Local literacy work in Saint John

You can dream, so dream out loud.           
You know that your time is coming 'round.
So don't let the bastards grind you down. 
                - U2, Acrobat

In New Brunswick, literacy work is going local, and getting back to its roots.

Part of this is the result of a happy shunning. We only found out the provincial coalition was giving out $100 grants for Family Literacy Day events (seriously guys?  $100?) because other people, who were contacted directly, called us up to ask for ideas and direction. Guess we've been exiled. Which is completely okay, because $100 isn't a very big price to pay for not getting co-opted or stage managed.

By the way, everybody around here got frozen out of that other big nation-wide family literacy fund-raiser Raise-A-Reader. As far as I can see, it didn't happen at all in New Brunswick this year (the Irving papers, I suppose, being busy scrounging money for their own in-school literacy program.)

Meanwhile, on the ground here in Saint John, there's family literacy stuff happening all over the place. We sat waiting to give our literacy sub-committee report at a community association meeting last week while six - count 'em - six people representing other organizations stood up to remind people about their own or someone else's seasonal family literacy event. At least eight such events happened or are happening in Saint John. They are happening at schools and community libraries, at seniors' complexes and recreation centres. Best of all, none of these are dependent on some sort of nagging, specially accredited "literacy professionals" taking the lead.

Thirteen years ago, the Saint John Family Literacy Advisory Committee formed up to try and build a network of family literacy resources, supports and programs in our region.  Those were grim days - I remember because I was there.  A hogshead's worth of promo campaigns and poster contests and Meet Franklin events and Read with Santa photo shoots and workshops and media stunts and celebrity readers later... literacy committees and sub-committees have formed all over the city to deliver neighbourhood libraries and storytent programs and family literacy celebrations and projects of all sorts. Many of these events and activities have been participant led and managed. (They've also been small scale events and projects - too small to get scooped up by the big dogs who are always sniffing around wherever there's money being spent.) That feels like success to me.

It also feels like the turning of a page. As if, maybe now, we hard core literacy workers can get back to doing what we're supposed to be doing.

Cause really, folks, dressing up like Clifford is fine, but for literacy people the work is something more.

It's helping people get better at the reading and writing and basic maths they meet in their everyday lives.  It's helping them widen those lives when and how they wish. It's helping them build up strategies to compensate when the literacy barriers are just too high. It's helping them help themselves and their friends and neighbours to get better at reading and writing and basic maths and compensating strategies. It's helping them get past tests and obstructions and unfair treatment; and maybe helping them be a little less unfair toward each other.

All this other stuff - the studies and the surveys and the talking billboards and the Facebook campaigns and the promo parties and the flyers to send home and the television adverts and the round tables and the bookmarks and the grand openings and the sad, sorry shut downs - is just echo and noise. Echo and noise.

Meetings and networking are still important. Over the last year we - a sort of unofficial "we" of like-minded literacy people - have become more active in sharing, filling the local vacuum created as the LCNB slowly implodes. As well, professional development and resource creation are still important - we're doing some of that, too.

But the real thing is the work - the things you and I do and say when we’re sitting across the table from, or side by side on the sofa with, another human being.

It may sound silly, in a time of contracting social spending and an economic downturn, but I think 2012 is going to be a good year for literacy work - adult, family, community - here in Saint John.


They'll name a city after us, and later say it's all our fault Then they'll give us a talking to, then they'll give us a talking to Because they've got years of experience
- Regina Spektor, Us

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