Director: Literacy has power to transform lives

Published on Sunday, 22 December 2013 18:30 - Written by NANCY CRAWFORD Special to the Tyler Morning Telegraph

I began my teaching career in 1975 as a Tyler ISD second- and fourth-grade teacher. I quickly became concerned about my students’ poor reading skills, so I made home visits and learned that many of their parents had low literacy levels. Although I did not know it at the time, this was the beginning of my desire to provide adult literacy services.

In 1990, after being home for a while with my daughters, I received a call from The Adult Learning Center of Tyler. The center, which primarily provided GED classes, had just received a grant to provide basic literacy services to adults. Because reading to my daughters was fresh on my mind, I took a two night per week position to work with adults. My main motivation was that no child would be without parents who could read to them.

The rest, as they say, is history. We served 30 low-level adult students in 1990, and I was hooked. I saw with my own eyes the transforming power of literacy. Organizational changes took place and the Adult Learning Center was dissolved and Literacy Council of Tyler was born. We continued to provide basic literacy classes and added GED classes. In 1995, we added English as a second language classes. We now enroll about 2,300 adult students per year.

My vision has grown far beyond making sure children have parents who can read to them. My vision now includes wanting employers to have an educated workforce, wanting nonprofits to be unburdened from repeatedly serving the same people, wanting our jails to be relieved of overcrowding, wanting our tax base to be strong, and wanting quality of life and prosperity for the entire community.

There is a distinct relationship with low literacy skills in every area I just mentioned. That is why we say that the services we provide are most definitely a “hand up and not a hand out.” In fact, the only thing that we give away is instruction and homework. If an adult student sticks it out with us, it is because improving their life is something they really want. We have very supportive staff, well-trained teachers and tutors, and 23 years of successful experience, but a student must attend class 6 hours per week and maintain a 75 percent attendance record. For adults who have multiple jobs and complex family responsibilities, this is a tall order.

And yet, time after time and year after year, I see adults fill that tall order. I know adults who are college graduates who never even thought they could get their GED. I know adults who were once reliant on welfare who are now earning a living wage. I know adults who are now attending PTA meetings, voting in elections and writing letters to their congressmen. These same adults once knew nothing about these processes.

One of the first things I learned after Sept. 11, 2001, was that there was a very high illiteracy rate in Afghanistan. It is so easy to control people who cannot read. I completely agree with Thomas Jefferson who said, “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be."

This year, we have taken our work of promoting literacy a step further. In collaboration with many community partners we have helped form Tyler Area Partners for Literacy. If you would like to know more about TAP, please visitwww.tapforliteracy.org . You can find out more about LCOT by visitingwww.lcotyler.org .