Let’s Help People Help Themselves


Today’s a Friday, so — as I do on Fridays — I’m sharing something different than I usually do. (Before I get there, though, you probably noticed that yesterday’s Now I Know hit your inboxes very, very late; I’ll explain what happened briefly in the Week in Review sections below.)

This week, I celebrated a birthday, and as I usually do, I take that opportunity to ask you to donate to a worthy cause. Today, I’m asking you to help to bring basic education to millions of adults people around the United States. 

Last month, I asked you to help me choose a good cause for this year’s fundraising drive. The parameters I set are at that link, but to briefly summarize, I wanted to focus on “a non-profit focused on education” but not necessarily one that was focused on children. I also mentioned that “in years past, for example, I considered asking you to support an organization focused on adult literacy.” But when I went back to find that one a couple of weeks ago, I realized that, nope, I actually hadn’t ever asked you to support an organization focused on adult literacy. So, I’m going to do that today.

A few of you recommended ProLiteracy, which describes itself as “the largest adult literacy and basic education membership organization” in the United States. It supports thousands of communities in the United States and in dozens of other countries around the globe and does so at a healthy but hardly enormous budget of about $10 million per year. After looking over their history, mission, and results, I decided they’d be the organization for the year. Thank you to everyone who suggested them. (And thank you to everyone who suggested other organizations, too! Dozens of you sent in other suggestions for other worthy causes; I’ll be sharing that list at some point in 2022.)

If you want to read why, continue on. If you want to get to the donating part already, great!  Click here to donate. The page you’ll go to is very basic and created by a company called Goodworld, which ProLiteracy uses to power fundraisers like these.

The backstory: A few years ago, I was working at Sesame Workshop, the non-profit behind Sesame Street, which itself aims to bring literacy and numeracy to children around the world. Sesame is typically focused on children under the age of 5, but at that moment, they were also rebooting the 1970s show The Electric Company, which is geared toward children in about 3rd or 4th grade, so 7 to 10-year-olds, roughly. At an event, the CEO made a passing comment about how that moment in one’s education is critical; we shift from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.” If we never master learning to read, we can’t ever master future learning. 

That really resonated with me. Now I Know, ultimately, is an opportunity to learn more about the world. For me, the learning happens as I research the story and as I put it into my own words; for you, it’s when you read what I send you and then go off on your own paths of curiosity. Either way, the ability to read is fundamental to the experience. According to ProLiteracy (pdf), a mind-boggling “43 million adults in the United States cannot read, write, or do basic math above a third-grade level.”  Worldwide, per ProLiteracy, 800 million people are in that situation. That’s 10% of the population. And by and large, society writes them off as lost causes.

I want to change that, and ProLiteracy looks like a great way to do that. They fund more than a thousand local literacy programs in the United States and around the globe, invest in professional development so teachers can also teach adults, and do outreach to get adults who can’t read into programs that will help them help themselves.

My stated goal is to raise $5,000 here, but the more, the better.

I hope you’ll support this year’s fundraising drive. 

Click here to donate.



The Now I Know Week in Review

Monday: The Birthday Problem: If you don’t know why I shared this one on Monday, read above.

Tuesday: You Gotta Keep It Up: A casual balloon game became a real sport? 

Wednesday: Mr. Bubble, Pink Super Hero: I have a Mr. Bubble t-shirt (this guy, not the guy in the story) and really want 

Thursday: The Treat That Turned Into an Accidental Trick: So… this one probably hit your inbox at about 11:15 PM ET yesterday. That, much like the outcome of the hamburger in the story, wasn’t intentional. The story is simple: I scheduled it for PM instead of AM accidentally, and didn’t notice until I woke up this morning and saw that I had emailed myself (and everyone else) overnight. Whoops.

And some other things you should check out:

Some long reads for the weekend. (And remember, many adults can’t enjoy these because they can’t read. Click here to donate so we can change that.)

1) “Guilty” (Slate, 34 minutes, March 2019). The subhead is simply “In 1998, I helped convict two men of murder. I’ve regretted it ever since” but the intro (below) is the real gripper. Warning: this does not have a happy ending.

The case was, in some ways, simple. Twenty-two–year-old Maurice Douglas and 17-year-old Dominic Gibson stood atop a hill in Washington, D.C., on a drizzly night in April 1997. Someone shot down the slope of the hill, killing an off-duty police officer who’d been standing at the bottom.

At first, I thought my job as a juror would be to figure out who’d fired a weapon. Was it Maurice? Dominic? Both of them? But then it became clear that the answer to this crucial question—who killed the police officer?—didn’t matter in the eyes of the court. And as the trial wrapped up, I realized I was about to convict two men of murder, only one of whom I thought was guilty. 

[ . . . ] 

I was the last holdout, searching for some way to grant him mercy. Then I caved, too, regretting my capitulation even as I said it aloud.

2) “When a Psychic Reading Costs You $740,000” (GQ, 22 minutes, January 2020). The subhead: “How much would you pay to protect your family from forces seemingly beyond your control? Is any price too high? Inside the strange, predatory, and lucrative world of psychics who have successfully scammed customers out of their life savings, and the private investigator who’s trying to put a stop to it.”

3) “The Mystery of the Creepiest Television Hack”  (Vice, 25 minutes, November 2017). Every November, I mean to share this story (not the article I’m linking to here, but the story itself), and every November, I forget. Here’s an article that does it better justice than I ever could anyway. (The video embedded on the article doesn’t work; this is an adequate replacement.)

Have a great weekend, and, once again: 

Click here to donate to ProLiteracy.