The shame felt by people who struggle to read and write

When John Corcoran wrote about his experience of not being able to read or write until he was in his late forties, many readers sent emails saying that they too had literacy problems. Some described painful experiences at school, while others described hiding their inability to read and write through shame. Here is a selection of their stories. The BBC reports.

I was in school during the 1980s and like John I was placed in the dunce class, which made my school life a living hell. I was a good kid who just wanted to get through the day and go home, but I didn’t fit in at all. When I graduated from school I had failed English, Maths, Science, History and Geography but I had scraped a GCSE C grade in woodwork. Aged 17 I decided to join the Royal Marines – thankfully academic accomplishment wasn’t high on their agenda, so training to be a commando wasn’t hindered by my poor reading and writing. But I still had to sit reading, writing and maths tests – I scored the lowest possible score which meant I could never be promoted. At the age of 24 I decided to leave but I was faced with a difficult situation – no qualifications. Thankfully the Marines offered me a fantastic opportunity to undertake an intensive GCSE English and Maths course. By this stage I’d matured enough to apply myself to successfully pass the course attaining two grade Cs – enough to become an NHS paramedic. Paramedic training was the beginning of my true education – I had to double my efforts to ensure I passed all the exams, often spending hours practicing writing and rewriting answers. My next big break came when I was offered me a place on a paramedic degree course and since then I have gone on to do several other university qualifications. Although I now consider myself a reasonably accomplished reader and writer I do still struggle. Recently I was reading a bedtime story to my son who noticed that I wasn’t as good a reader as his mother and that I still made mistakes. This kick-started a long conversation about me learning to read and write. I had never really shared my situation with either my son or my wife. Jonathan, Oxford, UK

I have quite a severe learning disability which in the 1960s was seen as being too lazy and stupid to learn. I was subjected to beatings and humiliation. Being told to stand in front of the class and hold open my exercise book and the class being encouraged to laugh at me was a regular occurrence. I left school with very little in the way of qualifications, still unable to write my name correctly, but I was able to get an apprenticeship into a job as a painter and decorator – I loathed it. A marriage, children, low pay and uninteresting work kept me in working poverty, with no practical way out. A messy divorce and social isolation had a significant impact upon my mental state. But then I read a book by the actress Susan Hampshire called Susan’s Story: My Struggle With Dyslexia. It helped me identify that I had a learning disability and gave me the motivation to get back into further education. Five years of study enabled me to gain an Higher National Certificate (HNC) and a route to a better job. Promotion after promotion followed. By the age of 49 I was running an organisation with a £30m turnover and 530 staff. But I decided to take early retirement at the age of 50 and focus my life on more self-improvement and putting something back into the community. I actually now read reasonably well, but find doing so exhausting as I have to concentrate quite hard. I also read quite slowly. My spelling and grammar are not top notch, but that’s a characteristic of me which I quite like. David, Birmingham, UK

Read more experiences The shame felt by people who struggle to read and write

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