Emotion Versus Facts in “the Human Cost of an Illiterate Society”

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In Jonathan Kozol’s essay “The Human Cost of an Illiterate Society” Kozol relies on tugging on the reader’s heartstrings rather than presenting the statistics that would prove his point without a shadow of a doubt. In the end readers are left thinking “why should I care so much about the illiterate?” That being said, Kozol strikingly relates to the reader the many things that an illiterate person cannot do on a day to day basis. His accounts of illiteracy are shocking and heartbreaking to read about, but without the solidity of facts and statistics, the reader has a great emotional response but does not know what to do about it.
One of the first things Kozol presents to us is something that we have all encountered before. The warning label on a seemingly innocuous can of Drano. He wants the reader to think of not only the dangers to society due to the illiterate, which he illustrates a little later in his essay, but of the danger to themselves and their children. They cannot read this label therefore they are putting themselves at risk of poisoning, skin damage and blindness. This is only the first example of him using the tactic of provoking an emotional response rather than looking plainly at the facts. The next thing Kozol does to make clear the cost of the illiterate society is to quote James Madison, “A People who mean to be their own governors, must arm themselves with the power knowledge gives. A popular government without popular information or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy, or perhaps both.” Kozol states that illiterate citizens vote rarely, and when they do happen to vote, their vote is somehow less because of the simple fact that they cannot read, putting forth the idea that illiterate voters “vote for a face, a smile, or a style, not for a mind or character or body of beliefs.” He follows these statements with the one and only statistical statement in the essay, “The number of illiterate adults



Cited: Kozol, Jonathan “The Human Cost of an Illiterate Society” The Arlington Reader: Contexts and Connections pgs. 274-280.

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