Family Literacy (Manitoba)

So, tell me. Is the girl in the photo, a) using mobiles in an interesting science class, b) enjoying a cool mobile her mom put up in the corner of her room, or, c) day dreaming her way through math?

Just wondering.

The Ontario Literacy Coalition tweeted an op-ed from the CMEC (Council of Ministers of Education, Canada). The CMEC's tag line is "Providing national leadership in education for over 40 years" which seems like something they might want to downplay, but anyway....

The op-ed, penned by the Hon. Diane McGifford (Manitoba) and Hon. Margaret MacDiarmid (Manitoba), is called The Value of Reading and Learning as a Family.

I'm especially interested in what goes on in Manitoba (like New Brunswick, they're a smaller province with both French and Native minorities, and a large rural population) so I dug right in.

It really wasn't a bad piece of writing, even though, early on, they fell into a familiar bit of over-speak:

"Nothing can empower people and change individual lives like strong literacy skills."

Actually, money can. In fact, money is about 1000 times more empowering. I know. Having IALS 4/5 skills is nothing at all like having a regular pay cheque. Good health and positive self-esteem are also pretty high on the list of things that can change lives. At least, poor physical and emotional health can devastate lives pretty quickly - literacy skills or no.

Sorry that I'm sounding all quibbly and contrarian, but I get kind of weirded out when people in power - and these two ladies are in power - make wild-eyed absolutist statements about other people's lives. Making wild-eyed statements is the job of bloggers like me. Let's get back to the op-ed.

"Participating in shared literacy activities gives families the opportunity to spend quality time learning, growing, and sharing. It helps build and enforce family relationships and gives children a sense of attachment, security, and belonging." Nicely said! This is, I think, the most underrated aspect of fam lit.

"Research has shown that children have a better chance of becoming fully literate adults when reading is encouraged in the home." O-kay... *wonders what's coming next*

"Families are instrumental in fostering positive attitudes toward education, by taking the time to focus on reading and writing skills when children are still young and by making literacy a fun part of their daily lives." Eeewww... yuck! Whatever else family literacy is about, it's not about getting little kids pumped about school and teachers and homework and 12 years of asking permission to go to the bathroom. Well... maybe they weren't thinking about that exactly.

"By getting children involved in books and reading, as well as interested in literacy through play-based activities, we can support their development into capable adults who are fully equipped with the skills they need to compete and thrive in an increasingly knowledge-based economy." O-kay....

"It’s not only children who benefit from family literacy activities; parents and grandparents, too, can develop and improve their own reading and writing skills. Learning is intergenerational. Parents who struggle with literacy can inspire their children by showing them that it is never too late to learn. Grandparents can help children develop vocabulary and communication skills through storytelling, while children might, in turn, teach their grandparents valuable technological literacy skills such as how to use a computer or surf the Internet." Oh! This is so close to being perfect! Just don't reduce it all to helping children. Learning is intergenerational. So are families. Parents who struggle with literacy can get support to improve their literacy - and that adult literacy support is also family literacy work.

Next comes a list of good ideas, including this: "By simply reading to children and giving them access to books, magazines, and other learning materials in the home, parents can create an environment of lifelong learning and literacy." Wonderful!!!!

But don't stop - finish the thought. In an environment of life-long learning parents and children (and their children after) can obtain those advantages that come with a literate and learning culture - greater likelihood of success within institutions like schools or the courts, better odds for employment, improved control over their own health, improved ability to advocate for rights or insist on entitlements... all that stuff the NLS used to sum up as being fully part of Canadian culture and citizenship.

So let's go back to that first sentence: "Nothing can empower people and change individual lives like strong literacy skills."

Literacy won't fix injustice or poor health or hard economic times. Fixing those things is actually a pretty good job description for provincial government ministers. But people are more likely to succeed in their struggles against oppression or disease or unemployment when they can read and write skillfully in the dominant language. Again, improved literacy is not a cure-all for any condition except low literacy. (Seriously, if you want to cure poverty, redistribute wealth.) But it is empowering, I'll grant you that.

"There’s no need to wait for Family Literacy Day. Local libraries, schools, and literacy providers offer a wealth of support services and programs for families year-round." That's right.

"Literacy is more than words." Umm... let's just let that go for now.

"Get involved and help create a culture of learning in your family!"

Okay, I will.

Here's hoping you can get involved in that whole redistribution of wealth business.


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