It's time to put all the cards on the table
By John Corcoran, May 2015
We can't discuss the future if we don't know the present. If we are serious about equal opportunities and justice, we need to engage in a dialogue that deals with the reality of illiteracy in American and its impact on individuals and our nation.
Dialogue unties knots,
Makes persons greater. It is the bond of unity
And the "mother of brotherhood".
Illiteracy is a common thread in all of our educational, social, and economic ills. Education is the great equalizer.
Getting an education is the gateway to a better job, better opportunities and a more prosperous life. There is no way you can get a proper education if you cannot read.
Neglecting to teach a child to read is a form of child neglect and perhaps even child abuse. The harm continues into adulthood and it has a demoralizing impact on the individual and our great nation.
Many adults are left suspended in their childhoods in varying ways and to varying degrees: academically, intellectually, spiritually, psychologically and emotionally. They are unable to do what a second or third grader can do: read the printed words that surround them.
One of the most important educational, civil and human rights issues of this decade, for every person, is the opportunity to learn how to read. Every individual at any age needs to be able to read to have equal opportunities to succeed in the classroom and in the workplace.
Today, it is as important to teach a teenager or adult to read as it is to teach a child to read. Two thirds of adults who cannot read are parents. A parent’s reading level is the single greatest determinant of what their children's reading levels will be. Illiterates cannot teach their children how to read. Thus, when we teach an adult to read, we invest in future generations.
Now, science tells us that although some may have initial difficulties processing language, over 90% of humans are able to learn to read. Our government has spent millions of dollars over the past half century on research on how the human brain learns to decode symbols to derive intended meanings. We now know that there is a science to teaching reading.
We have yet to close that gap between what we know and what we do.
Our universities and colleges must be held accountable. They must train our teachers in the latest evidence-based research, giving them the tools and methodologies to teach all learners at every ability level. We must stop blaming teachers; they cannot teach what they don't know.
Teaching reading is part ART, part HEART and an ever-growing part SCIENCE.
Just as we must not blame teachers, we must also stop blaming learners by referring to them as learning disabled. We need to stop underestimating the horrendous impact the term "learning disabled" has had on individuals and our nation as a whole. Some people learn to read like birds learn to fly. For others, it is more difficult. However, current research tells us that we can learn.
Good science demands scientific language. If we change the language and labels we use for children and adults struggling with reading, it will help change our perception of them and their view of themselves. The words and language we use to describe ourselves matter.
We are learning ABLE. I am living proof.
Today, I am an educational reformer and literacy advocate who did not learn how to read until he was 48 years old. It caused me to see problems and solutions through a different mindset that can be, at times, threatening to the status quo. That is not my intent or desire. What I want is change. I want us to focus on the urgent need to break the cycle of illiteracy. I played the hand that I was dealt. I could not read or write my native language: English. I was a native alien.
At the age of 48, I got a new hand; I learned how to read, and I learned how to write. For the past 25+ years, I have acted on the insights of a person who could not read and as a person who can read. I don't wait for perfection - I act now, to try to close the gap between what we know and what we do.
I did not learn as a lad of eight.
I learned to read as a man of forty-eight,
And I have to say that was great.
But, don't you think a man who learned at forty-eight
Could have, should have learned at eight?
And wouldn't that have really been great?
Learning how to read at 48 filled a big hole in my soul. We can fill a big hole in America's soul. Teach us all to read. It will change and save lives.
"Once you learn to read, you will be forever free."
— Frederick Douglass