Part art, part heart, part science

Literacy advocate seeks to bring struggle into the open
Mar. 24, 2014 @ 10:44 PM

Teacher and literacy advocate John Corcoran said the key to literacy is “part art, part heart and a growing part of science.”

More than 50 members of the community gathered to hear him tell his struggles with reading at First Presbyterian Church on Monday night. Through tears and laughter, he read and relayed stories of desperation to get through school, college and his teaching profession.

“I’m still amazed that he could teach, that his students didn’t catch on,” First Baptist Church member Lisa Byrom said. “It makes me want to get the book to see how he did it.”

Corcoran, who did not learn to read until age 48, said his intentions were never to speak out about his literacy. He said he, liked most, wanted to keep it secret.

“It was a shame-based secret that we carried from the third grade into adulthood,” he said. “America also keeps it a secret. I stand here today moving the boiling water from the back burner to the front burner.”

Since learning to read, though, the former teacher has written two books detailing his struggle: "The Bridge to Literacy" and "The Teacher Who Couldn't Read."

Corcoran’s message asserted the importance of research, evaluation of teachers and classroom practices.

“Over 90 percent have the ability to read,” he said. “We have yet to close the gap between what we know and what we do.”

Many in attendance agreed with Corcoran’s viewpoint.

“I am a retired teacher who was frustrated when children didn’t always want to learn to read but thrilled when a light went off in a student’s head,” First Baptist Church member Linda Weaver said. “Reading is fundamental. I always wanted the people I taught to read to love it as much as I do. John’s story is one of many people, heart-breaking and eye-opening.”

Community organizations set up in the fellowship hall following the program. Some advocated for better resources in the Henderson and Vance County community.

Perry Memorial Library adult services librarian Jennifer Brax said she expressed the need for books that adults who were having trouble could enjoy when she was a special education teacher. She said she was pleased the library features books specifically written for adults who struggle with reading.

“I needed stories that are written for adults, not the regular Dick and Jane, not children’s stories,” she said. “If you don’t have their interest, you don’t have anything.”

Corcoran’s speech in Henderson is one of 10 he will give across the state in the coming months, according to Katie Waters, member of the New Hope Presbytery Literacy Task force that brought Corcoran to Henderson. The organization is currently working to bring in training and evidence-based resources to communities to decrease the literacy rate.

“When you have that call to action, you have to have the resources for the community to meet that call,” Waters said.


Contact the writer at