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The Secret Stigma

In The Service of Others: In Indian River County, as everywhere else in the U.S., thousands of people's lives are haunted by illiteracy. Fortunately, something is being done about it.

We all have dreams. Some of us dream of learning a new language or driving a car we’ve admired since our youth. Others dream of financial independence or visiting far-flung corners of the earth. But for an estimated one in five Americans, their dream is far simpler: They dream of being able to read and write well.

Think of it. If you are reading this now, you are likely to be doing so effortlessly. From reading your morning paper to heeding new construction signs on our highways to sunning on the beach with a favorite book, you read all day long. For most of us, reading is as natural as drawing breath. So take a moment to imagine what it must be like to live without that ability.

If you couldn’t read, your life would be regimented; you would be a hostage of your fear of being discovered as “illiterate.” You would learn one or two ways of getting around town, and you might quietly panic if faced with an unexpected detour. Imagine turning down a child who wants to hear a bedtime story. “Not now, I’m busy,” you might answer. After a few requests, the child gets the message: you aren’t interested in taking time with him; it would never occur to him that you couldn’t read, just that you wouldn’t.

Read the entire article in the September 2000 issue