Editor’s Note: This post comes to us from intern and USC journalism student Ami Foote.
Among obvious social concerns like disease, poverty, violence, and drugs — there is one problem that often goes unaddressed — low levels of literacy. Education is essential to the quality of life in human beings. So how does an adult get through twelve years of school without being able to read a street sign?
I had the pleasure of interviewing an adult learner who has become a regular at Turning Pages over the past 3 1/2 years. Assumptions and percentages can only explain so much, so I went straight to the source to find out where he thought his educational problems came from. “When I was young, school didn’t interest me. I was making money with my hands, so my brain didn’t matter as much,” he tells me. The source of immediate income for this learner came from his physical abilities, so it made sense to blow off intellectual goals, which could only provide monetary gain later in life. He ended up dropping out of school to lay bricks, paint, and work in construction. It was only when he was diagnosed with diabetes that he realized how unreliable his skills really were. His disease was so severe that he almost lost his legs and had to retire from the work he had spent his entire life doing. Suddenly, he had nothing but free time on his hands, and nothing to do with it. The only thing that didn’t require literacy skills was television, which quickly lost his interest.
So he started coming to Turning Pages to finally learn how to read — one of the “best things he has ever done with his life.” He now enjoys his newly gained independence. He is able to go to restaurants, take road trips, and go to the doctor’s office without having to ask others for help. The most simple things that we take for granted every day require the ability to read and comprehend. “I am more confident in myself, and I am able to be somebody my kids can look up to.” I couldn’t help but smile as I shook hands with this man and told him how nice it was to hear his story. His positive attitude about life and education surprised and impressed me. He doesn’t complain. He doesn’t make excuses or feel ashamed. He is proud of his new literacy skills; skills that cannot be taken from him. As he puts it, “The more I learn, the better I feel.” It makes me happy to know there is a center in my community for people who are excited about learning. Turning Pages is a place that strives to give opportunity to those who would love to improve their lives, but were never given the chance.