February 21, 2017
A new video series called “What Yuh Know” has been circulating on Facebook. The host asks people five questions which test their general knowledge and ability to spell. The goal of the video seems to be humour as it specially selects those who answer incorrectly and subjects them to ridicule through short video clips or memes inserted after their responses.
While “What Yuh Know” is not focussed solely on literacy, comments on the videos highlight the poor spelling and ridicule the interviewees. People have shared the video with no thought about how this affects those who have difficulty with reading and writing.
The Adult Literacy Tutors Association provides free reading and writing classes to adults (16+) and one of the videos produced by “What Yuh Know” featured an ALTA Level One student who was asked to spell a word. He was unable to spell it correctly and he was shamed. Since then he has not returned to his ALTA class or his workplace. We are trying to contact him to encourage him to return to ALTA.
The main reason people hesitate to come to ALTA is the stigma associated with not being able to read and write. Our students struggle with shame and fear before attending ALTA and it takes great courage to sign up for and attend the classes. Being shamed publicly has the potential to cause this student to never return to an ALTA class and to dissuade potential students from coming to ALTA. Shaming poor spellers increases stigma and encourages people to struggle silently rather than seek help.
The production and sharing of the video goes further to reinforce antiquated thinking about literacy. It enables the false idea that literacy and intelligence are one and the same. This thinking is evident in our use of the term ‘illiterate’ for someone who isn’t smart rather than someone who is unable to read.
Over the past 25 years ALTA has been battling to change these perceptions to bring an understanding that reading and spelling are skills, and like other skills such as sports and music, some people have an aptitude for them and others don’t. Research shows that about 30% of any population will have difficulty with reading and writing.
Research also shows that the ability to read, write and spell does not equate to the ability to think. Indeed there are thousands of people in Trinidad who struggle with spelling, reading and writing, but excel in many other areas from science and mathematics to fashion and design.
Some brains come wired for reading, spelling and writing. For some people these skills are easy while for others these are the most difficult skills they will ever have to learn. What’s important is understanding that this does not say anything about the person’s intelligence. Our effort and energy should be put into encouraging, educating and empowering people rather than into shaming them into silence.
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