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10:03am Thursday 19th July 2012 in Letters
Sir – I was delighted to see that you carried an obituary for Rose Skinner last week — as one of last of the women to work on the Oxford Canal in its cargo-carrying days we owe her (and her late husband, Jack), a great deal.
Without their contribution to the campaign to keep the Oxford Canal we might well not have that wonderful green and watery corridor through North Oxford.
However, as someone who knew Rose well for the last 12 years of her life, and learned so much from her, I (and many at her funeral) was saddened by the use of the term ‘illiterate’ to describe her. While technically it merely refers to whether someone can read or write, in our culture it carries a considerable stigma and suggests not only a lack of education but a lack of ability as well. Rose simply didn’t have the opportunity to go to school very much, and when she did, both teachers and other children were dismissive and treated her as stupid. She was very skilled in her way of life and I found it fascinating to to see how she had learned by watching and copying a skill — something that many of us in our literacy-bound world find very difficult to do.
She could not, for example, understand how I, with all my schooling, couldn’t follow the speed at which she was showing me how to crochet!
For once, one of those politically correct terms fits the bill perfectly — she wasn’t illiterate, but differently literate. We have lost a great character in her passing.
Kate Saffin , Oxford Canal