“Literacy is a bridge between misery and hope.”-Kofi Annan
I was like most other homeschooled kids I know. At about four or five they start learning to read, identify shapes and colors. Maybe a little bit of math was even sprinkled in. At the beginning of my education, I thought to myself “I’m gonna be so smart now!” Needless to say, I was very excited at the thought of intelligence.
I went to pre-school from ages three to four. At pre-school I learned the alphabet and began to learn how to spell. Eventually, I would be putting this newly gained knowledge to use. At five or six, while other kids were making plastic meals with Fisher Price, I would put my mind to use, piecing together foam, lettered, puzzle pieces to form words. I would spell simple words, but words nonetheless. The nursery monitors were confused at the sight of mismatched colored pieces spelling out “DOG” or “JAKE”. “Hey, Jacob, do you want to go play with the other kids?” they would ask. To which I would reply, “No.” Could they not see I was busy?
When I was first learning to read at home, I would sit down with my mother and she would help me form words orally. I had to read words out loud so that my mother knew that I could actually read them. My mother would be very comforting and understanding. If I made a mistake, she would say, “It’s okay, just keep going.” She understood that at five or six I was still young enough that mistakes were prone to happen. I barely even realized that I made mistakes. I read at my own pace and I could understand it. I felt empowered by my new abilities. Eventually I would be picking out words that I recognized as I saw them. In church I would say, “Mom that says ‘God.’” I could read and I was on top of the world.
I was never truly embarrassed by the difficulty I had with reading when I read at home. I was alone. I was the best in my class. I was the worst in my class. Life was great until everything changed. Everything changed when I was six years old. I began going to summer theatre camps at my church. I was so excited to show off my ability to read. Everybody in the camp got scripts for scenes and I had the most lines in one of my scenes-the narrator in the scene “Click, Clack, Moo.” We started rehearsal sitting in a circle to read through the whole two-page script. I had the first line. All eyes were on little six year-old Jake. Like a confident, broken-down car, I began. “Fa-fa-far-farm-er B-b-bro Farmer Brown h-had a p-pr-prolb-probem? Mrs. Barshinger, I don’t know this word!” It only got worse from there. My face was the color of a fire engine and like the engine’s hose, my eyes burst out with tears. What was happening? Wasn’t I a good reader?
The problem was that at home I controlled the pace. I ran the show. Now, my emotions ran the show. I was embarrassed, but I think my tears were more due sadness at my lack of ability. What was wrong with me? My older brothers teasingly said I “must have dyslexia.” Through my tears, I wondered if they were right. Was I really dyslexic?
When I got home, I asked my mom if I had dyslexia. She said “No, you’re just young.” That answer was not good enough for me. I did not know what “dyslexia” meant, but I knew that if my brother said that about me, it could not have been good. But whatever dyslexia was, it was not going to beat me. I would try to read every day for the next year. When the Sunday school teacher asked if anybody wanted to read, a single hand rose up out of a sea of hesitant six year olds-my hand. “Mrs. Miller! Mrs. Miller! Can I read? I’ll read! Pick me!” Eventually, it got to the point where the teacher would say “Does anybody besides Jacob want to read?” Anybody that raised their hand before I did was asking for a grudge. Was that petty? Yes, but I needed to prove myself.
My parents noticed my improvement. My literary fall from grace was seemingly over. That is, until I returned to the theater camp. It was not as bad, but it still was not a pretty sight. There were fewer tears, but just as much stumbling through lines. The baffling thing to me was that I knew what I was saying and I pieced it together in my head. Why weren’t the words coming out?
Like many people, I was and still am a visual learner. It is not uncommon and it is nothing I am ashamed of. But when the books no longer had pictures, all I had to look at was words. However, I compensated for the loss of visualization with another one of my senses-hearing. When reading out loud, I would hear the words and the way they sounded gave me vivid pictures of what was happening. Despite the new-found method, I still had a problem. I could never comprehend what I read when I read in silence. I had to read out loud if I was going to understand a book. I would be reading, get distracted by something outside of the book or get caught on how funny I thought a certain word sounded, lose my place, try to find it, find it, skip over a few of what I deemed "unimportant words," and then repeat the cycle several minutes later. It was a vicious cycle.
I stared down at the booklet, thinking hard about what it said. It did not start off very badly. However, about two paragraphs in, the faint sound of whispers could be heard. Dr. Richman walked over and said “Jacob” and covered his mouth with his index finger, his eyes dismantling my wall of eight year old confidence. Several older kids looked at me, smirking. I was too embarrassed to make another sound.
In third grade, I would still read out loud. At the same time, I took my first standardized test. If you have never taken a standardized, allow me to make one thing clear: saying that talking is “frowned upon” is a massive understatement. Therefore, I was not allowed to read out loud. This meant that I could not understand the reading section. This meant that I did not get a very high reading score. This meant that something had to change.
I was told that I could continue reading out loud if I could read silently at the same level. With some help and what could technically be considered training, I was able to read silently. Although reading silently was faster, it was harder to get distracted by a rabbit, seen out the window and out of the corner of my eye, when I was reading out loud. I thought that this was solely because every now and again I would skip over a word or two. However, the reason was much more upsetting for me.
When I realized what my problem was, my theater camp breakdowns were understandable. I had a bit of a stutter. I stumble over words every now and again in normal conversation. However, when I read out loud, the stutter gets painfully bad. I have since realized that it typically stems from talking when I am focusing on something else. This problem that had been preventing me from being an exemplary student had finally been pinpointed. Now it just had to be fixed.
My parents were hesitant to ask if I wanted to go back to theater camp, but I would always bring it up. My need to improve made it a necessity. It has been one of the greatest sources of improvement. It gave me chances to practice speaking in front of people. After all, one cannot memorize a script if they do not read it many times. The final line, a two-paragraph speech presented by Edward Tutor, played by Jake Diem, became nothing more than ink on a page.
Literacy, which has always been a wonder to me, has changed the way that I learn and look at the world. There have been struggles, but they are not insurmountable. "Literacy is a bridge between hope and misery." The bridge is not an easy one to cross, but the result of crossing is life-changing.