Wednesday, 22 June 2011

The Joy of Words

As I was planning my blog last night it got me thinking about the endless subjects to write about.  The joy of putting words onto paper that can make people think, laugh, cry, agree/disagree or empathise.  It's the same when you write a novel - the words that you put together create characters, a plot,  paint a picture and make imaginary people speak.
This in turn made me think about my time as an adult literacy tutor and the people I encountered in my classes.  These people had never known the joy of reading a book and losing themselves in a make believe world.  These were adults who, for whatever reason, had escaped the net and were unable to turn those squiglley little lines on the paper into magic.
My classes ranged in age from anything between 18 and 80. These people weren't daft.  They could hold perfectly intelligent discussions about anything from the news to how much their weekly shopping had gone up.  It was a great leveller that my maths was rubbish because most of them were good at it and they felt that as a teacher, I could do everything! And the majority of them had families and were holding down jobs.  They'd become really clever at concealing their secret from children, grandchildren and employers - a real talent in itself.
In discussions with them I'd hear many reasons why they couldn't read.  Some were down to undectected dyslexia but the saddest were the ones in their 50's and above who'd just never cottoned on to those first vital blocks of reading and had then got lost in the system, sitting quietly in the background and pretending they were coping.
The dedication of these students was astounding.  Their lives weren't easy, often single parents holding down badly paid jobs with long hours, but they'd still find the time to come to evening class and give it their best shot.  It was heartbreaking to see those who quite simply couldn't remember a thing they'd learnt from one class to the next but the fact was, their lives were just too busy.
The upside was guiding a young man with cerebal palsy successfully through a GCSE in English - it took him seven hours to complete but he was detemined to get there.  That was a long and happy day for both of us and one I'll never forget.
Also the man who told me he was hanging out for the day he could actually read his grandchilren a bedtime story rather than ad-lib.  They were getting older and he was worried their reading was better than his and he would get caught out.
So I often stop and think how we take this reading and writing lark for granted.  It's a skill and a gift that could easily have slipped past any one of us and we really should cherish what it brings to us.  Words are everywhere - they're not just there to entertain or inform us, they give us instructions, directions and warnings.  It's not until you look around or think about your daily routine that you realise how much we need them.
I always say my son was born with the ability to read.  At two and half he was begging me to teach him and by three he was flying solo.  From those first few letters, to some memorised words he was off and never looked back.
I always tell him how lucky he was.  While other kids had to slog through their reading practice every night, he could read what he wanted.
Wouldn't it be good if it was as easy as that for everyone?

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