HomehistoryThe Many Causes of Poor Literacy
A number of these women were illiterate, because they had to work to help provide for their families. It’s not unreasonable to think some of the original female baseball players came from similar backgrounds.
Courtesy of the Library of Congress

We all have those movies that always reduce us to tears. I just watched one of mine: A League of Their Own. I love this movie, even if I don’t care for sports in general.

The scene that gets me every time, no matter how happy or content I am otherwise, is the one where the girl, Shirley Baker, can’t read her name on the roster. It just breaks my heart every time, because I know exactly how she felt.

Even now, sometimes I can’t read in public places, since the environment has such a massive effect on my dyslexia. Sure, I’m an avid reader, and write well enough to make people want to read what I create, but the wrong environment still puts the breaks on any attempt at reading.

It doesn’t happen often, and when it does, I can usually get around it, but it’s still humiliating. Usually, I’m already pretty miserable, because I’m dealing with a combination of the following things when it happens:

  • Physical discomfort or pain (if I’m way too cold, way too hot, hurt, sick or otherwise physically suffering)
  • Lots of background noise
  • Someone trying to keep my attention as I’m trying to read
  • Bad font/layout of reading material

I can usually deal with one or two of those things happening at the same time, but when I’m already stressed by most or all of them, my brain just can’t handle the extra work.

Those scattered experiences are a huge part of why the sight of Shirley struggling under the scrutiny of that coach and group of women has such a powerful impact on me. It brings back memories of being forced to the front of the classroom to do something I was already having problems with, and of those more recent adulthood experiences.

That character picked the skill up relatively easily throughout the film, so there probably wasn’t an LD involved. I have the feeling that lack of education came down to her family’s poverty and the sexism endemic in the world of education back then, but the emotional nature of that experience is pretty universal.

There are many reasons why people can’t read or write well, and I wish the general population would realize that. My personal lapses are directly linked to my dyslexia, but even in a wealthy country like the US, not all kids are given the advantages money can buy.

Safe areas cost more to live in, and when the immediate population is generally wealthier, schools tend to be better. If there’s only one parent in the picture, or both parents are working more than one job, they may not be able to be there to help with homework. If another child has a serious disorder, illness or disability, they may need more attention than their sibling. Unfortunately, that can lead to serious consequences for the child who seems to be getting by on their own.

If a student is dyslexic, it’s even harder for low income families to get the services they need. Schools are too often unable or unwilling to help, and there aren’t enough low-to-no cost tutoring programs available to serve everyone in need.

There’s also the fact that not everyone speaks English as a first language. Learning how to speak a language is one thing, but learning how to read and write in it is something else entirely. Romance languages at least share a very similar alphabet, but languages from India, the Middle East, Russia, China, Japan and all other parts of the world have their own alphabets. It takes time to learn any language, especially the ones that keep breaking their own rules, like English.

I always cringe when I see someone coming down hard on someone else for lapses in reading or writing because of a combination of those possibilities and my personal experiences.

What happened to offering assistance or at least showing some compassion for someone who’s obviously struggling?

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