Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Literacy - A Right

"Literacy is inseparable from opportunity, 
and opportunity is inseparable from freedom.  
The freedom promised by literacy is 
both freedom from - from ignorance, oppression, poverty - and freedom to - to do new things, to make choices, to learn." 

This quote by Koichira Matsuura is my new favorite quote.  It's been rumbling through my heart and head since I ran across it a few weeks ago.  It's one of those finds that causes a person (a reader and writer) to ponder... his own literacy experiences, the experiences of those with whom he works, and, even, those whom he'll never meet.  

Somewhere, Twitter perhaps, I heard (read?) this statement "I'm not sure literacy is a human right."  That statement, coupled with Matsuura's words, has nudged me to think.  Is literacy a human right?  I'd say yes.  It's not only a human right, it's an obligation.

Marsha Ellis says, "I believe that literacy is a right of the people and an obligation of society to create ways to educate its citizens. The government has an obligation to the people that it serves to implement ways to provide an education for all.  The Declaration of Independence states that, 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness'."  And literacy is part of that life, that freedom, that joy.

So what's our role as educators in this obligation?  I think it's about nudging young learners to become the kinds of "literate" people that understand their right... to become.  And, we've got to do it authentically, purposefully, and sincerely.  We've got to help young learners - no matter who they are or where they landed physically - to be the kinds of readers, writers, and thinkers that realize that their words matter, their thoughts matter, their lives matter.  We owe it to our young public learning each day in public school.

Katherine Paterson so eloquently reminds us, "It is not enough to simply teach children to read; we have to give them something worth reading. Something that will stretch their imaginations-something that will help them make sense of their own lives and encourage them to reach out toward people whose lives are quite different from their own."  So, in our work to nudge the human right of literacy with children, we better take her words seriously.

A visitor to my classroom recently asked me, "How do you get them to talk to each other that way?"  My answer... by being a reader myself.  I don't believe that we teach children to read with a stopwatch in our hand.  I don't believe that we teach children to read with a packaged program.  I don't believe that we teach children to read by giving them worksheets.  I don't believe that we teach children to read by "paying others" to gather materials.  I don't believe that we teach children to read in a lock-step "this first, then that" manner.

If we want learners to become life-long, literate human beings we put the best books in front of them.  We release responsibility with grace and support.  We build trust.  We strengthen relationships.  We create huge blocks of time.  We offer up ownership.  We give them a notebook to record their ideas and thoughts.  We demonstrate our own grapplings and successes as literate human beings.  We talk to them with precise, strategy-rich vocabulary.  We confer.  We listen to them as they make sense of text and of their world.  We remember that the language arts include... reading, writing, speaking, and LISTENING.  

Each day when my students come into the classroom, we have music playing (their chance to gather up and gather in).  As I listened to the words of our gathering song this morning, I was struck by the gift I've been given.  I get to spend my days "in the company of children." (J. Hindley)

I understand that I have a huge obligation to the children in my care.  I can't take it lightly.  It's their right.