Are You Glad You Can Read This?

"I found this note ripped up on the bus yesterday. It looks like it was addressed to you from your daughter's teacher. I thought you should have it." My bus driver held out a crinkly taped up note to my mother who had been waiting for me at the bus stop. I almost cried right there as I realized what had happened. My bus driver had found the note I had attempted to destroy the day before, the one I didn't want my mother to see.

Textbooks from Wiki Commons

Textbooks from Wiki Commons

The note detailed how my first-grade teacher had noticed I was struggling in my Reading class and suspected that I didn't know how to read. The ironic, or not so ironic, part is that I hadn't been able to read what the note said, I had just tried to destroy it because I assumed all notes sent home were bad.

After a long discussion with my parents, many after-school study sessions, and years of extra help from tutors and reading coaches, I finally developed above average reading skills and a hard working attitude when faced with difficult challenges.

Sometimes, I'll sit and wonder what it would have been like if I couldn't read. And I mean could not read, at all. I assume that I'd be able to recognize my own name and a few other words when written, but beyond that, text would look like scribbles and strange hieroglyphics. I'd likely assume that people were just making stories up when reading. How would they be able to understand all those symbols?

At least I'd be able to drive places. Maps and road signs might be tricky, but I could work with numbers and landmarks.

Speaking of numbers, I was really good at math (despite having a preschooler's reading level). Numbers made complete sense to me, but simple words and spelling would confound me. I probably would have gone into a math related job because of that, if I could get that far in school.

I likely would have failed all my English classes, and probably even my history and science ones, since I wouldn't be able to read the questions or answers. I'm sure I would know at least some of the answers from lectures, but there would be no way for me to communicate those answers on a written test.

This is a book title page in Welsh from, which I think is a good example of what it would be like to be illiterate as an English speaker.

This is a book title page in Welsh from, which I think is a good example of what it would be like to be illiterate as an English speaker.

I wouldn't even be able to read instructions on furniture, movie summaries, or electric bills. I would have had to rely on other people to tell me how often I should take medicine, or where I was allowed to park and at what times. Even as an adult, I would have to have been completely dependent on another person and hope that they had my best intentions at heart. Or maybe I would use machines that read to me like what some blind people use?

When I think of that version of myself that could have been, I feel immensely grateful for the simple ability to read and write, something that I often take for granted. But I also feel worried for all the children who grow up without this ability, whether they are in the US or any other country. It is terrifying to imagine what life would be like without being able to read, let alone actually living it.

There is a section of Animal Farm that I vividly remember because it talked about how a number of the animals could not read and had to rely on the pigs to read the rules they had established for them. While the animals originally had seven rules that they followed stating that they were all equals, the pigs eventually went back and changed it to say, "All animals are created equal, but some are more equal than others", which none of the other animals could protest against because they could not read and therefore could not prove that it had ever said anything besides that.

Imagine your everyday life being like that…

However, that’s not to say that anyone who can’t read is going to have a terrible life - especially now-a-days where your cell phone can tell you directions, read your texts, and will even type up what you tell it into Google. There are just a lot of experiences that would be much more difficult to enjoy fully without the ability to read, and as someone who could have easily gone down that path, I feel extra thankful for this gift.

Have you ever considered what the world would be like without the ability to read?

Until next time,