Friday, November 04, 2005

Publish Day - Ink Blog - The shame of illiteracy

I remember living in Montreal when Jacques Demers was coach of our beloved Canadiens hockey team. I have never been a huge sports fan – I’m into participation, not watching – but there was something different about watching a game in person. This storied franchise can easily transcend the mundane day-to-day of the sports world – even when its on-ice performance lags behind.

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.

Illiteracy is Canada’s shame. And it is mine for perpetuating it.

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

The London Free Press

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.



dena said...

I like both versions, but the first really sparked my emotion. I would have made the same decision as you, and like you would have felt as though I may have missed giving someone a job that needed it. But again, we have to place our children's overall safety first. Tough spot. I think illiteracy continues to be a secret tragedy in both our countries, and one that needs to be seriously addressed.

Carol said...

The first is more personal and makes a stronger impact than the one that was in the paper, in my opinion.
Micele sent me, Carmi.

Maggie said...

I agree the first really hit home. Second is more appropriate for national publication.
I understand, it wasn't until 5 years ago. We found out my Aunt can't read college level. What we did was get together w/her once a week and help her out. I have to say she's now enrolled in college at the age of 76, it's never too late.
Michele sent me

Mama M said...

Ditto what Maggie said about the different versions. Illiteracy is an issue that has fallen out of favor in the US media yet still continues to be a large issue. I volunteered for a while with a local program that tries to promote literacy to elementary school children. The amount of children the program has helped is astounding, and I wish there were more programs like that everywhere.

Michele sent me. I'm also a former journalist and enjoy what I've read from your blog!

Michael Manning said...

Well stated, Carmi. When I left the Southwest, 70 percent of all prisoners were illiterate in my city. How can they fill out a job application? This is a serious worldwide issue, I assure you.