Adult Learner Stories

Literacy Changes Lives

Can you just imagine not being able to read your child a bedtime story? Or being able to read a menu in a restaurant? Or fill out a job application? There are more than 36 million adults in America that struggle with basic reading, writing, and math skills.

Take a look at the stories of some adult learners. Real people. Real stories. Stories of heartbreak, embarrassment, even desperation. In equal measure, you will hear tales of accomplishment, triumph, and inspiration.

“I Couldn’t Spell Green”

THIS IS A STORY THAT MIGHT MAKE YOU ANGRY. It might make you sad. In the end, it will fill you with warmth. This particular story starts the same as thousands of others. However, in the end this is “Henry’s story.”

In 1950s rural Kentucky, a young boy was trying to balance his chores on the farm with his school work. Henry’s family, most of them not formally educated, was not enjoying the benefits of the post-war economic boom happening across much of America. And at just 8 years old, Henry’s family needed his help on the farm, so Henry left school. 

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It’s Not How You Start; It’s How You Finish

MARTY CALANCHE has struggled with reading since he was a child. At first he did well in school, moving right along from first grade to fourth. Then things changed. He started to notice that his reading was bad, but he still kept moving up grades. In the eighth grade he realized that he did not want to go on to the next grade. He was not ready for it and his lack of reading and spelling skills made him feel ashamed.

“I told my teacher and my principal that I wasn’t ready to go to high school because I couldn’t spell or read,” Marty said. “Their reply was that I had to go because they needed the room for the new kids who were coming in.” Marty did continue with school, but left after the 11th grade, before he had the chance to graduate.

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From Illiterate to Author

Meet Earl Mills. Earl is all too familiar with the shame and embarrassment of being illiterate. At 45 years old, Earl was married with five children, owned his own home, and worked for 25 years at the same company. Yet he had a secret that few others knew: he could not read.

His lack of reading skill was exposed when he was put on the spot at church one night when he was asked to read a Bible passage. The problem was that at 44 years old, he couldn’t read. No one knew except his wife. Earl says, "When you can’t read, you keep it under a lock and a key and you let hardly anyone inside of that part of your life."

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