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3 things I learned from an illiterate man

Card catalog at UCLA East Asian Library

Late last year, I interviewed jeweler, Joe Pacetti, about his new His World Collection jewelry line. His passion for philanthropy rekindled my interest. Since I have little money and lots of time, I opted to volunteer my time to the  Hi-DARE Adult Literacy Program.

It’s been interesting, fun and a lot of hard work, for both of us. Every session, I thank my stars that I was lucky enough to have parents who love to read and fostered my love for books.

Our interactions taught me a few things:

  1. We learn best by experience. Teaching concepts is hard. We get a lot of things–the idea of place value, basic grammar tenets (most of us). But to try to explain it to someone else is difficult. What we found was that using fake money $1, $10, $100 drove the concept of place value home. He’s an adult and does adult things—paying bills, making money, making bank deposits.
  2. We all fake it until we make it. If you met my tutee out in the real world, you’d never think he can’t read. I read an anecdote about an English teacher who was illiterate. We’re intelligent enough to devise coping mechanisms and life tools. All we need is a little confidence in ourselves.
  3. Patience really is a virtue—I’m not the most patient person in the world. Plus I read really fast. They are two qualities that suck in a literacy tutor. I’m quickly learning to give it ten more seconds than I think is necessary because it takes that long for someone unfamiliar with the material to come up with the answer on their own.

I hadn’t expected to learn so much from my tutee this early on in the game. His commitment to literacy is astounding. And I’m learning to be more humble. (I hope.)

Today (March 9th) is World Read Aloud Day so read to your kids, lover or someone who’d enjoy it.

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