CBS "60 Minutes" Correspondent Byron Pitts Shares Surprising History with Educators

November 9th, 2010

CBS “60 Minutes” Correspondent Shares Surprising History with Educators

By Lisa Norris and Ward Norris
Nov 9, 2010 at 9:35 AM CST

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Conference Chairman, TTU’s Dr. Deborah Setliff looks pleased. The chair of this year’s Tennessee Reading Association conference, it is clear that she has looked forward to this moment for some time and that it is living up to her high expectations.

Keynote speaker, CBS journalist Byron Pitts, well known for his contributions to “60 Minutes,” interviews with six presidents, foreign correspondence from fields of battle and work with the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric, takes the microphone and begins to tell his surprising story.

Educators at the Tennessee conference are gathered for one organizing reason: to unite communities, families and schools in the development of literacy. It is Pitt’s job to inspire them to continue their work, reminding them how important it can be in every individual’s life.

Pitts, author of Stepping Out On Nothing, captures his audience with an obstacle-filled, life story. It is difficult to picture the articulate, international journalist as a 12 year old youth with a pronounced stutter and an embarrassing secret. It is difficult to imagine that this word-weaver ever struggled to read.

But Pitts chronicles the defining moments in his life, moments that include an assessment that he should be institutionalized for his learning disabilities at twelve.

Crediting the faith and tenacity of his mother, Pitts talks about learning to read at that relatively late age and having a limited vocabulary as a result. Several of his mentors encouraged him to keep going; Pitt’s listened to them, even though he was discouraged to quit by certain educators at several junctures through college.

Pitts persevered and, ultimately, achieved great success.

The powerful experiences of this journalist are used to underscore the importance of the work that these educators are doing. As Pitts puts it “You are angels” with the ability to change lives. He gives several examples of such “Angels” who have intervened in his life, those persons who “stepped out on nothing” — with nothing to gain, no reason to believe change was possible — and prompted him to move forward and manage the issues.

Some 30 million Americans go through life daily unable to read. Pitt’s compared this number to the entire population of the states of Ohio and New York put together. While Pitt’s said that the U.S. had one of the best education systems in the world, having been to several countries where only 10% of the population could read, the U.S. still had a lot of room for growth and improvement.

He complimented the attendees of the Tennessee Reading Association’s conference of 2010, and in the praise, reminded the literacy and reading teachers of just how incredibly important their jobs are.

Conference chair Setliff hopes that Pitt’s presence will help set the tone for this year’s conference, which includes a plethora of literacy professionals from the entire state.