Conquering Illiteracy: One Man's Fight

After decades of hiding his struggle, a grandfather reads for his grandson.

December 18, 2008, 12:57 PM

Dec. 27, 2008 — -- Two years ago, reading a holiday book to his 3-year-old grandson Chip would have been impossible for Charles Goolsby. But this year, after countless hours of hard work, Goolsby is finally able to read a holiday story -- something he was never able to do for his own son and daughter.

"I was totally humiliated, a grown man with reading and writing skills that are not up to par," said Goolsby, 56, of Fontana, Calif. "I had nothing to lose, because I was at my bottom, my lowest point."

Recently divorced and recovering from heart surgery, Goolsby was entering a new phase of his life. Fixing car transmissions was his specialty. He even owned his own business with the help of his son, but facing retirement, his safety net was disappearing.

"If I needed something, I'd always say, 'Well, give me the paper, I'll go home and fill it out,' or I'd take my wife with me," said Goolsby. "People with the same disability that I have, you know how to get around stuff, you learn the shortcut for someone to help you."

It's not uncommon to find adults headed for retirement who do not have sufficient reading skills. Goolsby began as one of 30 million American adults who cannot read beyond a simple sentence and the 7 million who can't read at all, according to the National Institute for Literacy.

Rosie Manela, adult literacy program director at the Rancho Cucamonga Library, where Goolsby takes literacy lessons, said fear of embarrassment often prevents adults from seeking help.

"It is sad, because in this fast-paced technology, this competitive global economy, our country is going to suffer if we don't do anything about that," she said.

Goolsby's daughter Nicole, a voracious reader herself, made it her mission to get her dad into a reading class.

"I felt like, he had put me through college and law school, it's the least I can do to be able to give back to him and help," Nicole Goolsby said.

Goolsby is grateful for his daughter's devotion.

"This is an opportunity to tell her how happy I am that she went on with pursuing and insisting on me going, because at first I was pretty stubborn," he said.

Goolsby's tutor, Barbara Potter, said he started with the reading ability of a second grader.

"He came in, he was so down on himself, he was so intimidated by the world. And now he's like, I can do this," said Potter. "The self-esteem and confidence that has been building up in him is unbelievable. It's not so much how well he's reading. It's about how much better he feels about himself."

So this Christmas, Goolsby begins a new chapter of his life, and a new chapter for his family.

"I got to hear his happiness and joy about the books he was reading for his book group," said Nicole. "He was so excited, and wanted to share his thoughts from the book and that was exciting."

Check out the information below to find literacy resources for both adults and children.

ProLiteracy Local Literacy Program Directory: 888-528-2224

Finding a Local Literacy Program

Enter your location and what kind of help you need: Options include reading and writing, studying for the GED, learning English as a second language and more. To find a literacy program near you, click here.

To search literacy resources by state, click here.

National Literacy Programs and Services

Click here to see the various programs and services offered by the National Institute for Literacy, a federal agency that provides resources on literacy research, practice and policy.

Adult Education and Literacy Resources

The U.S. Department of Education also provides programs and resources to help American adults get basic literacy necessary to be productive workers and citizens.

The Center for Adult English Language Acquisition provides instructional tools and program development tools for teachers.

Health Literacy

It's important to be health literate -- to have an understanding basic health information and services necessary to make appropriate health decisions. The National Coalition For Literacy explored this issue in the Health Literacy Policy Forum.

Motivating Children to Read

Click here for resources intended to help parents looking to motivate their children to read. Just select an age group to look up ways you can build your child's literacy skills and suggestions for what you can do to encourage your child.

Click here for printable parent guides.

Looking For Jobs in Literacy?

Click here to look at literacy-related employment opportunities.

Join the Discussion on Literacy

Click here to join a discussion group on literacy and related topics.