“Tuh, tuh, tuh.” He sounded out the simple word. “Tuh-uh. Oh.”
I gritted my teeth. We had been over this word several times just a few minutes ago. Try again, I said.
He looked at me and said again, “Toe.”
No, I said. It’s To. Like I went TO the store.
Oh, he said. To.
It was 1990. I was in high school, and I had volunteered to be a helper for students in our school who needed extra practice with reading. This boy was only about a year younger than me. I didn’t know him. In fact, I didn’t remember seeing him in the hallways before we worked together.
In 1990, I had no idea that kids my age couldn’t read words like to, and here was one right in front of me.
The boy was quiet and polite. He worked hard, and even though it was frustrating for both of us when he messed up words like here and his and are and go, he knew cat and dog and I and a. He went silent when he got really frustrated, but he never complained or gave me a hard time, which I appreciated. I enjoyed spending time with him. His triumphs over the words became my victories, too.
We worked together for a semester, and when my schedule started filling up with courses that prepared me for college and beyond, my time helping this boy with reading was over.
I never knew if my helping him ever really helped him, if he ever really became a reader. What I do know is that I learned that not everyone experiences the privilege of reading. During the weeks we worked together, I learned empathy, patience and humility. I remember seeing him in the hallways and at lunchtime after our time together that year, and then I never saw him again.
I have been reading since preschool. I have memories of reading books, real memories that shape how I view the world and people in it, and secondhand memories like when people tell stories about what you did when you were little.
Even though my memory is foggy, I still have the book that I read to my grandmother, who still recounts with a sweet smile how I read to her about the ten little animals who were “bery, bery cold” so many years ago, when I was three.
I remember “borrowing” some hardbound Peanuts cartoon collections from the old seamstress who sewed together my dance costumes. I read those books until they were just tattered pages. I read an old copy of Grimm’s fairy tales that my mother had from when she was little. I remember climbing the steep hill to our neighbor’s house in the summers just to read their collection of Dr. Seuss books, even though we had our own set at home. My mother says she’d call the neighbor when I left the house and the neighbor would call when I got there. Once there, I’d stretch out in front of their bookshelf and read for hours.
When I got older I read Judy Blume and Beverly Cleary, then the Sweet Valley High series for tween girls. I read horse books, choose-your-own-ending sci-fi books, books about ballet dancers and plucky girls who rise above struggles like health problems, abusive families, and tragic events. In junior high and high school, I read Romeo and Juliet and The Iliad and The Great Gatsby and The Catcher in the Rye. I read and re-read. And re-read.
I married a reader, and have two children who are readers. Of course as a mother I’d rather them spend more time reading, and that time is never enough. But they, like my husband and I, have the privilege of knowing how to read. That lesson has never left me.
I am aware that many adults who live around us cannot read, that many children struggle with reading despite our public schools’ emphasis on reading programs. Reading is something that not everyone has learned, and I learned this reality firsthand when I was in high school.
I can’t imagine how difficult life would be if I could not read. From my meager experience in a literacy program so many years ago, I know that the daily struggles of not being able to read are burdensome, the pain and fear of not knowing what most of us take for granted is very real. Had I not been involved then, I would take reading for granted today.
Literacy is the most important skill I own. Without it, I would be a very different person. Without it, the potential of so many people in our communities is buried.
The best part about literacy is that it can be taught. Community programs are available. In my community, the YWCA’s Adult Literacy Program is committed to help people learn this very important skill. It’s a great program that helps adults learn basic reading skills, comprehension, even English as a second language. You, fellow reader, can help.
It’s easy, it costs nothing, and will only take a moment.
-Enter your name and email in the space provided.
-Don’t forget to mark that you got there from my blog, About 100%
This is the best part:
An anonymous donor has agreed to contribute $1 to our YWCA’s Adult Literacy Program for every valid name and email address received.
There is no cap on the amount of money they are willing to donate.
I humbly thank you for your part in helping others receive the privilege of reading. Now get out there and read something to celebrate! :)
This post is part of the Pottstown Mercury's Read and Write for Literacy Program