January 28, 2008
The following story was written by Daniel Haines, from Edmonton, Alberta. Daniel is part of BLAST, a student speakers’ team from Alberta. This team is a group of literacy students who were trained to become professional speakers with Literacy Alberta.
Hi, my name is Danny Haines and I’m from Edmonton. I’ve been a student with the Project Adult Literacy Society, more commonly known as PALS for almost four years. Although I have been able to get by on my reading skills, my writing has left a lot to be desired. After meetings with a staff member, I found out just how weak those skills really were.
My reading was at about grade 8, but my spelling was only at a grade 2 or 3 level. How can someone be successful and spend 30 years in the same profession, buy and sell property, make investments, raise a family, volunteer with community organizations and yet not be able to write and not have anyone find out?
Well, here is my story. By the time I was in grade 4 or 5 my brother and I were getting into trouble both in and out of school. We were both expelled and sent to a reform school. Most of the education we got there was learning from other problem children how to get into more trouble. It wasn’t long before we were expelled from there and sent to a boys’ farm.
Shortly after that we decided to run away from home. Although I do not recommend this for most people, I really believe that decision saved my life. If my brother and I had gone back home, I know it would only have been a matter of time before we were back to our old ways, and either ended up in prison or worse.
Instead, at the age of 15 we ran away to the United States and joined the circus. Yes, we really did join the circus! That’s where I spent the next 12 years. It was one of the greatest adventures of my life. I don’t know if I can really explain how much that time meant to me. I didn’t just grow up—I gained self-confidence. I learned to trust others, get along with and respect the people I worked and lived with. It gave me a foundation to build on, to work hard, and have a real sense of accomplishment for a job well done.
I was good with numbers and learned to read blueprints. As a roustabout, you had to be able put all the equipment together, take it down, maintain it and do any repairs. With the skills I learned from my circus days, I was able to switch to the sign business fairly easily. In those days, people were willing to hire you whether you had a high school diploma or not. You learned by "hands on" experience.
I spent nearly 30 years in the sign business and no one ever knew I could barely write. I would read the paper every day, and watched the news on TV, so that I was always up on current affairs and sports. Everyone just assumed that you had to be able to write and I was not about to tell them any different.
I knew all the tricks to fool everyone. Any time I had to fill out forms for taxes, or time sheets, I would be too busy or forget to do them while I was at work. That way I could take them home and do them. If there was a work order or report I couldn’t take home, I usually had cheat sheets or catalogues around so I could look up the words I needed and would always manage to be able to do it when no one was around to see. When the kids needed help with their homework, if it was math I would help out, but if they wanted me to read over a story they had written, I would tell them I had a rough day at work and to get mom to do it instead.
[This story was taken with permission, from the Literacy Alberta website, under Students' Centre.]