It's fitting this week in the lead up to Literacy Week that we feature a young man in our community pages who has overcome enormous odds to become a published author.
Micheal Mann, better known on the Coast by the surname Oswald, was diagnosed with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) at age six. FASD is an insidious disease. Many of the victims of this largely invisible, 100 per cent preventable disease never reach the level of literacy Mann has because of the behaviour difficulties FASD foists on its victims.
In his book, Mann recounts the sorrow of being constantly on the sidelines. He speaks of never having any friends or, if he did, not recognizing them as such. School, for much of his life, was a nightmare. He speaks in the opening prose of the book about his difficulties in reacting to bullies, how he wanted to fit in and, most of all, just be like all the other kids.
Fortunately for Mann, he has an adopted mother and father who have helped him immensely on the road of life.
For many others in our society, there is nothing even approaching a happy ending.
They are the illiterate adults who fell through the cracks, the kids who didn't have parents with the desire or ability to help them. Many are the offspring of people with no literacy skills of their own.
Some are the students who had behaviour problems that made learning in a classroom all but impossible. In a public school system geared to the norm, the kid who can't or won't sit still soon gets bypassed for the one who will.
Some are people who have dyslexia or other learning challenges. They've either been passed to the next grade by rote or have failed so many times they've given up on learning to read. Some of the lucky ones are discovered early by caring educators and given special training.
A comprehensive survey done in 2003 that measured the prose, document, numeracy and problem solving of 23,000 Canadian adults gave some startling results -only 58 of 100 adults in Canada have basic reading skills needed for ordinary tasks. Only 45 of every 100 Canadians aged 16 to 65 can do ordinary arithmetic and understand the numbers in printed material.
Who are the people with low literacy skills? In many instances they are people who have regular contact with police as suspects, victims or witnesses. Many of them are serving time in provincial or federal jails.
For the future it's time we thought of literacy not as an expense but as an investment. It's long past time all the Micheal Manns of our country had their full potential realized.
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