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April 30, 2009

New World Literacy, Old World Attitudes

I have been writing a story on literacy this week because Salt Spring has a non profit society that assists people with literacy/numeracy.

The society is mainly volunteer-run with about 20 matched/students to volunteers.

Salt Spring literacy is being funded by the 2010 Legacies project, (Literacy Now), a provincial initiative to create sustainable legacies as a result of Vancouver’s hosting of the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. It's good to know that some good things (that last longer than 2 weeks) are coming out of the Olympics.

It's great that Salt Spring literacy exists but they need a lot more funding and a better space based on the need that I see on a daily basis in my job at the employment resource center here. At the moment and since their inception in 2007, they are located in this run-down, tiny, little house that's waiting to be ripped down so a new library can be built on the property.

When you go from working with PhD computer scientists and within a university environment to working in a small, rural community, often with people who have not completed high school, it's a shock to see how that manifests in affecting one's ability to easily manouvre daily tasks, especially in a work search.

It's hard to make a resume when you can't spell and you don't know how to use Microsoft Office Word. It's hard to send the resume via e-mail when you don't know how to attach a file or you don't have an e-mail address or you don't own a computer. Spell check might be useful in highlighting spelling mistakes but it doesn't really teach you how to fix the mistake using your own knowledge of spelling.

And, I can relate. Not to being illiterate (although if you read the blog, sometimes it may seem that way) but to the feelings of fear, frustration, inadequacy that arise as a result of not knowing how to do something that you know you should and you wish you could.

I consider myself to be innumerate. I have spent my entire life plagued by a fear/inability to deal with anything but the most basic math. To put this in perspective, I have trouble figuring out the tip if I want to leave 15%. The confusion started early in elementary school. Add confusion upon confusion while moving from one Grade to the next and it doesn't get better. It's not as if I should have passed. But, back then I was so shy and quiet and smart in other ways that I got shuffled along.

If my reading/writing ability was as poor as my ability with math, I wouldn't be admitting that on this blog. (Actually, I wouldn't be writing on this Blog at all!)I'd be ashamed. Why is that? Still? Why is not being able to write/read to the level necessary to function in our society still so shameful given all the other shameful things that are going down in the world. Nobody had any great insights, any pithy quotes to help me out with that.

When I was interviewing these women and I wanted to have them contact someone for me to speak to, they couldn't do it. Confidentiality, they said.

Couldn't you just ask one of your students? I said. I began to feel like I was asking to talk to someone who was going to admit they were a paranoid schizophrenic or someone who had been convicted of first degree murder.

Having worked in the past in an environment that was focused on mental health, I couldn't help but notice the similarity in the protective hush hushness which in my mind only perpetuates the stereotypes and the shame while I do recognize the need for confidentiality, obviously.

I've had my own mental health issues and I know the shame because there is social stigma attached to the experience. I know that it's not something you ever share with an employer. It's not something you tell someone you meet (God forbid) on a date. It's not something you admit without it impacting how you feel about yourself, regardless of all the other things about you that make you who you are.

A few years ago I finally reached a point where I decided that it's the responsibility of those of who have found a way to live well with whatever weakness we have to pave a path of greater understanding by being open about it so that the "shame" associated with our weakness doesn't have to haunt our existence, lessen our goals, define us and it might even work towards changing the way others think about the problem.

I guess I just wonder why is it that the more things change, the more things stay the same for some people leaving them farther behind than ever in their ability to participate in the world, fully.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yes, really.