Literally illiterate

I’ve mentioned something about this previously as a part of a bigger blog post, but I want to put it out there in a dedicated post all on its own.

Glance down this post for a second.  Just run your eyes down it then come back to here.

What happened?  Did your eyes flick to random words along the way, picking them out, making sense of the gist of this blog?  Did you have any problems when you did it?  Did you have to stop and puzzle out any words, or did they, with the least effort, flash before your eyes and register in your mind?

With no trouble at all.  Without a thought.  With no effort.

Now, imagine what it would be like to not be able to do that.  Imagine what it would be like to be faced with a mass of text like this one and it intimidated the hell out of you.  Imagine if you looked at this and didn’t see understandable words and phrases and sentences, but instead nonsensical squiggles in groups.  What if you saw words, but had to slowly, painstakingly work those words out, then fit them into the context of the sentence, then fit that sentence into the context of the piece…all while furiously trying to work out that next damn word.

What if you had to consciously carry all the possible sounds a letter or a pair or grouping of letters carried?  Imagine having to do all that, then being faced with something as horrible as He thought the water went through the trough.

Think about how horrible that would be, going through life, having to do that all the time.

While this is a great thing, I don't think any one image can make anyone feel what it's like to be illiterate. Because you can still likely puzzle this out fairly quickly.

Think about not being able to read your kids a story.  Or help them with their homework.

Think someone who’s illiterate has to likely be someone pushing a broom or living on the streets?  If you think that, you’re wrong.

Depending on where you check, you’ll find the stats for the illiteracy rate in Canada run somewhere between 40 – 50%.

Think of that in real numbers.  Half the people in Canada have some problems with literacy.  Don’t think so?

  • I went to college with two people in my class who were found to be completely, 100% illiterate.  Yet they graduated high school with marks high enough to get into a college program.
  • My daughter helps in a class with at least one Grade 10 student who is an unidentified illiterate.
  • When I took training to tutor adult literacy, my instructor told me about one person she helped.  His job?  CEO of a company.
  • I tutored a young person (about 25) who, by rights, should have had rudimentary literacy skills at worst.  When I met him, he could correctly identify about 18 letters of the alphabet, couldn’t read street signs and shopped for groceries by looking at the pictures on the labels and trusting the cashier to ask for the right amount and provide the right change. His parents were both high school teachers.

It hits all levels.  These people have developed absolutely stunning skills to hide their illiteracy, yet, they remain illiterate.  There’s help out there, but precious little for a population that has tens of millions of people needing help.

I make my living using words.  Whether it’s creating communications for everyone from frontline phone agents all the way up to executive-level vice-presidents, I do it.  I talk to people and create websites to assist with the skills and mechanics of better business writing.  I also edit manuscripts for others, I teach creative writing and, yes, I write fiction.  I read between 100 and 150 books a year.

I don’t know what my life would be like without the ability to read or write.  I know I wouldn’t be happy.

Anyone that reads this particular post…hell anyone that can even navigate to it, likely understands the joy and fulfillment that reading can bring.

The YMCA Muskoka Literacy Service helps about 200 people a year improve their literacy and numeracy skills.  To raise money for that, they hold the Muskoka Novel Marathon every July where about 30 writers come and do their best to write something coherent over the span of 72 hours where sleeping and eating are optional, the only goal is to write.

Well, there’s one other goal, and it’s the reason I for this post.  They ask each person to go out and fundraise for the event.  To ask for sponsors.  As a whole, they’re looking to raise $10,000 this year.  Personally, I think with 32 writers, we should be able to raise more than that.

I’ve set a personal goal of $500 in donations as a minimum.  Why that figure?  Because I happen to work for an amazing company that will match donations dollar for dollar up to $500.  So if I raise $500, I actually raise $1000.

Now, I know that everyone has their own causes and charities that are important to them.  Everyone’s been touched by some adversity in their life and dedicate themselves to trying to help others in the same boat.  And if this isn’t the cause for you, no problem.  I get it.  I’ve had to say no many times myself.  I thank you for reading and learning a bit more about this issue.

But if you can…

One last time, I’ll ask you to scan this post, just for a second and marvel at how fast you can light on a word and understand not only what it sounds like, but what it means in and of itself as well as it’s context in the sentence.

Think about what that means to your life.

Then I’ll ask you to consider donating some money to this cause.  It doesn’t have to be much.  It can be as little or as much as you can afford.  Whatever the amount, remember, it will be doubled by my employer.

You can find out more about the MNM and what it’s all about here.  You can donate by going here.  If you don’t like to donate online, you can email me here and we can work something out.

Thank you. For reading.

13 thoughts on “Literally illiterate

  1. I had a close friend who was illiterate. Her math and memory skills blew me away. It was a long time before I realized she was illiterate, she coped so well. On an even larger scale; the self esteem and confidence of those who cannot read is hugely affected, and cruel people can take advantage of them. My friend for instance, had her jaw broke by her bully of an ex-husband who thought she was ‘slow.’ Anything but, she was ill for an extended period of time as a child and then pushed through the system. This is an incredible cause and I applaud your effort Tobin!

    • In my experience, none of these people are slow or stupid in any way. In fact, as you mentioned, they’ve developed such incredible coping mechanisms that most of the time, no one can tell…so they’re quite intelligent.

  2. Hope you don’t mind, Tobin, but I’ve linked to this post over at my blog. A very worthwhile cause indeed, and on a side note, I’m jealous that I’m unable to read as much as you are.

  3. Great post, Tobin!
    In highschool I once asked a friend why she didn’t like to read. She was always baffled by my reading lengthy books and writing, and I was baffled by her dislike of both.
    “Reading is work,” she told me.
    “But it’s worth it,” I explained naively, “all the images in your head that form as you read the words…”
    “I don’t see any images,” she said.
    That left me floored–I was pretty sure that if I didn’t imagine any images and all I could see was words on a page that I had to struggle to understand, I wouldn’t enjoy reading either.

  4. Pingback: The insanity and magic of reading | My Dysfunctional Life

  5. Pingback: The Marathon Man | My Dysfunctional Life

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