Literacy is a prerequisite for full participation in a modern, technological society. For the nation, broad-based literacy is a prerequisite for the effective functioning of democratic institutions at home and for continued competitiveness in an increasingly complex world. We think of the United States as a highly literate nation, and in the sense that nearly all citizens can read and write at a minimal level, it is.
But full literacy implies far more than basic reading and writing proficiency. It implies an enculturation into ways of thinking, interpreting, and using language in a variety of complex activities and settings, typical of a rapidly changing and technologically advanced society. Moreover, it implies that this enculturation is widespread throughout the population. In both these senses, the U.S. is only partially literate.
Bruce, B. C., Sarah Michaels, & James Paul Gee. (1989). The Literacies Institute The Literacies Institute: Its mission, activities, and perspective on literacy (Technical Report No. 1). Education Development Center.