Family literacy, 2012

I fielded a call at work the other evening. A mom was calling on behalf of her adult daughter. They wanted to set up an appointment to see about getting some GED-prep help. The daughter had hearing problems; not severe, but enough to make telephone calls challenging. So, her mom was helping out. I took the mom's name and number, and promised a call-back.

Family Literacy Day is nearly upon us again.

Developed (and since trademarked) by the umbrella group ABC Life Literacy Canada in 1999, this event "aims to celebrate adults and children reading and learning together, and to encourage Canadians to spend at least 15 minutes enjoying a learning activity as a family every day. Hundreds of thousands of Canadians across the country participate in this initiative in their homes and communities every year” (Literacy Alberta).

I've got to say, it's nice seeing Alberta recognize that Family Literacy Day can be celebrated in the home. Even nicer, Calgary's Further Education Society is hosting "its annual, week-long Reading Challenge."
During the week of Family Literacy Day, for every 15 minutes that a book is read or a story shared, we ask the public to visit our website and press the website “button” to add minutes to our reading tally.

By this point - January 21st - organizations all across the country have made their FLD plans. This week, the focus will be on promotion and recruitment - getting those families out to celebrate at the school or the resource centre or the mall or the town hall. (I've think I'm doing something with a seniors' library and maybe doing a gig with Geronimo Stilton.) These events will promote reading and related literacies, generate some news, and offer a nice bit of community warmth in the midst of our ever-bleak, Canadian post-Christmas chill.

Anyway, I was saying...  I took the mom's name and number, and promised a call-back. I let her know she could tag along with her daughter for that first appointment - something I wouldn't normally have said - but the mom doubted that would be needed. She just wanted to help out with the phone call.

Later, I thought about that.

It's been a pet peeve of mine that so often Family Literacy Day celebrations are chiefly for and about families with young children. Sometimes, they seem to be almost purely for the children - as though family literacy and early childhood learning were synonymous. There are very few events or activities - Calgary excepted (Yay!) - where a family with teenagers would feel engaged.

We talk and write about the importance of the family in the nurturing of literacy and learning, but we sometimes act as though we believe the family's role ended when children turn 14. I don't think most of us do believe that - but we sure act like it.

Raise your hand if the family literacy event you'll be attending has a meaningful component for non-parents aged 14 to 34. (Put your hand down, Calgary.)

At work, where I offer adult literacy support and adult basic education (/GED-prep), I sometimes support my learrners' roles as parents or primary caregivers. Lending levelled children's books is probably the most obvious way I do that, but I also provide easier-to-read parenting and child development information and help people look up information about school or health issues.

But I almost never think of my adult learners as offspring. In fact, I'm very skilled at ensuring the parents of my learners are utterly excluded from what happens in my class. I'm skilled at it, and I pat myself on the back for treating 18 and 19 and 20 year-olds like independent, isolated adults.

Maybe that's been a mistake.

Look, there are lots of instances where parents so interfere with and undermine their kids that my learners, and everyone else in the building, applaud my tricks for getting Mom or Dad out the door. But where people live together as a family - say, older children living at home, caring for or being cared for by, their parents - why wouldn't I recognize the dimensions of family literacy in their lives?

Yes, it's harder. It's much, much easier for me as a facilitator to treat my learners as stand-alone units. Anyone who has worked in daycares or preschools or the elementary school system knows that parents are frequently whacky, demanding and unpredictable. So what? When did Best Practice become Things That Are Easier?

I don't know.  I've got more questions than answers right now. And I haven't got much else to say.

Except it's coming up on Family Literacy Day, and what is easy for most of us is organizing an event for parents of young children, reading some Robert Munsch, giving away some books from last year's Scholastic book fair, and then giving everybody a Chinese-made ABC Life Literacy Canada pencil and a piece of pound cake.

If you want something harder, think about that quote from Literacy Alberta: "celebrate adults and children reading and learning together, and to encourage Canadians to spend at least 15 minutes enjoying a learning activity as a family every day."   Now think about what your practice would look like if you were to take seriously your adult learners' lives as somebody else's kids, and if all your literacy work was, somehow, about "learning... as a family", about family literacy work.

Related Posts:

Community literacy reports (Jan 26 2011)
Family literacy - Manitoba (Jan 28 2010)
Family literacy - Nova Scotia (Jan 28 2010)
Rally round the family (Jan 27 2010 a)
Busy actually helping (Jan 24 2009)
National family literacy day (Jan 27 2008)
A day for sharing a good book (Jan 27 2007)


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Did you see what I did there?