‘An epidemic of illiteracy’ engulfs U.S., speaker says

TUPELO – Defeating illiteracy won’t solve all of America’s problems, but it will solve most of them – that’s the message literacy advocate John Corcoran delivered in Tupelo over the weekend.
Corcoran, known as the “teacher who couldn’t read,” spoke to parents and teachers at The Orchard on Saturday and the Summit Center on Sunday. Corcoran learned to read at age 48 and has since traveled the country speaking about illiteracy.
“We have an epidemic of illiteracy in America,” he said before he began his story. “This is a story about hope: hope for America.”
Corcoran described how he made it through grade school, high school and college while being illiterate.
Through acting out and cheating, he passed grade school, and learned more practiced ways of cheating to graduate from college.
“This was a shame-based secret,” he said, noting the anger he felt at himself and at others for his illiteracy.
“The key is proper instruction, and proper instruction comes from properly trained teachers,” Corcoran said. “Schools will not improve until we deal with the problem.”
The problem of illiteracy is bigger than most people realize, he said.
“Of the kids starting first grade in August, 30 percent of them are not going to graduate high school,” he said. “And that’s in a country that sends a rocket ship to Mars that takes a picture and sends it back.”
The problem is not just one for those who can’t read, he said.
“This is one of the most important education issues, civil rights issues, human rights issues,” Corcoran said. “America can’t keep its promise about equal opportunity until it gives everybody equal opportunity.”
Corcoran emphasized that well-trained teachers are the keys to defeating illiteracy.
“We change lives when we teach people how to read,” he said.
Paul Zimmerman with the Wake Forest University School of Medicine also spoke at the event and discussed research the university had done on reading.
The Saturday event provided continuing education credits for teachers.

Contact Sheena Barnett at (662) 678-1580 or sheena.barnett@djournal.com.

Sheena Barnett/NEMS Daily Journal

Click video to hear audio