When I heard earlier this week that he has fought a lifelong battle to keep his illiteracy a secret, I immediately thought back to the woman my wife and I once interviewed to be our babysitter.
She arrived at our home with her daughter, and we were ready to hire her after she made an immediate connection with our then-baby son. When we asked her to write down her contact information, her daughter pulled out her pen and told her mother to take a rest.
We were immediately worried that she would be unable to safely care for our son. After all, would she be able to give our address to the 911 operator in the event of an emergency?
I was ashamed that we ultimately said no to a woman who was otherwise a loving caregiver. But in the end, we felt our son’s welfare had to come first.
Demers showed incredible courage coming forward, and he deserves our praise and assistance.
Your turn: I originally sketched the piece above as the basis for my column in Friday’s paper. I ultimately changed the focus and went with the text below. I invite your thoughts on both.
Illiteracy remains a national disgrace
Published Friday, November 4, 2005
Free Press London
How sad that former Montreal Canadiens coach Jacques Demers has lived his entire life trying to keep his illiteracy a secret. How tragic for us that he is just one person in a national – and silent – epidemic.
World Literacy of Canada statistics indicate 22 per cent of Canadians have serious problems understanding printed materials.
This stunning figure comes with a steep cost to society: Those who can’t read and write will fail far more often in the job market. Canadians with the highest literacy levels have a four-per-cent unemployment rate, compared to a rate of 26 per cent for Canadians with the lowest literacy skills.
Our national shame lies in our inability and unwillingness to get help to those who need it – and to do so in a dignified manner. Perhaps Demers was right to keep his disability a secret. Surely no hockey team would have employed him if the truth came out.
But illiteracy should not be grounds for dismissal. We shame ourselves by perpetuating our silence and indifference.-30-