The Power of Literacy

The theft was not malicious, considering I was only 10 years old at the time. But in the eyes of the law, I suppose I am still considered a criminal. My intention was simply to read the story just one more time. I could not bear to return it when its words would not let go of my heart. I fell in love with Wilbur and saw so much of myself in Fern, that to turn the book back in to the school library would have been like giving up the breath in my lungs. The first story to show me the power of words, Charlotte’s Web, was the beginning of my love of literature and writing.

With the love of other people’s stories came the realization that I, too, had the power to tell a tale. As an introverted and awkward child, I found great power in the pen. I began writing poetry and short stories in elementary school, fascinated with my own fledgling ability to create characters and stories, and I soon found that there was not enough paper in my house to contain them all.

When the notebook paper ran out, I began writing on my dad’s business envelopes, and when those were put out of my reach, I resorted to writing on rolls of adding machine paper. Once I started writing, I could not stop. And when it came time to register for high school, my very wise father knew exactly which class I needed to sign up for: journalism.

Whether I was writing to condemn high school dress codes or to expound on the need for more AIDS education in my school, I found that the ability to write well gave legitimacy to my opinions and voice. It gave me the opportunity not only to talk to my peers, which timidity had always made difficult, but also gave me opportunities to confront those in power.

I will never forget stepping into the principal’s office as a freshman, with my clipboard and legal pad, to interview him about a controversial issue. I had mentioned in class, as we brainstormed for story ideas, that I had to walk to the bus stop very early in the morning, before the sun had even come out. I had to cross railroad tracks and several busy intersections, and the entire journey took me about 30 minutes. My classmates were all shocked, as those who rode the bus had pick-up places much closer to their homes. It was decided that this was a hot-button issue, and though I could hardly muster enough courage to look Mr. Hughes in the eye when I passed him in the halls each day, I soon found myself sitting across from him, telling him my story.  And when I was finished, my question to him was simple.

Would he want his daughter to have to do that?

My editorials did not always change school policy; in fact, the bus routes did not change that year, but I did. I soon received confidence, camaraderie with my peers, and the respect of adults for being able to communicate in their world. And that is exactly what I believe literacy to be. When one has the ability to process the written and spoken word around them, and then is able to participate in that dialogue, then one has become literate.

I worked in the field of journalism for about six years, both in public relations and in newspapers, but eventually I realized that I was being called to a bigger world. I loved being able to have an audience for my writing, but I also began to see that I had a greater desire to help others develop that same ability.

My purpose for being a teacher and a tutor is to rectify a lack of literacy for others, particularly adults who are returning to school at an older age, after raising babies, getting laid off, or breaking bad habits that sucked the motivation to succeed from their bones.  I want to help those who realize what they do not have, and desperately want to find a way to get it.

For myself, the path to literacy began with a story about a sweet little pig and the girl who saved his life. For others, it may begin with the realization that in order to go to college, get a better job, or even to better communicate in the language of their community, they will need to improve their literacy.

I would like to help them find their way.