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Thursday, April 22, 2010

To Whom Much is Given

Within every crevice of every room in my house is some sort of written material. Recipe books and mail pile up in the kitchen, schedules and notes are tacked in the laundry room, labels on food packaging in the pantry, lists and cards on the fridge. Throughout the house sit piles of papers, magazines, there are stacks and racks overflowing with books, some light reading, text books, reference materials and outdated travel guides. The upstairs loft has been coined “the library” by the neighborhood kid- probably due to the 7 ft tall book shelf standing directly across from a 5 foot book shelf- both crammed with both mine and Aaron’s lifelong collection of books. My night stand is actually the cleanest it has been in long time, with only 1 magazine, my journal, a current novel and 2 baby books. Aaron’s nightstand however is a testament to the written word-piled almost a foot high with his latest wine tasting book, gardening books, one magazine, one catalog and one rather large and thick parenting book. All this, and we even sell and give way books on a regular basis. My daily planner is filled with lists, upon lists, receipts, coupons, flyers, appointment cards. It just seems normal to me. I don’t even “see” the visual clutter. Yet, after training as literacy tutor I will look around every so often and imagine not being able to decipher over half of it. I wonder what my life would be like if I was never exposed to reading and writing in the first place.

It was sobering to find via tutor training for the nonprofit organization BoulderReads that there are over 16,000 functionally literate people walking amongst us here in just Boulder county alone. Boulder County folks, is one of the most affluent, healthiest, greenest and artistic communities in all of the Rocky Mtns, perhaps nation. Some of these illiterate people are native English speakers; others are immigrants, with English being their second language. Many will come to the program testing at a 4th – 5th grade level; some just need to work on vocab, spelling, maybe and conversation writing skills. Some people need to learn how to read grocery labels, bus schedules and paycheck stubs.

Being illiterate in the world today takes a lot of work, they learn how to hide it, to use their own codes for things, to make excuses, to avoid tasks that involve much reading or writing, spouses take the lead on paperwork and many just take jobs that require little or no written communication.

As we finished up our final and 20th hour of training- the fresh eyed training group had to go around and share what has struck them the most. We all had variations of the same theme, being which, a feeling that we really have taken for granted our ability to be joyfully literate. I was greatly saddened when I heard that many of the students that come to Boulder Reads were not read to as children. Between Aaron and me we must read to our boys Roman and Ryan 10 or more hours a week- since Roman could walk and before he could really talk much he has been chasing us around the house with books. Not reading to a child is child abuse, plain and simple. It is also scary to think that many kids fall through the public school system and manage to graduate without being able to read beyond a 9th grade level.

Quickly after training I was assigned my first student a Korean women with a Phd in meteorology, on assignment with NCAR. Wait, a Phd… needing tutoring? Yep. BoulderReads helps everyone, on all levels. She wanted help with pronunciation, popular American English phrases, jargon, and even jokes. See, she was isolating herself from her co-workers on a social level because she could not “joke around with them much” she did not understand certain expressions and phrases. She basically just wanted practice talking English. It was fun, we met 6-8 times for an hour or so each time in a NOBO coffee shop in the mornings. Sadly, her NCAR contract ended, and she had to move. Not long after, I got pregnant with my second son and the tutoring gigs fell by the way side. I do hope to get back into when baby boy is in a preschool/ moms day out program. I have not forgotten my passion- the written word, the spoken word, and tutoring the second language learner.

My passion is just buried under all these diapers! I was so humbled and the same time empowered to be invited into the BoulderReads training program, and here I am over 2 years later- blogging about it. To be able to make a difference in the “ literary life” of someone can be a bit overwhelming at times, but one look at Roman, tonight, like just about every night he is literally curled up in bed with his “ last book” of the night. Seeing that makes it all seem more than possible and important.