The problem with getting by: illiteracy in America


Meghan Krein

Imagine if you couldn’t read this. Not because you didn’t have access to the article or your vision was impaired, but because you literally couldn’t read. Amanda Landingham knows that feeling — firsthand. 

Amanda, now a senior majoring in Educational Studies at ASU’s Mary Lou Fulton College, went to high school in Michigan. In a town with a population fewer than 10,000, Amanda says, “There were limited resources and exposure to experiences in school.” She and her sister both struggled with reading and comprehending, but “I masked my inabilities and was never identified as a poor reader,” Amanda recounts.

The blame game

She shares how embarrassed she was to be illiterate. “I did everything in my power not to bring attention to myself in school. I got by by doing the bare minimum.” Amanda would copy homework, ask her friends for help or just, flat-out, not do the assignments. At the time, Amanda was grateful for getting by. Today, she holds a very different opinion. “Unfortunately, my teachers accepted this behavior and passed me on.”

Oftentimes, in situations such as Amanda’s, along with teachers, parents take the brunt of the blame. But each situation is unique, especially when a single parent is raising two children and working full time. This was the foundation of Amanda’s case. “My mother worked hard to provide for my sister and me. She worked the evening shift and I don’t remember being read to or getting help with homework.” That said, Amanda in no way faults her mother. “I’m sure it was very difficult being a single mother in a declining economy, with two small children and no outside assistance.”

Amanda speculates she may have had a learning disability (although not ever formally diagnosed). “Even at a young age, I realized that I processed information differently. It would take me longer to read directions or make sense of simple instructions.”

Amanda Landingham

A fresh start

In 2008, Amanda moved from Michigan to Arizona with the ultimate goal to pursue a college degree — and get a fresh start. “I knew there would be challenges, but I was determined,” she says. Amanda began attending a local church and quickly connected with a family of educators. “They would help me read elementary grade-level material and taught me strategies to read, comprehend and increase my vocabulary and fluency.” Amanda credits this family for her desire to become an educator. “I want to provide the same support to students. More than anything, I want to be an example to students that, no matter the circumstances, they can achieve.

While working the overnight shift at Walmart, Amanda completed her first two years of college at Chandler-Gilbert Community College. At the beginning of her last year, Amanda stumbled across something that would change the trajectory of her life. In the process of doing her financial aid, Amanda found a scholarship program called Positive Paths.

Positive Paths is a local organization that awards educational scholarships to women in the East Valley. Its goal is to remove any barriers that may keep a woman from getting an education. Amanda applied the first semester of her second year at CGCC and was denied. Not one to let herself get discouraged, she applied again her second semester and was awarded a scholarship. “Positive Paths has continued to support me throughout my time at Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College,” Amanda tells us. Recently, Amanda spoke at the Positive Paths annual gala about her experiences. “I’ve been able to earn a 4.0 GPA while working full-time and volunteering,” she says.

Setting her sights on education

Amanda is also quick to credit Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. “When I got accepted to the college, I received so much support. I immediately felt at home. There are so many resources that I utilized, such as the tutoring center and advisors.”

Her greatest reward, Amanda says, has been creating her University Service Learning Project: Rent-A-Reader. The program provides mentors to students who struggle with reading and lack the enthusiasm to read. “The end goal is to increase their fluency, comprehension and vocabulary, while boosting their confidence and motivation to read,” Amanda tells us. “Being a part of Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College also provided me with a network of peers and mentors who will support me long after college.”

As Amanda reflects back to just a few short years ago, she notices not only an internal difference, but a physical one. She stands taller and prouder. “I am more confident and determined than ever before. I pushed past my own limitations and conquered goals I never dreamed I could.”

As for the future, Amanda plans to become an educator in some way, “Whether it be in the classroom or in the corporate world, it’s important to me that I take all of the skills and knowledge I’ve obtained and use them.”

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