Recently, I have found myself seeking to justify literacy. You would be right to think it is silly that one would need to justify such a thing. Nevertheless, there is a part of me that hears a voice that repeatedly asks, "what's all this fuss about literacy?" And I found that many of my responses were inadequate. I would respond with, "it is a vital skill in today's workforce" or "with literacy one can explore the world of the imagination" or "literacy is central to learning." And the voice would respond with quite reasonable objections. One can learn skills without literacy. One can convey information through the spoken word and through visual representations. One can be apprenticed by a thorough and patient master who shows us the ropes of what needs to be done.
"I can get by without learning to read ... I'm a car mechanic, and I have a cousin whose always up to date. He tells me and shows me what I need to know. Sure, he can read ... He stays up-to-date with all the new technology. That's how he works. But me, I'm hands on. I need to be hands on to learn. Give me an instruction manual, and it's all gibberish to me."
In practice, so much of our knowledge is transmitted through the written word. This is not to say that the written word is all that is required to understand a topic, such as medicine or auto mechanics. One still requires experts to demonstrate skills. One still requires teachers to ask the right questions and to prompt our thoughts. One still requires certain experiences to have the background knowledge that will be necessary to make sense of what one reads (to apply what one reads). Despite all this, if one is not able to read, then one is restricted in the ability to extend that knowledge. To build an extensive understanding one needs quality teachers, enabling experiences, and the ability to further one's understanding. One needs the ability to source information, read it, understand it, critique it and put it into practice.
Reading is not the key to learning. Good teaching, quality experiences and passion & purpose are the necessary keys. Reading and writing are the vital multipliers. They can help quicken the pace at which one learns. Why? Because we transmit so much our knowledge through the written word.