Literacy

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Mom shares her secret after 40 years: Effects of Illiteracy

Video Transcript

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[Crowds of people walking on city streets. Words on screen.] Revealing Deep Secrets. Can Change Lives Forever. The Most Intimate Moments of their Lives. Filmed Entirely by Themselves. Secret Lives of Americans.

[Sign reads Mount Vernon. Railroad tracks; woman walking in restaurant]

[Woman speaking] My name is Cleo, I’m 54 years old. I’m from Mount Vernon, Alabama.

[In restaurant. Female server speaking] Hey! How’re you doing today?

[Cleo] I’m doing good, thank you.

[Female Server] Can I get you started today with some peach tea or some Coke?

[Cleo] Do you have pink lemonade?

[Female Server] We have pink lemonade, yes, ma’am.

[Cleo] I’ll take that.

[Female Server] Ok, I’ll be right back with your lemonade.

[Cleo] All right, thank you.

[Cleo] I’m very close with my family, but I have kept a secret from them all of my life. [family pictures]

Mainly I dodge these kinds of restaurants because of the menu. There’s no picture for the food that you want to order.

[Cleo now speaking to female server] What’s the best thing that you have?

[Female Server] We have the Sampler, which is going to be right here on the menu.[Close up view of menu]

[Cleo] Ok, I’ll think I’ll try that.

[Female Server] Ok, well, I’ll get that ready for you, shouldn’t take too long.

[Cleo] Ok, thank you.

[Female Server] My pleasure.

[Cleo] This is the way that I do when I go into a restaurant with nothing but reading on the menu. I just order whatever the waitress tells me about.[Server brings sampler]

[Cleo in car] I have a secret. My secret is I didn't learn to read. I went through 12 years of school and I didn’t learn to read [Cleo begins to cry].

[Words on screen] About 1 in 6 adults, 36 million Americans, have less than a basic literacy level. *organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development.

[Cleo driving] Everything you do we need to know how to read. When you go up and down the road you need to know how to read the signs. I do a lot of landmarks, a lot of colors and lot of trees and a lot of different objects. And when I do it once, I always remember how to go back. I was truck driver for 17 years. I was able to manage getting my Class A license because they had an audio recording and it would read you the questions and answers and it was multiple choice answers and then you choose from multiple choice and I passed that test, thank God.

This is where I went to middle school. This is where my brother found out about my reading. He started to help me with my homework. You must expect that I don’t have a diploma from high school, but I do. [Walking in neighborhood and yard] Looking back I don’t know how I got that diploma...looking back, I don't know. I have been really hard on myself, thinking that maybe there was something that I had done.

I was afraid that my friends would find out and wouldn’t want to be friends with me anymore, I felt like they would think I was a dummy or something, you know.

[Women speaking - man reading in a library]. The stigma surrounding illiteracy prevents a lot of people from asking for help.

[Man speaks] You feel like you are the only one.

[Woman driving a bus - another man speaking] She hid her lack of reading skills from everyone, even her daughters. [woman] I was ashamed.

It’s very common for people to hide it and they figure out how to work around disclosing the fact that they don’t know how to read.

[Female newscaster on NBC] The test results are in and for American students the numbers are going in the wrong direction.

[Man speaking in library from ABC news] Undiagnosed learning disorders, poverty, unstable home life are all factors contributing to illiteracy.

[Female newscaster] For America, an economic super power, its young people are not where they need to be for the future.

[Words on screen] 25% of 12th grade high school students do not meet a basic level of reading achievement. * US Department of Education

[Cleo at Goodwill] I’d spend some time out here in the parking lot at the Goodwill Easter Seals trying to decide if I was going to go in. This is where my reading begins. [Enters] And I’ve been learning ever since. I’m making progress in my reading, but I’m still too nervous to tell my sons about my secret

[Outside with son, hugs son]. My oldest son Brian is 22 years old. [in car with son] Brandon is 17 years old. I have raised Honor students and I’m very proud of them, but I’ve been afraid to tell them all of my life.

I do think I am ready to tell my sisters and my family first. [family get-together] This is my little Cyleigh [Cleo’s niece] This is my baby. My little Cyleigh and my little Cleo. These are my nieces. I am very nervous about how they are going to feel when I tell them about me not being able to read. I don’t want my nieces to be able to end up like me. I want them and my sons to do better than I did.

[Speaking to family] I wanted to share something with you guys about myself that I haven’t shared, not that I wanted to keep secrets from the family because we normally talk about everything. [pause] When I went to high school, I didn’t learn to read. [Family is silent and choked up].

[Cyleigh] Well, I feel..I don’t really no how to feel about it, but I am shocked, because how did you go this far?]

[Niece Cleo] I mean I thought you could read because I seen you read before.

[Cleo] Throughout my life, I made alternatives for things. When I went and turned the lights on, I asked them what date my bill was going to be due and I knew to go and pay my bills.

[Mildred, the sister] You're always so, so strong, pushing all the kids to get an education, get an education, because you accomplished so much without one; God is good, you still have a life ahead of you and you got to read.

[Cleo] I know, that yes

[Rebecca - sister] I hate that you’ve had to struggle with this so long, but at the same time I really do admire you...it's great...and I tried so hard, but for being as brave as you are and to go as far as you have in life, you really inspire me [Rebecca crying] to push harder. To push my kids harder and to pay more attention to it so they...and make sure that they are getting what they need from school.

[Cleo] When my niece came home one day and said, "Mama, everyone in class can read and I can’t." I think I cried on and off, well because, well I was so scared to hear those words, and I was so glad that you were able to tell your mom. And I wished I could have told somebody and I’m so happy you can read because then you’re going to come read me a story, right? [Niece shakes her head “yes”]

[Nephew] Maybe you all can read one together. [family laughs]

[Cleo] I would love to sit with Cyleigh and read with her some day.

[Mildred] Your family is behind you 100%.

[Cleo] I wasn’t able to read to my kids, but I am hoping to be able to read to my nieces. [hugs]

[screen reads] In a study of low literate adults, 53% have never told their children about their literacy problems. * Patient Education and Counseling Journal

[Shopping in grocery store] The hardest part of a grocery store is food that doesn’t have pictures on it. I don’t know what this is... [Looking at a bottle of aloe juice]. I don’t know what this is.

[Cleo in doctor’s office] When I do the doctor’s office, they give you a clipboard with all of this paperwork to fill out. It’s a lot of daily things that's tough, not being able to read.

[At home] A lot of my mail never gets opened. [box full of unopened letters] I just take it and put it in the box.

[Driving] Today, I am heading over to my oldest son Brian’s to reveal my secret to him. Brian is doing a double major in college. I pray that he continues to study.

Here I am. [getting out of car and entering apartment]

[Brian] Hey.

[Cleo] Hi.

[Inside apartment] Even though I have a high school diploma (long emotional pause), I didn’t learn how to read.

[What she says sinks in, Brian speaks] Well, I could have been there for you, I could have been the one to help you. But I am glad you finally came to me and talked about it.

[Cleo] Well it’s kind of tough. I feel like I haven’t been there for you as much as I should have been.

[Brian] You have been a big role model in my life. Being a single parent, just minimal income...all I can do is just be thankful for what we have. I just want you to know I appreciate anything. If you ever need help with anything...you have been helping me out for 22 years of my life and it is time for me to start paying back. And I just want to say I love you.

[Cleo] I love you, too

[Brian] Always in my eyes you will be superwoman.

[laughter and hugs]

[Cleo] My biggest concern was Brian. But I am relieved that he took it the way he did. [blue sky]

[Cleo in classroom, woman starts speaking] This is Cleo and we’re going to hear Cleo read. She’s one of our people that did really really well in the program.

[Cleo reading] ...in fact in the end, it was kind of nice. [clapping]

[Woman] That was really good.

[Cleo smiling] Thank you all for listening. I am very proud of myself. I did it! I am very relieved.

I think I am ready to read to my nieces. [driving] Reading to my class gave me the confidence I needed. I think I'm ready to read to my nieces. So I am headed to the library.

[Talking to librarian] Hi, I was just wondering if you can help me to get a library card. I am working on learning how to read.

[Librarian at desk] Very good. Now it's that quick. Your card is in the system and activated. You now have a library card. Welcome to the library.

[Cleo] Thank you.

[Librarian] You’re welcome

[Cleo] I never had a reason to get a library card. Now I got a library card and I am going to try to work with it and use it. I always wanted to read many books, every book. [laughs] I wished I could read every book. [looking at books and choosing] I am going to try this book.

[librarian] Thank you, I need your library card.

[Cleo] This is my very first library book

[librarian smiling] Well let’s not make it the last. Get more after this one.

[Cleo] Thank you so much.

[Cleo driving] I feel marvelous, I feel marvelous.

[Cleo reading to nieces] The Tale of Naughty Little Rabbit. This is a good book. [Cleo reading] here he is, look, one naughty little rabbit running for his life.

Now that I have revealed my secret I feel like a lot of weight has come up off of me...that I can move a little bit better, do a little bit better, [Music playing]. It’s a lot of people in the world like me. I would like my story to help them, not just young people, but old people get themselves some help. I feel good with the thought of being able to read and go to college - a dream that I have always had since high school. [Smiling]

[Walking with son]

[With nieces. Cyleigh speaking.] I think this is the first time that I enjoyed reading.

[Cleo] Maybe we can read more and more books together so both of us can get better and better as we go. I am not going to let anything get in my way. The weight of the world is off my shoulders.

Credits: all 3 Media American. MME filmpool

Video Transcript

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Video Title: For My Daughter

ProLiteracy logo.

[Garage door Man with daughter entering garage to get a toy red wagon]

[Dad] You are going to need your wagon today. You know that right?

[Daughter smiling] Yes.

[Dad] Are you excited?

[Daughter smiling] Yes.

[Dad] Are ya? Because you’re going to get so many books, your going to have to have a wagon to put them in.

[Daughter] Yep, I am going to get a lot.

Give you me a hug. I hope you’re excited, you’re excited aren’t you?

[Daughter] Yep.

[Dad] Great.

[Daughter] Bye!

[Dad]. Love you.

[Music] They wave goodbye.

[Music playing] Girl pulls wagon along sidewalk and goes into the library. She chooses a book. She brings a big stack of books to the librarian and smiles. She piles the books in the wagon and brings them home. Dad enters home and takes off jacket. Girls shows him a book.

[Daughter] Look what I got at the library.

[Man] Wow. [He looks at them spread out on the dining room table.] Wow, you did get a lot of books.

[Daughter] I carried them all myself.

[Camera close up of children’s books and phonics books] Wow, you got a lot of books.
Did you already read some of them? Which ones did you read?

[Daughter points to books] This one and that one and this one. This one is really fun.

[Dad] You like that one? [Picks up book titled The Little Engine That Could] What’s this one?

[Daughter] That’s The Little Engine That Could. That’s my favorite of ALL the books.

[Dad] Hmmmm. Wow, I’m excited. You hungry?

[Daughter] Yeah!

[Later, Dad reading the book, The Little Engine That Could, slowly and carefully to his daughter on the couch] All these wonderful things to the good little boys and girls on the other side of the mountain. She puffed along verily. Then all of sudden she stopped with a jerk. She simply could not go another inch. She tried and she tried but her wheel would not turn.

[Daughter hugs Dad] I’m so proud of you, Daddy. [She kisses his cheek]

[He tears up and continues reading] What were all those good little boys and girls on the other side of the mountain going to do?

[Words on screen with music ] Every adult has the ability to fulfill his or her life through literacy. - Proliteracy.

[Proliteracy logo. Words on screen: 36 million adults in America can’t read. They need your help. Join the fight for a more literate society!]

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