The literacy capital(s) of the United States?

Perhaps The Twin Cities should be declared the Literacy Capital of the U.S. The latest survey of the country’s Most Literate Cities ranks Minneapolis first. St. Paul, described as “the rising star of literate cities,” came in at No. 3. The two cities were ranked 2 and 5, respectively, the prior year.

Minneapolis unseated Seattle for the No. 1 position. Seattle dropped to second. Those two cities, along with Pittsburgh, Denver, and Washington, D.C., have been in the top 10 each of the five years the study has been conducted. St. Paul was the most praised this year, viewed as “certainly a bright spot” in a country where literacy seems to become a bigger issue each passing year. St. Paul has moved up in the rankings every year from 11th to 9th to 5th to 3rd. Omaha tied for 34th, down from 31st the last two years.

The ranking is compiled by scoring each city with a population of 250,000 or more in six different categories: newspaper circulation, number of bookstores, library resources, periodical publishing resources, educational attainment, and Internet resources. The categories are compared against the city’s total population.

One of the survey’s more disconcerting notes dealt with bookstores. “Not a single city in our survey has more independent bookstores now than five years ago. Fifty-seven out of 60 cities reported fewer retail booksellers in 2007 than in 2003; in several, the number of booksellers per capita dropped by half of what was reported in 2003.” What makes all that even sadder is that it probably shouldn’t be considered surprising.

Literacy is not, as it is considered in our schools, a portion of education. It is education. It is at once the ability and the inclination of the mind to find knowledge, to pursue understanding, and, out of knowledge and understanding, not out of received attitudes and values or emotional responses, however “worthy,” to make judgments.

Richard Mitchell, The Graves of Academe

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