It is January 26th already. Why do I always think that time will slow down? It is hard to believe that the last time a blog was written here was in July. July – the sun was shining, the leaves were green and the water was blue. January – the sun is not shining, the leaves, what leaves and the water is white. Oh well, at least there are no shadflies! But I digress from my original reason for writing this blog.

This past November and December, we sold a children’s book written by Dennis Chippa and illustrated by the Widdifield Secondary School art students. We became “peddlers of picture books” for over a month to raise money for our agency. During one of our excursions to the local mall, we met someone who couldn’t quite understand the need to have a literacy agency for adults. She couldn’t understand why an adult would need to upgrade his/her skills. “They should have done that in school when they were young.”

There are many reasons why an adult learner needs to upgrade. Sometimes when I hear the stories of what a learner went through before getting to this point, to be truthful, it is more then my heart and mind can absorb. Think back to when you were in elementary and/or high school. Think of where you were living, think of the people who were tasked to look after your basic needs, think of what you did after school, think of how you spent your evenings and weekends. When I think of these times, I have so many wonderful memories. A warm house, a meal made by my mom (I enjoyed everything except the peas), playing with my cousins after school and on the weekends, jumping in puddles (not when I was in high school, mind you), walking home from school with my friends and talking about boys, and thinking about my mom and dad telling me to get to my homework and to turn the radio off. I probably thought that things were tough then. I think all children do at one time or another, believe that no kid in the history of the world, has had it as bad as they do. But over the 24 years of working in literacy, I now know that there are many people who, as children, have had unimaginable experiences – they really did have it tough.
I would like to give you a list of some the reasons why the adults we see now, weren’t successful in school when they are young. I won’t give specific examples, just a list. Hang on!

– “I was in 15 foster homes between the ages of 5-17”
– “I was locked in a cupboard every night.”
– “I had to protect my little sister from the men that my mom brought into our house.”
– “My family became homeless and my mom and I lived on the streets of Toronto.”
– “In grade 6 my dad died and I felt I needed to go to work to help my mom. I worked on a fishing boat out east.”
– “I got pregnant at age 13”
– “I looked after my little brother as my mom was working. This started when I was in grade 2.”
– “I would fall asleep in school because I knew that I could safely sleep there.”
– “My parents had 5 boys and they gave me to a foster home because they couldn’t deal with all of us.”
– “I had leukemia when I was young and missed a lot of school because I was so sick.”
– “I was in an accident and missed a lot of school while I was healing. It was hard to catch up after that.”
– “If I talked I would be beaten.”

If you want more, I could give you more. But my main point is that many of the adults we see now, had no choice in the circumstances of their childhood. At times, schooling became a safe place to escape or school wasn’t on the radar of things that “must be done”. I must admit, that I have heard stories of adults getting involved with the “wrong crowd” and this caused a delay in their education. But many people assume that this is the only reason – “they were just fooling around and didn’t take advantage of the opportunity that was given to them.” It is hard to take advantage of the opportunity given to you when you, as a 5 year old, are fearing for your safety or you are too tired to stay awake because you haven’t eaten all day.

Adult literacy programs are available now to give some adults that first chance of success and pride.

It is time that we start looking at adult learners through a difference lens.


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