Monday, January 23, 2006

Happy Election Day!

Hey there SFLOers,

Thought I'd update you on all the news that's news. Didn't have the chance to blog much last week because I was at a work retreat learning about leadership and stress management (the second of which I failed at miserably during my attempted trip to Trent). Then most of my weekend was spent recovering from the three-hour drive back from Hell - or Perth - which I'm sure is lovely in summer.

But enough about my issues. It`s election day! So today is about EVERYBODY's issues. For those interested in reading the blogs of various politically savvy people who share their issues - may I suggest you start with my two favorites: Calgary Grit and Warren Kinsella. I've already trotted down to vote at the church down the street from my apartment. Given I was the only one in the room at the time besides the paid Elections Canada staffers, here's hoping it picks up! So make sure you vote!

If you haven't yet voted and are sitting thinking deep thoughts about the state of Canadian literacy and wondering what each of the major parties think about the issue you should probably give this a gander. It's the Political Party responses to the Movement for Canadian Literacy's election questionaire. The MCL's messaging has remained consistent for a while now - which is great. We shall see what happens following the election (Throne Speech, budget etc...). For any of you really interested in politics who haven't simply skipped this paragraph - I've done a few other postings on literacy and the election. The most recent one is HERE and then there's another one HERE. Sadly, I think all that I really concluded was that all major party leaders like children (which is a load off my chest - let me tell you) and that either Paul Martin, or someone on his staff, has a soft spot for Robert Munsch.

Those of you who've read the site before, may remember that I recently found a literacy site called Travelling to Literacy. Anyhoo - they had two interesting posts last week - one on Adolescent Literacy HERE and one on picture books for all ages HERE. On a personal aside - I showed my post on the Trent Conference to my co-worker who commented how the pictures were really what told the story. Found it an interesting comment on how pictures reinforce the written word. Those interested in more on the issue may wish to visit my previous post HERE.

For all the Robert Munsch fans in the house (someone should probably notify Liberal Party headquarters - so the Munsch fans there can get in on the love) be sure to check THIS out on Family Literacy Day - January 27.

Also on the Family Literacy Day front - anyone in the neighbourhood may wish to pop down to Heartwood House for ALSO Cares Family Literacy Day event. Info here:

Celebrating 25 Years of Service to the Ottawa Community 1981 – 2006
ALSOcares Family Literacy Day Events 2006

As in past years we will be celebrating Family Literacy Day in the Heartwood House Art Gallery with entertainment provided by a resident storyteller and singer. Everyone in the ALSO and ALSOcares programs will be invited on January 24, along with parents and children from the local kindergarten. We will listen to stories, sing-a-long, and have a tasty treat. The children will choose a stuffed animal as a new friend!

More info on ALSO Cares on their website HERE.

Moving along, in a roundabout way courtesy of Cachibachis I discovered Reading Rockets - which I will be adding to the Org Links down the side of the blog. American site whose blurb is as follows:

Reading Rockets is a national multimedia project offering information and resources on how young kids learn to read, why so many struggle, and how caring adults can help.

The Reading Rockets project is comprised of PBS television programs, available on videotape and DVD; online services, including the web sites and; and professional development opportunities. Reading Rockets is an educational initiative of WETA, the flagship public television and radio station in the nation's capital, and is funded by a major grant from the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs.

Next on the infotainment front - Read Alert links to:

1. A neat blog about how "Oprah should leave adult literature to her increasingly snippy, predatory critics and start selecting children's books for her book club."

2. Info that Posh Spice is now pulling a Madonna and has decided to write a children's book. This despite the fact that she has already told the world that she has never read a book in her life...

3. Information on Jan. 19 on their site that "Prince Caspian is going to be the next Narnia movie. It comes second in the ‘original order’ of the Narnia books, but fourth in chronological order (the order in which they were published). The next book in chronological order is The Horse and His Boy, which was apparently considered as the next film, but abandoned due to criticisms of the book as racist." (Note to self: Am now off to re-read The Horse and His Boy - of all the Narnia books it is the one I remember least. I may look to see if there is any similar comments to this one - as I have never heard this before). Previous posting on Narnia HERE.

To anyone looking for experience in the human rights-social justice field this came to my inbox today courtesy of the J-skool grad list serve:

Journalists for Human Rights (JHR) is a growing charitable organization using innovative and proven techniques to reduce human rights abuses. By building the capacity of the media to report effectively on human rights issues, JHR's work pressures abusers to stop and empowers victims to fight back. JHR works exclusively in Africa and North America. For more information please see .

JHR's Toronto office is currently seeking a full-time intern to coordinate JHR's outreach activities, under the direct supervision of JHR's Executive Director. Specific duties and qualifications are listed below. The successful candidate will be strongly self-motivated with proven communication, writing and personal skills.

Please forward a resume and cover letter in the body of an email (no attachments please) to Deadline: February 10th, 2006.


1. Refine and execute JHR's Communication Strategy
2. Write press releases, newsletters and other public information
3. Develop and maintain JHR's communication lists and databases
4. Work on JHR's fundraisers
5. Develop a JHR alumni program
6. Coordinate activities with JHR volunteers across Canada
7. Other duties associated with JHR's programs as requested


- Bachelor's degree in communications or journalism
- Experience working or volunteering with non-profits, hopefully in a communications role
- Demonstrable interest in human rights and international development
- Strong oral and written communication skills
- Understanding of the mission and mandate of Journalists for Human Rights
- Ability to work independently and as part of a team
- Experience in sub-Saharan Africa would be an asset
- Fluency in French, Portuguese and/or any African language(s) would be an asset

Finally, as for what's been in the papers for the last week and literacy-related - I didn't want to bombard you (stuff on Munsch and Family Literacy Day, Literacy Conference out in Nova Scotia - tied in to their IALLS results, and profile on a Laubach Literacy Learner out on the East cost were some of the other stories) but this one from mid-last week caught my eye:

PUBLICATION: The Chronicle-Herald
DATE: 2006.01.18
SECTION: Opinion
COLUMN: Henwood

Literacy: a neglected issue

RAISING the abysmally low percentage of Canadians who are likely to show up at the polls next week could be as simple as teaching more Canadians to read.

According to a 2001 paper by the Institute for Research on Public Policy, the more likely we are to take up the daily newspaper, the more likely we are to vote. There's a direct correlation, it seems, between reading habits and voting habits. To put the matter mathematically, improved reading ability = greater political engagement.

Of course, like most straightforward solutions, improving our literacy rate is no simple matter. In this textually driven age, "literacy" no longer means merely being able to read the newspaper. After all, most papers target a reading level that students are supposed to attain by the time they reach upper elementary school or, at the latest, early junior high. Just being able to spell out the headlines hardly equips someone to grasp abstract concepts, create rapid mental summaries, or understand the logic behind a written argument - all skills that more and more jobs require.

If the standard prediction holds true, by the time today's elementary students are ready to enter the workforce, nearly half of all the jobs in Canada will demand what we might call critical literacy. Critical literacy is that level of reading proficiency we used to expect from university graduates. I say "used to" because, in my experience, which has involved teaching hundreds of undergraduates, critical literacy is no longer a widely held skill. In my daily interactions with third- and fourth-year university students, I encounter scandalously few young people who can accurately restate an idea they've allegedly "read," let alone question it. Even fewer of them can distinguish between what they feel and what a text states or differentiate between a fact and opinion. When I meet a student who can actually grab hold of the shape of a written argument, I have to restrain myself from doing a desktop dance, so rare is the occasion.

In case you think I'm exaggerating, here are some alarming statistics. On a scale of one to five (where one indicates a literacy level so low a person would have trouble filling out a job application), more than a fifth of our citizenry falls into the first category. More than a quarter falls into the next lowest group. Even if your numeracy skills aren't that great (that's a related, equally distressing national embarrassment), it doesn't take long to compute the consequences: Almost half of Canadians are missing the basic skills they need to survive in the knowledge economy. How many does that leave who will truly thrive in it? It's almost too scary to guess how slim a proportion that must be.

As citizens of the allegedly "developed" world, we're used to considering literacy as a Third World problem. If, however, we understand reading ability to mean more than mastering the ABCs, then it becomes painfully apparent how serious our under-recognized literacy problem really is. What the radical Latin American educator Paulo Freire taught as "the literacy of emancipation" is needed as much in Canada today as it was in Brazil in the 1970s.

Freire's life-long campaign was to empower people to extract meaning from written words so that they could change the meaning of political structures. Grasping the text, he believed, was the first step toward grasping power. What does Freire's logic mean when we apply it to our situation today? If we really care about preserving Canada as a prosperous and democratic society, then it should mean that we make illiteracy as red-hot an election issue as the Gomery inquiry or the GST.

If even university graduates, the so-called educated among us, are unable to bring a critical consciousness to the texts they process, our country's prospects will be bleak, no matter what the political candidates promise. By ignoring our national illiteracy crisis, we're rearing a next generation of gullible, politically powerless Canadians. A population lacking critical literacy becomes dangerously vulnerable to the word-play of political and economic power-brokers, unable to see through the fog of rhetorical deception and make intelligent decisions.

Back in the bad old days of racist, classist and sexist discrimination, many countries insisted that citizens demonstrate a minimal level of literacy before receiving the right to vote. Needless to say, it would be horrendously wrong to reinstate such a requirement. By neglecting to address our national literacy crisis, however, that's essentially what we're doing. Although we're not technically taking away the right to vote, we're effectively disenfranchising millions of Canadians by default. We're stripping them of the power to make well-informed, reasoned decisions to shape the political reality around them.

This year, Family Literacy Day falls just four days after the federal election. As a national family, we should use the occasion to do more than just read to our kids. We need to sound the red alert - in our schools, in our workplaces, and in our public forums - that illiteracy poses a grave threat to the security of our national values and institutions. In an era increasingly dominated by the written word, Canada's survival as a free and affluent country depends largely on the ability of its citizens not simply to read but to read between the lines.

Dawn Henwood is a writing instructor and freelance writer who lives in Halifax.




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