International Literacy Day 2010

International Literacy Day celebrates the achievements of educators, volunteers, and students across the world who have either become literate in the past year, or who have facilitated someone else’s journey towards literacy. It also calls attention to the sobering reality that one out of every 5 adults is illiterate. Of these, something like two-thirds are women. Worldmapper has a map demonstrating this educational disparity.

Literacy is both a feminist and a children’s rights issue, since a mother’s literacy level more strongly impacts her child’s future than her income or whether she’s got a job. In the US, one out of every four kids grows up unable to read. You can help.

Maybe you’re not the biggest fan of kids. But! If you’re an accountant, you can help by working with an area non-profit for a few hours to help them with their books. If you’re a business person, you can help them develop a five year plan, or otherwise help them become self-sustaining. If you’re willing to share ANY PART of your skill set with a non-profit (maybe website development, advertising, event management, prize/silent auction donations, etc) you are helping them realize their mission. Organizations like Lifting Voices, College Summit, One World Education, and the Ron Brown Scholar Program all rely on the generosity of volunteers and funders so that their workers can do their thing.

Yesterday, I wrote about several books that I didn’t like. The fact of the matter is, my being able to read them at all is a gift. It’s a legacy provided to me by my parents and my good luck in having incredibly dedicated teachers in my formative years. While I don’t always like what I read, being literate means I can do things like type erudite blog posts, read the warnings on prescription labels, and rely on a variety of print and new media sources for my news and entertainment. This International Literacy Day, I’d like to pay this debt forward, and ask you to join me in contributing whatever we can towards helping someone else become literate.


  1. says

    Do you have a source for the statement that a mother’s literacy impacts her children? I believe that it is true, but it seems like the sort of thing that gets bandied about and it would be nice to have some data to point to and say ‘see!’

      • Maria says

        Here’s one I hadn’t seen before:

        Anyways, the basic idea is that literacy (particularly maternal literacy) is linked to children’s wellbeing because of the connection between literacy, accessing information, and health empowerment re: sexual wellbeing, nutrition, and hygiene. What’s really neat is that that literacy level doesn’t always refer to educational level, so it’s not about education as in a diploma or a BA — it’s really about being an empowered person who feels more comfortable interrogating, accessing, and acting on information. That’s one of the reasons why the UN def of literacy goes a bit further than just being like, Oh, reading +1!

        The UN site is being trifling. Anyways if you ever want to win at Ayiti,

        The secret of the game is getting the mom into school and having the dad volunteer with Unicef ASAP, because she’s able to get a better job with a little bit of learning

        • says

          Thanks for spelling this out. I’ve heard sketchy references to “education” and kids’ well-being, but this breaks it down so I understand perfectly what they’re talking about. It makes a lot of sense to me, especially in the information age.

          • Maria says

            Thank you for the compliment. :) This is actually one of the reasons I was really frustrated that shows like Reading Rainbow (which ask kids questions that prompt thinking and encourage thinking ahead in the story) are getting less funding/being cancelled, and there’s more interest in shows like Between the Lions (which is more like techniques of reading and phonetics). It’s really frustrating because I think by not encouraging kids to think about what and why they’re reading, you’re training to be useful citizens not happy ones.

            • Maria says

              Not just fundamentalism: any kind of religious ideology where you’re relying on someone else to interpret a text and tell you the right way to be.

          • says

            It’s also important to teach critical thinking and questioning everything to kids, when their brains are still developing. Neuroscience is finding adult brains to be more plastic than we realized, but nowhere near the extent it is in childhood. I have a lot of conversations with adults wherein I get them to understand an illogical point in a thought they’ve inherited from the media, religion, whatever. They get it; they agree with me; five minutes later, they’re spouting that same gibberish again. I always thought this was some sort of emotional issue – a refusal to let go of a comfortable rationale – but now I’m wondering if it’s physiological: they just keep reverting to what their neurons are used to processing.

          • The Other Patrick says

            It’s one of my biggest gripes with our school system. As a teacher, I get students who are already mostly done (the youngest are around 16, and many older than 20), and critical thinking isn’t really part of the lesson plan. Oh, it’s of course great if you try and teach that, but it must be in the course of teaching something else, something related to the subject. And getting kids, who more or less have learned to parrot what the teacher thinks and are content to parrot what they hear onTV, as well, to thinking critically is hard. Especially because it’s not a natural state of thinking – it’s using your brain when you could just as well not use it and save energy.

            • Maria says

              And that’s such a classed thing. IB schools are nothing like that — critical thinking is entirely the point of their pedagogy. The same with Montessori schools too

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