In the United States alone, it’s estimated that there are around 32 million adults who don’t have the ability to read. Among them was Norman Brown, a man from Bakersfield, California that was able to conceal his illiteracy for his entire life. He even made it to the 10th grade with all of his classmates without any knowing that he couldn’t read.
“If the kids found out you couldn’t read, you’re done,” he said. “Anywhere you go, they’re going to pick on you.” It was also at this time that he declined to play any games of Scrabble with fellow students and avoided certain
“Back then they sort of set you aside,” he said. “I don’t know how I got to the 10th grade. This is insane that I went so far in school.”
As he became an adult, Brown struggled to maintain his secret while also trying to live a productive life. Brown had some of his friends help with tasks that included paperwork, especially when it came to applying for jobs.
Once he got into his 40s, Brown decided that it was time to make a change. With that, he found the Kern Literacy Council and started being taught by a tutor on how to read. It took four years, but Brown was able to get a hang of it and now says that the “sky is the limit” for him.
Because of his new reading ability, Brown was able to land a steady job, launching a body shop that he owns to restore classic cars. His favorite among the classic cars is the Ford Model T, which he drives to the library to pick up new books to read.
Brown also noted that you don’t have to leap into long novels to enjoy reading. His favorite book that he’s read so far is Arnold Lobel’s classic “Frog and Toad”. If you’re not familiar, the series is an easy to read one for children that you can find in many classrooms, though the series was only produced from 1970 to 1979.
Now, Brown is hoping that other adults who have struggled with literacy will see his story and follow suit. He credits a man named Ed at the Kern Literacy Council for helping him out, and thinks that others can get the same help.
“I can’t stress enough for men and women out there that can’t read, go to class, do whatever it takes to do. Get into a tutoring program and do it because life will be a lot better on you. It really will,” he said.