Illiteracy: The Battle That Never Ends

Interview by Ron Baines, DLC literacy tutor and WSU/Interdisciplinary Studies alumnus

Ron Baines is one of TAP tutors and also a graduate of Wayne State University. He started this program as an undergraduate at the Self-Help Rehabilitation Center and has watched the development of TAP over the last year. He started with one-on one tutoring and now has graduated to group tutoring. He shared some of his perspective on the tutoring experience. 

Detroit, the motor city and largest metropolitan city in the State of Michigan, is also one of the highest in illiteracy. Reading, writing and arithmetic are a few of the things that we as Americans have taken for granted. However, having all the resources at our finger tips has not always been an advantage to all of us. Some people for various reasons have let opportunities slide by. Basic skills help most of us survive in day-to-day life, and without these skills a person can become unemployed, drug dependent or incarcerated depending. The inner city of Detroit has a program called Technology Accelerated Program (TAP) which caters to the functionally illiterate person. The TAP program seeks support from local area corporations to train tutors and manage a network of centers. At these centers, illiteracy foments and thrive and it is there that TAP succeeds the most with this captive population that have fallen by the way side. Some may see the TAP into literacy program as Detroit’s best kept secret, because the existence of the program has not reached the masses and the public’s not fully aware of the assistance they can receive in the literacy field. Bridging the gap between social classes starts with literacy; if knowing is half the battle then, knowledge is the key to the door to success and the TAP program has cracked the door open for a couple of hundred learners this year alone. Working with these learners towards the goal of literacy is fulfilling but there are a few things that must be understood by the tutors and instructors to achieve this. Education cannot be taken for granted; you must understand different personal situations and always keep an open mind. Not everyone has had the same experiences in the schooling process. Stories abound about negative experiences. 

From pre-kindergarten on through elementary, middle and high school, I find that so many learning handicaps are present in the lives of the learners such as such as A.D.D. and dyslexia and other physical and mental disorders. Most of the learning disabilities that are public knowledge today were not even thought of when most of the TAP program learners were in school, so some have been at a big disadvantage. It is not easy for all our learners to grasp the seeds of learning and not all are in the right type of environment to nurture these seeds so they can blossom into literacy. The TAP program has been strategically setup in locations where illiteracy is a major problem. They have set up literacy classrooms at several rehabilitation facilities and family centers around the city of Detroit. Inside these facilities you can find families- mothers and their children or recovering addicts whose choice of drug range from alcohol to heroin. The TAP program is there to help them reorient themselves into the education process – whether it is to brush up on there reading or math skills, or to get ready for there GED or college entrance exams. This program attracts persons of all educational skill levels, from a sixty-five year old man with a third grade reading ability to a twenty one year old woman preparing for her GED. The TAP program caters to each individual’s needs and after they have been tested, the correct curriculum is put into place to help them along their educational journey. The learners in the program have the hardest job, and that is to admit that they need help and to reach out for additional assistance. Every person’s situation is different, and no one can possibly know what another person’s life is like without actually living in his/her shoes. 

The TAP program has helped me to become more sensitive and compassionate towards others less fortunate. I have come to learn that everyone has not been given the same opportunities as I have and that not all family structures are as supportive and nurturing as the one I grew up in. Every person has a story to tell, some are not as joyful as others and the endings do not always come out happy. The learners in the TAP program have had to overcome some of the toughest obstacles ranging from family disruptions, drug addiction to incarceration. The TAP program helps learners from all backgrounds and walks of life; some have just strayed from educational path and need help finding their way back and others just let the streets become their scholastic institute and learned the lessons of hard knocks. Working as a tutor you have to encounter and address each individual and his/her demon from the educational past, whether it is reading, writing or arithmetic. Once learning is acknowledged, then the tutor has to work closely with the learner to make sure that the demon does not reappear and disrupt the learner’s newfound zest for knowledge. 

into place to assure that each learner has the tools that are needed for them to survive in the new world which is controlled by education and technology. Each learner has a fear factor; the fear is not failure, since they feel as though they have already failed, the fear is success, an unreachable goal in the world they have become accustomed to. To succeed at learning means they have actually accomplished a goal; they have gotten over an obstacle which has hindered them from tapping into their full potential and living their lives productively. Everyone cannot be taught the same way because of the myriad of circumstances surrounding the learners. 


Learning is a lifelong experience that everyone has a part in, including those who have had difficulties in the past grasping certain fundamentals. It is the responsibility of the tutor to find different methods of learning to stimulate learners. The only way for a tutor to be successful is he/she must keep an open mind and be willing to use different techniques to jump start a learner’s thirst for knowledge. Not all learners can be taught in the conventional ways; for some you have to go outside the lines and enter a new realm of teaching by putting problems in a category they are familiar with. Some of the learners have been in the system (Judicial) for so long, that is all they know and all they can comprehend. Institutionalized, is the word most commonly used to describe such a life. This does not necessarily mean being incarcerated, it means being used to a certain way of life, good sometimes but most often bad. A tutor in the TAP program has to use various resource available to tap into a learner’s dormant scholastic skills. From time to time, the methods can be considered unconventional because the streets become the guidelines and the learners past experiences become the blue prints to literacy. A person’s past usually becomes a person’s future, since the past usually repeats itself. Thus, with the intervention of education, the learner’s future is enhanced. By providing familiar situations for the learner, it increases their comfort level and they are then able to excel and grasp the lesson plan while learning the underlined message provided. Using street terms, phrases and situations is not encouraged, but a tutor often finds himself transforming these situations into terms, phrases and situations used in the academy to bridge the gap between the streets and scholastic achievement. The open mindedness helps both the learner and the tutor to become more acquainted with each other and they both understand where the other may be coming from educationally, personally. They both are open to change. 

The TAP into literacy program has helped many find that hidden scholastic competency from within and will continue to do so as long as contributors such as Verizon Wireless, Comcast Cable and IBM, to name few, continue their support financially and morally. Literacy is one of the largest problems in the United States and has become an embarrassment to the city of Detroit. Programs such as TAP makes a significant contribution one learner at a time. TAP tutors are caring, open-minded, patient yet demanding individuals who demonstrate a love for learning and for sharing.

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