This is another one of those posts which will, sadly, exclude non-UK readers of Stuck-in-a-Book. My little map at the side informs me that people across the world have little activity filling their days other than going to obscure destinations and looking at my blog – perhaps it’s simply members of my immediate family taking surreptitious holidays, but… perhaps not. Anyway, I wanted to blog about a TV programme which is on Channel 4, and thus available to UK readers if they go to 4 on Demand.
Can’t Read, Can’t Write is a documentary series about adult literacy. Phil Beadle, for whom the terms ‘maverick’ and ‘rough diamond’ were probably invented, takes a group of adults with reading ages between 0-12, including some who can’t recognise or pronounce any letters at all. Over six months, he wants to teach them to read and write – despite never having taught anyone to read before.
If this sounds like a stunt or silly experiment, well, perhaps it once was in the minds of channel executives – but the pupils in the programme put a stop to any of that. They are such involving people, really loveable and make empathy as easy as turning the television on. Granted, we only seem to follow four people (perhaps the others didn’t want to be interviewed?) but that’s more than enough. There’s James, 28, a labourer who has nobody to help him learn at home; Linda, 46, who listens to Shakespeare on audio book but doesn’t know her alphabet; Kelly, so keen to attend lessons that she brings her children in the rain when she can’t get childcare. The most wonderful, though, is Teresa (above). In her 50s, she couldn’t read a word – and, through being introduced to a phonetic method of learning, is quite an able reader within a few weeks. One of the most moving moments I have ever seen on television was last week, when she finished A Very Hungry Caterpillar. “I’ve read a book,” she wept, “I’ve read a book.” This week she joined a library, and got a copy of Little Women, the book she’d always wanted to read. The joy and pride across her face was stunning to watch, and certainly brought a tear to my eye.
Reading is something I take for granted – I remember struggling a little bit an early age (well, I was slower than The Carbon Copy – probably not very behind, but every minute’s difference matters for twins) but it’s something which I couldn’t do without. That these people have to go through life without reading – usually because of an education system which couldn’t differentiate learning methods, and sometimes even having to hide their inability from their families – well, it’s shocking. Especially when these are people who really want to read, not lazy drop-outs by any means. I’m glad Can’t Read, Can’t Write has brought the matter to national attention, but more than that it is a spectacular piece of documentary, and utterly moving.