Kathy Corcoran has undergone a remarkable transformation.
When her husband John Corcoran learned to read after 48 years of illiteracy, he asked her what she thought about him going out and telling the world his astonishing story-how he failed to learn to read in school, cheated his way through college and went on to become a teacher for 17 years without exposing his embarrassing secret.
John, who lives with his wife in Oceanside, said Kathy didn't want him to broadcast the details of his past. She said he should concentrate on learning the written language. “Just shut up and read,” was how he described her thoughts on the matter.
She's come a long way. A book John wrote about his years as a covert illiterate, The Teacher Who Couldn't Read, was published in 1994, and last Sunday, Kathy was there at the Barnes and Noble in Mira Mesa supporting her husband as preached the gospel of literacy.
And it was more than mere moral support. A handful of times throughout his talk, John would meander, lose his train of thought or fail to grasp the word he needed. But each time, Kathy was there to get him back on point or feed him the appropriate word, like a patient mom prompting her struggling son.
After one assist, he said, “My wife also fills in. All wives do this, but especially ones that have language-processing problems.”
“I have language-processing problems?” she broke in.
“No, I have language-processing problems. You fill the holes in,” he replied, not realizing he had misspoken. “We've been married for 37 and she still doesn't understand me.”
John's delivery seemed nervous but jovial, and he got progressively louder. He said that not being able to read meant not knowing how words are spelled, which led to mispronunciations. And there wasn't much of a vocabulary. “I used a lot of metaphors and analogies in my oral language to try to communicate things because I didn't have the words,” he told his small audience. “When you learn how to read and write and spell, your oral language skills change; they improve. And Kathy says I'm healing-I'm a better husband today than I was before, right?” Kathy just smiled.
“Some people say, ‘Why didn't your wife teach you to read-she's literate,'” he said. “It's not a good idea for husbands and wives to try to teach each other certain things. Husbands should never try to teach their wives how to drive a car, and wives should never teach their husbands how to read.”
Now in his 60s, Corcoran is on a mission. He said it's “everybody's duty” to increase the population in the literate world. “As a matter of fact, everybody in this store that has a precious gift of literacy ought to be thinking about sharing that precious gift with somebody else,” he said.
And as his time had expired, Kathy Corcoran told him so by tapping her watch.