Finding Inspiration To Battle Illiteracy

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John Jones, 52, is just now learning to read - with the help of his daughters.
CBS

Ayesha and Latisha Jones need to take a break in their own homework to help their dad.

Because at 52 years old, John Jones is just now learning to read, CBS News correspondent Seth Doane reports.

"I was so embarrassed, so ashamed, and I just felt like, man, I'm a nobody!" he said.

For many years, unable to read a menu or a bus schedule, Jones was just one of the estimated 65,000 adults in Buffalo, N.Y. who cannot read above a 5th-grade level.

And a new study shows the problem getting worse in many states.

California, New York and Florida have all shown dramatic increases in illiteracy rates.

The figures have improved in a few states, like Mississippi, Rhode Island and Kentucky. But worldwide, the United States doesn't stack up too well in general.

Fourteen countries rank higher in reading ability than the United States, including Finland, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Ireland, South Korea, UK, Japan, Sweden, Iceland, Belgium, Austria, France and Norway.

Back in Buffalo, a program called Read to Succeed targets the problem early, teaching pre-schoolers shapes, colors and letters.

"We have a lot poverty and that means a lot of the children don't have the skills, but they have the potential," said Helene Kramer of Read to Succeed Buffalo.

The theory is: you're never too young or too old to learn. Working with Buffalo's literacy volunteers has given Jones a fresh start.

"They gave me a chance to open a door that I could never open before," he said. "Hallelujah - I could never open it before, because I couldn't read."

It's not easy, but Jones says seeing his daughters read inspired him to try.