Literacy Networks (and program funding)

this just seems like a fairly simple way to talk to each other.
Maria, comment #4, Alphaplus podcasts

Yeah, so anyway, I'm done my regular classes; five mornings and afternoons, and two evenings.

The last two weeks were unusual for me in that I was substituting for another facilitator. I didn't like that as much - leaving learners after two weeks, I mean. It was the first time I'd quit a program while there were learners still working hard toward their goal. (I know I didn't really "quit" but it had that feel about it.)

On the other hand, my summer adult learning group will finally start this week. I have three folks from the neighbourhood who say they're coming, and one other has expressed an interest. The big challenge on my plate, right now, is building the space.

In other news, we were over to Dieppe (near Moncton) to do a Storytent orientation for two groups.

This year, there will be Storytents in Dieppe, Moncton, Campbellton, Edmunston, and St. Stephen, as well as ours in Saint John. In Saint John, we're running a reduced schedule (due to funding constraints) but a bigger program in the sense of supporting more families. We're running tents in three separate neighbourhoods (which has required a big shift in logistics), and maybe in a fourth as well. We're also scaffolding a group of students from UNB-SJ who are designing a similar program to help us fill a gap. (Heavy construction in one neighbourhood green space meant we couldn't run a tent there: the students are working with the resource centre to offer a reading program on a nearby veranda.) We're also working with someone who hopes to put together a West Side storytent program in 2010.

All the programs are a little bit different, individualized to suit their own neighbourhoods and sustained by different sorts of partnering arrangements, which is nice. I really like providing a model of cooperation and networking that doesn't presuppose standardization or some central authority.

Real networks are like that, you know.

They are not pyramids. Wisdom and permissions do not flow down from the top. No one person or group coordinates everybody else. Instead, people share ideas and stories, first or second or third hand.

Real networks are tidal - information and support comes and goes, moves back and forth, in a ferment of appropriation and accommodation.

Real networks are non-linear.

I was thinking that on the way home from Moncton. I was thinking that a part of what we'd said there came from our reading of and writing for Literacies. Too, I know that some of the things I said about family literacy work were shaped by discussions and ideas shared on the literacies café and Alphaplus blogsites. My colleague takes part in list-serve discussions and communicates regularly with practitioners further west. What the people at Moncton heard came from some of those discussions too.

Will any of the speech pathologists or librarians in Moncton ever listen to an Alpha-gang podcast or read a post from some BC literacy group? Probably not. But as long as they're talking to us, they'll hear echoes of all the conversations we're a part of. That's one way ideas flow - a network of indirect support.

Let me tell you two stories.

On the 1st of May this year, reporter Benjamin Shingler had an article on the front page of the Telegraph-Journal about funding troubles at the Knowledge Centre for Adult Learning, based at the University of New Brunswick, Fredericton. Its share of the $85 million handed out to five groups back in 2004 was running out.

A similar story ran on the front page of all the other Irving-owned papers in NB. Apparently, there was a real crisis happening for literacy workers. Shingler wrote that this Centre, which was losing its funding, "has for the past four years served as a headquarters for adult learning groups across Canada."

I guess that might be true, but they weren't my headquarters. Nor the headquarters for any literacy workers I know. Were they your headquarters?

Shingler also wrote, "The centre's co-ordinator, Kathleen Flanagan, said closing down would hamper attempts to improve adult literacy rates across the country and leave fewer learning opportunities for adults."

How so?
"In order for those people who deliver adult learning programs to be well-informed about promising practices and current research, they need to have access to information," she said. "The intention is to connect through the knowledge centre all the various stakeholders across Canada."

Ah. Well, okay. People are apt to say all sorts of silly things when their pay cheque is threatened.

I don't mean to sound disrespectful, but this Centre doesn't help me or the people I know working in the field - it doesn't even know me, much less the adults and families I work with. So for it to claim literacy funding on the strength of a supposed leadership or coordinating role....

Well, here's the other story. A month later, on June 1st, Tracey wrote on the Café blog:

Here in Toronto, literacy workers used to get together quite a bit. The Metro Toronto Movement for Literacy and the Festival of Literacies used to provide us with many opportunities to meet and share professional wisdom. Neither of these organizations have been able to continue this and for a while we just stopped meeting.

Guy Ewing and Joy Lehman asked why. They asked, "Do we really need funding to get together and learn from each other?" Of course, the answer was no. They started to convene literacy workers at Moveable Feasts.

You see? Networking and support happens on the ground. Sometimes even without funding. Of course none of that networking is useful unless there are actual programs for learners.

If the adult learning centre really wanted to help me - indirectly - they might stop holding large yearly conferences for politicians and business groups and put financial support into Literacies. I mean... $17 million over 4 or 5 years... That's a lot of money! That's, like, $3 or $4 million a year.

But, wait. Even Literacies, wonderful as it is, isn't a program. Imagine what you could do in your literacy program with even $1 million each year. Imagine how many classes and groups and drop-in centres you could organize. Imagine, and then go back and read that bit about hampering "attempts to improve adult literacy rates across the country" and leaving "fewer learning opportunities for adults."

How did that song go? "If I had a million dollars...." Anyway, my evening summer adult learning group is unfunded but it will happen.

The Crescent Valley Community Tenants Association are giving me the space (part of the housing unit space the provincial government supplies the CVCTA). My other earnings will pay for books and supplies. Neighbours provide the referrals and walk-ins.

And, I'll stay busy with Storytent. And, of course, the Bookwagon still runs every Saturday.

And I'll try to blog about all these more regularly now that I'm back into a routine. (I'm also gathering notes for a journal piece on the Bookwagon.) Reading and writing are important. Commenting and picture-posting and pod-casting are important. These things are how we network across a giant country like Canada.

She said, "In order for those people who deliver adult learning programs to be well-informed about promising practices and current research, they need to have access to information." That's true. But if she thinks UNB is the source of that information, she's a bit uninformed herself.

Sharing reflections on adult and family information is something practitioners do whenever they get in the same room. When they can't meet in person, they share through email and Facebook, through blogs and journals and list-serves. And books and articles - networking happens across time as well as space.

If only we all had the core funding we need to put all these ideas into practice.

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