (i.e., to identify and perform computations, either alone or sequentially, using numbers embedded in printed materials). Examples include balancing a checkbook, figuring out a tip, completing an order form or determining the amount.
Twenty-two percent - more than one in five Americans over the age of 16 - were unable to ferret out the simplest mathematics from a piece of text. And we've spent how much on the "Department of Education" since it was created in 1980? Yet George Washington, who by age 11 had never set foot in a classroom, could - like nearly everyone else his age, regardless their class - read and do arithmetic.