An economic stimulus package for adult literacy? That's what the folks at ProLiteracy are demanding of the U.S. Congress. They're running a letter writing campaign and such.

Neat idea, but.... Well, I wouldn't hold my breath.

In related news, adult literacy programming in New York City has seen its funding dry up; partly because it was tied to endowments that played the stock markets, partly because private, state and federal money is being spent on other priorities. See, for example the NY DailyNews story Budget cuts spell trouble for New York City literacy groups

Skyrocketing unemployment has city high school dropouts scrambling to get diplomas - only to find massive waiting lists for classes and cuts to vital literacy programs.

About 28% of city residents who are 25 years and older don't have high school diplomas, Census data show, and they are among the most vulnerable victims of the economic meltdown.

"We're all collectively holding our breath, hoping that we can make it through the fiscal year," said Elyse Barbell, executive director of the Literacy Assistance Center.

Literacy Partners, which serves 2,000 students annually, is expecting its usual half-million dollars in foundation money to drop by half.

Hmmm... More breath-holding. I notice that among those taking a hit is Literacy Partners, which is an outfit that did everything right in terms of partnering with business and government, being transparent and accountable, earning national accreditation, yada, yada, yada. None of that saved them when the economy turned sour. We're told "City-run programs have fared better" for now, but "planned 5% budget cuts to city agencies next year, combined with the massive state budget deficit, could force tough choices."

Tough choices. There's a euphemism for you. Tough choices. Tough on who, exactly?

Forget those buzzwords "accountable" and "accredited". Funding for literacy is an optional strand of social spending that will always be cut off when the economy contracts and private profits are threatened. Funding for pure adult literacy, as opposed to GED prep classes or workplace essential skills and other publicly-subsidized employee training packages, is even more whimsical.

Personally, I think the economy is going to get worse (we haven't even started dealing with global warming - this "crisis" was just a fall in housing prices), and there probably isn't going to be some kind of restorative salvation from a national or provincial capital, or the OECD, or outer space.

But that doesn't mean we should all give up and go home.

There's an Alice Walker (I think) quote that goes something like this "We need to become the people we are waiting for." My colleague was at a meeting a while back where representatives from various literacy groups were talking about shutting their doors because of the dearth of funding. She thought it would be rude to point out that we do literacy work for months at a stretch without funding.

It's not ideal. It's not "right" or "just" or "fair". It's just what we do.

Instead of holding our breath, we breathe. And then we do whatever we have to do to build the world we want to live in.

Fight for more funding, by all means. But don't hold your breath.

And don't let the bastards grind you down.

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