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Archive for the ‘Literacy/Illiteracy’ Category

This week’s blog covers an odd and controversial topic: a teacher who, after receiving a college degree and teaching high school for 17 years, was still unable to read or write. Read the article below and share your thoughts.

An Open Book
High School Teacher Who Couldn’t Read Shares His Story As An Advocate of Education

John Corcoran taught in the Oceanside Unified School District for 17 years and didn’t know how to read.

“(By the time) I was 48 years old, I had already graduated from college, taught school for 17 years in California, and I couldn’t read or write or spell my native language of English,” Corcoran said.

This spring, Corcoran, 70, will publish his second book, “Bridge to Literacy: No Child or Adult Left Behind.” “This book really is a call for action. It’s a call for gathering all the tribes on both sides of the bridge,” Corcoran said. “We, as a society, cannot leave all of this to the teachers.”

Corcoran’s first book, “The Teacher Who Couldn’t Read,” told his story of struggling through elementary and high school and then college, and his subsequent experiences as an illiterate educator. He said he wanted the world to know he didn’t beat the system by faking his way through life. “The system beats people who can’t read every single day,” Corcoran said.

He explained how he cheated his way through school by stealing copies of tests to memorize and having friends complete his assignments. “I knew how to read the system, and I knew how to read people,” Corcoran said.

He hid his secret from everyone except his wife, Kathleen. “My wife was the person who did my reading and writing for me. She was my translator in a sense,” Corcoran said.

Then he heard about a program at Carlsbad City Library that taught adults to read. He said he decided to try it in 1986, even though he doubted his ability to learn. “As an adult who doesn’t know how to read, we usually think something is wrong with our brain and we can’t learn,” Corcoran said. “So we give up on the system early, and we give up on ourselves and we carry this with us, this insecurity and fear of the written word.”

He recalled lying in bed every night and thinking he wouldn’t go back to his tutoring sessions because he didn’t think they would do any good.

“I was going because I almost felt sorry for this 65-year-old woman who thought she could teach me how to read,” Corcoran said. Some days the pair would hold their classes in a room at the fire station next door to the library. The firefighter who opened the door for them was one of Corcoran’s former students, so Corcoran asked his tutor to pretend he was teaching her how to read so his secret wouldn’t be revealed.

Corcoran said he participated in the program for 13 months and was able to improve his reading comprehension. “When I went from the second-grade level to the sixth-grade level, I thought I’d died and went to heaven. It whetted my appetite,” Corcoran said.

“What we do is help people participate in their life by helping them improve their literacy skills,” said Carrie Scott, literacy coordinator at the Carlsbad City Library.

Corcoran took some time to study on his own before going on to attend the Lindamood-Bell Learning Center in San Luis Obispo. He said he had several tests done to determine his abilities and spent about five weeks at the center one summer.

“I did about 120 hours of intensive treatment there,” Corcoran said.

At the end of the session, he was reading at the 12th-grade level. Corcoran became a strong believer in the phonics system used by the clinic. The instructors taught him how to use all 44 sounds in the English language by showing him what to do with his mouth and tongue.

“Because of the phonics system, I wanted to tell the world, ‘I’m not dumb! We’re not dumb! We can learn how to read with the proper instruction,” Corcoran said. He believes phonics should be the preferred teaching method in schools and changes in this philosophy should be made at the university level. He addresses his beliefs in his new book.

“The teachers have been battered for the last 20 years over this issue,” Corcoran said. “It’s time for us to include the universities, because how can we hold a teacher who went through the university system and got his or credentials (accountable)?”

Corcoran said he thinks the federal NCLB Act, passed in 2001, will help cure the illiteracy epidemic because of its Reading First component.

“It prescribes what we need to do,” Corcoran said. He thinks it is the best piece of reading legislation ever passed. The act is up for reauthorization, and Corcoran is worried that the limited support and budget cuts will mean the reading program will disappear, too. He said he has sent advance copies of his new book to local, state, and national representatives to share his story with them and to educate people on how to fix the problem.

His experiences led Corcoran to become an advocate for education, and he served under former presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton on the board for the National Institute for Literacy. He also served on the San Diego Council on Literacy and executive board of the Literacy Network of Greater Los Angeles.

Written by Stephanie K. Parry
The San Diego Union-Tribune

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I’m not quite sure how to feel about this. Yes, he overcomes a lifetime struggle, which is always good to hear (and while conveniently spilling the beans makes a bundle in book sales and television appearances). However, Corcoran states that he didn’t “beat the system by faking his way through life”, when in fact, it seems to me that is exactly what he did. I want to know what subject he taught!

He says the responsibility shouldn’t fall solely on teachers. But other than untrained parent tutelage, who else is supposed to teach? Isn’t that their job? 

Does anyone have a theory as to why he decided to become a teacher, out of all occupations he could have chosen? Do you think he sets a good example to future generations? As a spouse to such an individual, would you condone and even aid in his deception?

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