April 7, 2014

TAYLOR: If not you, then who will help?

By Nancy Taylor Guest columnist

---- — 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.

Then there is the non-English speaker. They are illiterate in English. My grandmother was one of these people. She came from Poland, was a stay-at-home mom, raising four sons. She let her husband or sons speak for her when necessary.

We all know that there are many Hispanics, Burmese and other nationalities living in Cass county now. Many of them want very much to learn English but with the limited number of resources available, only a fraction are being helped.

The adult English classes at CLEAR, in the old Ivy Tech building, are normally full which leaves many people on a long waiting list, some never getting in. This is where our organization comes in. Literacy Volunteers of Cass County has been in existence over 30 years. We are a group of volunteer tutors who work with the adult student, teaching them English as a new language, reading skills, adult basic education, GED preparation, citizenship preparation, and more.

Can you imagine how frustrating it must be to not know how to read the directions on a cake mix box, or the church bulletin, or locator signs in the grocery store or at Walmart? How would it feel if you were lost and couldn’t speak the language to ask for help, or if your child needed emergency medical help, or you need to have the mini bus pick you up or any of the thousands of times one needs help.

Now, you ask yourself, how can I help? You can help by volunteering an hour a week to help an adult student learn the skill they need. Tutoring is very easy. As easy as reading a newspaper article together, or working a puzzle, or teaching the names of articles of clothing, or teaching how to say the alphabet and to count in English. If not you, then who?

To volunteer to be a Literacy Volunteer tutor, please call 574-355-0986. Our waiting list of students increases constantly. Please help. Be a part of the solution.

Nancy Taylor is a tutor and past president of the Literacy Volunteers of Cass County.