America’s most illiterate city is….Bakersfield

As you may recall, Stockton was once given the mantle of “most illiterate city.” And while we have missed out on this prestigious designation for the last two years, the title has remained in the Central Valley, as 2012’s most illiterate city is none other than our neighbor to the south: Bakersfield.

Central Connecticut State University just released their annual literacy rankings for 2012, and “Boomtown” Bakersfield is bringing up the rear at 76th place. Having also won this title in 2011, Bakersfield is now a back-to-back illiteracy champion. But don’t gloat too much, Stocktonians: our city checked in at 74th place.

South Bank, London, United KingdomAre there literacy problems in the Central Valley? Sure, but CCSU’s rankings do not accurately reflect whether or not people here can read. As I have written before, these rankings are deceivingly named as there is no actual measure of “literacy” included in the study’s methodology. Because CCSU uses metrics such as newspaper circulation, educational attainment, and book sales, a more apt title would be the “most well-read cities.” But even here, I have qualms with their methodology. As you may have noticed, the cities at the bottom of the list have large Hispanic populations, which calls into question whether CCSU adjusted for any Spanish publications that these groups may be more likely to purchase and read. Further, libraries and bookstores from private institutions and junior colleges appear to be omitted, meaning UOP and Delta College don’t contribute to Stockton’s ranking. There are plenty of other reasons why these ratings are misleading, which I have brought up in the past.

While the city may be unfairly hindered by CCSU’s measure of bookstores and libraries, it also appears that Stocktonians may simply prefer the internet as their main source of literature. Stockton ties with Sacramento at 35th place in CCSU’s internet metric, which measures e-book purchases and local newspaper website traffic.

Nevertheless, Bakersfield– the city whose hockey team once planned an “Our City Isn’t Bankrupt” promotion against the Thunder– shouldn’t expect any sympathy cards from Stockton over their illiteracy title. Besides, they wouldn’t be able to read them, anyways.


Categories: Community Commentary

Author:David A. Garcia

David A. Garcia created SCL in March of 2012. Garcia is a Stockton native with a background in urban policy and planning, holding a Bachelor's Degree from UCLA as well as a Master's Degree in Public Policy from the Johns Hopkins Institute for Policy Studies. He currently serves as the Policy Director at the UC Berkeley Terner Center for Housing Innovation. David was also COO at Ten Space, a real estate development firm focused exclusively on Downtown Stockton, and continues to advise on their projects. Prior to that, he worked three years as a researcher/analyst for a Congressional research agency in Washington, DC. The views expressed on this site are entirely of the author's

2 Comments on “America’s most illiterate city is….Bakersfield”

  1. February 8, 2013 at 9:37 am #

    Nevertheless, Bakersfield– the city whose hockey team once planned an “Our City Isn’t Bankrupt” promotion against the Thunder– shouldn’t expect any sympathy cards from Stockton over their illiteracy title.

    They planned something like that? That’s in terrible taste.

  2. Jon Seisa
    February 8, 2013 at 3:13 pm #

    Well, when you are given lemons, make lemonade… this certainly should be advantageously used as a “Great Motivator” to stamp out illiteracy in Stockton and the wider Central Valley, initiating innovative and clever literacy programs, educational improvements (Lord knows California Taxpayers have thrown mega-tonnages of tax money at education and also via the State Lottery… so where is the fruit of those gargantuan ‘investments’?); or even implement Central Valley inter-city challenges might be sportingly made via book fairs, and/or book reading contests to help move California cities off the chart of this dubious honor.

    Also, since most books are predominantly printed in English, this poses a certain problem for Spanish speaking/reading Hispanics whose large representation in the population demographics magnifies the illiteracy problem, since they are the new majority in California, but clearly self-crippling and self-sabotaging themselves by not learning English, and choosing to retain Spanish as their primary language, which is even demanded in the public arena, like from retailers and other public services; and compounded by the State promulgating the bilingual agenda in the name of Multiculturalism. Unfortunately, it obviously has its detrimental affects. I suspect states with better literacy numbers are not excessively bilingual but the majority of their population are most likely fluent at English; and the majority of illiterate states are most likely bilingual, or economically poor… just my educated guess. A house divided cannot stand. To foster improved literacy numbers amongst Hispanics and other immigrant minorities, I recommend a “Learn English through Reading” program, both city and countywide, with incentives.

    San Joaquin Delta College’s Cultural Awareness Program (CAP) 2002 hosting of the International Arthur Miller Conference at which a number of scholars in the field presented papers and discussed the works of this famous playwright was certainly a noteworthy affair for the well read and historians, and quite prestigious, but more can be done on the common level. Perhaps the establishment of a Literary Athenaeum named after a famous Stocktonian son or daughter literary author, like Leonard Gardner (author of Fat City), or Maxine Hong Kingston (prize-winning author of The Woman Warrior), might jump-kick a permanent literary cultural venue with emphasis on weekly community involvement, as well as an annual program features noted guest speakers, anthologies, dramatic readings, poetry recitations, etc.
    Even a Jack London Athenaeum & Library would be perfect for Stockton, named after the celebrated American author (The Call of the Wild and White Fang). He had an estate on Woodward Island, west of Stockton in San Joaquin County’s California delta that he would travel to in the summer from San Francisco via a riverboat up the San Joaquin River to the Old River. My parents lived in his 9-bedroom 2-storey mansion in the 1950s when I was a small boy with my older brother. My father was an assistant superintendent for the major agricultural grower that owned the property. It had huge white Dorian columns on its portico with foliage overgrowth, and French doors off the living room parlor. I don’t know if it’s still there, or was demolished, or was refurbished as a historical landmark. I do remember well the windup telephone with the party line, and the long flight of stairs out the back from the kitchen to the backyard clearing down below with the chicken coops. My mother thought the mansion was haunted; she detested the nights there, and the abrupt unexplainable thumps and sounds that occasionally emerged from the second floor, which my pragmatic father attributed to rats. The company had converted the main floor into their main living space, and the dining room served as their bedroom. But there were the ventures up to the second floor to use the only bathroom in the house. Needless to say, my mother was quite relieved when, eventually after her constant urging, the company had installed a full bathroom on the first floor off the kitchen and they closed off the top floor, completely.

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