Tom Sticht, retired International Consultant in Adult Education, shared his experiences with National Center for Family Literacy (NCFL) Board of Directors member Wally “Famous” Amos. The cookie connoisseur speaks to the importance of family literacy and his concern for the intergenerational effects of an adult’s literacy on their children’s literacy.
In 2002, I went to Louisville, Kentucky to do a presentation at the national conference of the National Center for Family Literacy (NCFL). During the convention, presenters and others associated with the NCFL were loaded onto a bus for a trip to Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby. We were there to participate in an evening social event.
On the bus from downtown Louisville, where the NCFL offices are located, I ended up in a seat with a member of the NCFL Board of Directors, a famous member at that. It was the cookie man widely known as Wally “Famous” Amos! As we chatted about who we were and why we were at the conference I learned that Amos and I shared a common thread of time in our backgrounds. We were both born in 1936, and we had both dropped out of an education activity to enlist in the U.S. Air Force. He had dropped out of high school and enlisted in the Air Force from 1955 to 1959. I had dropped out of college and enlisted in the Air Force from 1957 to 1961.
While in the Air Force, Amos pursued the General Educational Development (GED) degree and received it before he received an honorable discharge. During my service I completed over a year’s worth of college credits through night courses, which I transferred toward getting a degree when I got out of the Air Force with an honorable discharge.
While pursuing a variety of jobs following his Air Force service, Amos developed an interest in helping children and adults achieve growth in literacy skills. In 1979 he became a national spokesperson for Literacy Volunteers of America and later a member of the board of directors of the NCFL, in addition to undertaking numerous other activities to promote literacy education.
In an online interview (1), Amos was asked, “Is there a generation cycle of illiteracy?” He answered, “Absolutely, illiteracy can be passed on. But there are adults who break that cycle. You can do it if you want to and I don't think the question needs be whether it is hard or easy. The question should always be, is it possible? And everything is possible, you've just got to find a way to make it work.” In another online interview (2), Amos said, “"I encourage parents to read aloud to children at least from birth to 6 years old. I’d really like them to do it beforehand while they’re in the womb,"
On November 8, we celebrated National Parents as Teachers Day. We celebrate not only parents as teachers but also the adult literacy educators whose work has made it possible for many thousands of previously underprepared parents to read aloud and serve as first teachers of literacy for their children.
After my stint in the Air Force, I spent the bulk of my time over the next half century working on adult literacy education, including work related to Amos’ concern for the intergenerational effects of an adult’s literacy on their children’s literacy. In 1975 I commented on data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress for 1972 and said, “… the influence of parental education is overwhelming. The higher the educational level of the respondent’s parents, the better the respondent’s reading performance” (Sticht, 1975, p. 155).
Thirty-seven years later, in 2012, at the 21st National Conference on Family Literacy, I presented a paper summarizing decades of research on the intergenerational transfer of literacy from parents to their progeny (Sticht, 2011). In that paper, and many other writings, like Wally “Famous” Amos’ many speeches and interviews, I have argued for investing greater resources for adult basic education, early parenthood education, and family literacy programs as a means of breaking cycles of illiteracy/low literacy and promoting upward social and economic mobility across generations.
On Veteran’s Day we celebrated all of America’s veterans and give a special salute to those who have worked as educators to make our nation smarter, including parents, school teachers, adult educators, and, of course, cookie makers!
Sticht, T. (1975). Reading for Working: A Functional Literacy Anthology. https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED102532
Sticht, T. (3011). Getting It Right From the Start: The Case for Early Parenthood Education. https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ943722
Web Addresses for Online Interviews with Famous Amos mentioned in this piece:
(1) Amos interview re. Generational illiteracy: http://www2.hawaii.edu/~adamson/vol45a1.html
(2) Amos interview re. Encourage parents to read aloud: https://www.biography.com/personality/wally-amos