I don't want to be a caricature

I'm glad the election is over. And I'm glad September is over.

I'm glad all the exaggeration is over. And I promise I'll try to make this my last post on this topic for awhile. I mean, I thought I was done, but then I was doing some catch-up reading on the CBC website, and....

Once upon a time, the Liberal candidate for my riding was the minister in charge of the Department of Post-secondary Education Training and Labour. That meant, oddly enough, that he was responsible for adult literacy and libraries. I say "oddly" because in my experience adult literacy and libraries have to do with social development or community development or family and community services... something like that.

Before then, he was an opposition MLA, and someone with whom I spoke about literacy. We had short, easy conversations. He was interested, particularly, in the Bookwagon, our innovative library & literacy program. Then, the Liberals won the election and he became minister. After that, we had one last conversation. He was, after all, still my representative in the provincial legislature. But he was also, now, someone at the head of a department that I, and people I worked for, were in contract with. It was a new situation, and I didn't want the appearance of impropriety.

Anyway, we had that one last chat. He said he would "fight" (his word) for funding for the Bookwagon. I thought that was odd too - fight who? I wondered. But nothing came of it. That's how it goes sometimes.

Anyway, a week or ten days ago, I passed him on the street and wished him well for the election. He thanked me and shook my hand warmly. And then, after we'd parted, he looked back and shouted, "Literacy is priority number one!"

And I just felt... sad.

Did you ever see one of those Star Trek: The Next Generation shows?

Have you watched when the crew meets a new alien life-form? And seen how their whole perspective is based on their job? So, like, Geordi the Engineer wants to talk about their technology, but the doctor is all about their life signs. And Data the robot fellow is saying this is interesting and that is interesting. And the Ship's Shrink thinks the key is to tune into the aliens' feelings. And Worf, the Klingon security guy? He just wants to shoot somebody.

I'm a literacy worker, yes. But I'm also a resident of the riding of Saint John Harbour, where raw sewer still runs into the sea, where the tap water is unfit to drink, where the streets are unsafe for the elderly after dark, where the average residential income is far too low while the expensive properties are almost uniformly owned by people from out of town, where - I once learned - you cannot buy a hammer, though you can buy a drink in any of 24 bars.

I don't think I want an MLA who believes literacy is our number one priority. And I know I don't want to be a caricature - the guy who's always saying, "But Captain Picard! What if the aliens can't read?"

And, lastly, I don't want our field to become a caricature of people who can't talk about literacy without sliding into hysterics or asking for more money. I don't want to read things like the op-ed piece Deanna Allen, the executive director of Laubach Literacy New Brunswick, wrote for CBC's NB VOTES Analysis.

Titled, without apparent irony, Adult literacy: The invisible problem, her piece opened:

Most adult New Brunswickers — both French and English — can't read, write or do math well enough to meet the challenges of every day life and work.

That's not debatable. It's a fact.

But it's not a fact, as any New Brunswicker with friends can plainly see. Yes, some people struggle. Some are un- or under-employed. Some have difficulty with forms. Many - including me - would be hard pressed to successfully complete the kind of schooling assignments we would ask of Grade Twelve graduates. Many - including me - lack the background knowledge and experience common among residents of large urban centres. And, some can't read very well.

In fact, the 2005 IALS survey tells us that about 85,000 New Brunswick adults are at the lowest of five literacy levels. But 54% of these are employed. You know why? 'Cause it is possible to be an independent, functioning, contributing adult even when you score less than 80% on the IALSS Level One test questions.

It's simply wrong to say that "more than half" of New Brunswick's adults are unable to "meet the challenges of every day life and work." We know that because we are them, and so are our family and our neighbours and our workmates and the people we meet at the rink or the club.

"As New Brunswickers," she writes, "we haven't taken the issue of literacy seriously." What nonsense!

Of course, it's not a total surprise when she adds, "Laubach Literacy New Brunswick volunteers have been helping people read and write for the last 25 years" and "LLNB has enough experience to know we need sustained resources — more money, more effort — to get done what needs to be done."

More money. CBC invited her to pen one in "a series of expert analysis articles on major issues in the 2010 N.B. election" and, after insulting us by claiming more than half of us are dysfunctional, she turned it into a pitch for more money.

Moments like these, you sympathize with the Klingon.


Ginny Hooper said...

Awwwwww Wendell love it. certainly on a role. like where it went though!

Oh and excuse any spelling mistakes but I'm a NBer so my literacy skills are lacking

and couple that with the fact I live in a priority neighbourhood and have been sometimes known to drink my tap water - well....

40 minutes ago · via Facebook-

Wendell said...

Yeah, LOL. Raises questions about that each-one teach-one business. What to do when most of us need teachin'