The recent brouhaha in Florida about banning Amanda Gorman’s poem “The Hill We Climb,” is actually more about the reading level of adults in this country, like Daily Salinas, who first protested the poem than about the content and context of the poem.

The question that should be on everyone’s mind is this: how is it possible that in the greatest country the world has ever known, an adult does not have the reading skills and comprehension to understand something written by a poet?

Ms. Salinas herself admits “I’m not a reader.” The sad part of that statement is that most likely she cannot understand the poem because she lacks the literacy skills to read the poem. And Ms. Salinas is not alone in that predicament. Online searches of the educational level of U.S. adults, whether the source is the National Center for Education Statistics or Wikipedia, the figures are shocking. 

Best case scenario, the average literacy rate for adults in this country is at an 8th grade reading level. But even with that low standard, about 18 percent of U.S. adults fall below that reading level to be basically illiterate. This means they don’t need to put an X when they sign their name to a contract, but they cannot read or understand what they have signed. Now, isn’t that lovely?

Amanda Gorman recites her inaugural poem, “The Hill We Climb,” during the 59th Presidential Inauguration ceremony in Washington, Jan. 20, 2021. Courtesy: Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Carlos M. Vazquez II/Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

Ms. Salinas is a perfect example of poor literacy skills. She can always prove me wrong by recording herself on YouTube or on some Fox channel reading out loud the Constitution of the United States, then follow it up by reading out loud the Bill of Rights. Dollars to donuts, she won’t do it. 

The solution is not to ban poetry, but to encourage the reading of poetry. Many neurological studies show that poetry stimulates different parts of the brain. The reading of poetry, especially for young people, enables them to experience worlds vicariously, to imagine metaphoric, literal, or symbolic, meanings of language, or to enjoy words for their own unique mysterious emotional power. Albert Einstein once remarked that if he had not been exposed to poetry as a young person, he would not have become the scientist he became.

Language, after all, is what creates our reality, our worldview, and the better we understand how language works, especially through the process of reading, the better all of us are.

So, here’s a question for all adults currently sitting on school boards: Is the title of Amanda Gorman’s poem “The Hill We Climb,” literal, metaphoric, symbolic, or all three and all at once? If an adult can’t explain a poem, they shouldn’t be demanding what is taught or what isn’t taught.

Unfortunately, too many adults in this country are, like Ms. Salinas, a perfect example of the Republican mantra to keep our citizens ignorant, poor, (I’m sure Ms. Salinas doesn’t live in a mansion next to you know who) and powerless. Oh, they are given the illusion of power. Parents, don’t kid yourself. If you can’t read the legislation proposed by a cabal of lobbyists like the ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council), how would you know that curtailing reading material is meant to make your child dumber than you are?

As the great Salvadoran poet Roque Dalton once pointed out: “Poetry like bread is for everyone.”