Adult literacy is not something that is talked about much. There is a preconceived idea that an illiterate adult is one of low intelligence. This is far from the truth.
A person can be illiterate in any number of subjects. I am illiterate in music. I couldn’t play a musical instrument or carry a tune if my life depended on it. If you don’t know how to do something then you are illiterate in that particular subject. Oftentimes the illiterate adult is one who fell through the cracks of the educational system for one reason or another.
During the Great Depression there were many illiterate adults because, as children, they had to drop out of school to help support their families. They weren’t stupid or lazy; they were simply uneducated. With the many demands on our teachers, we can’t expect them to catch every student who has trouble with reading or writing. Class sizes are increasing and the teacher’s time is more and more regulated by the state and federal rules. The illiterate student then grows up to be the illiterate adult.
The illiterate adult who cannot read or write is very clever about hiding it. They are good at it because they have been doing it since they were children. Some signs that a person cannot read or write are:
• Asking others to fill out forms, checks, applications, etc.
• Asking others to read for them, such as menus, signs, news articles, words on TV, etc.
• Giving vague responses. For example, when you ask them about the content of a newspaper article, they will turn it around and start asking you questions — trying to get information from you and then they will give a response. They learned enough from you to give a very basic answer making you think they actually read the article. There are many ways to hide not being able to read or write.