Celebrating International Literacy Day
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The UN declared September 8 International Literacy Day back in ’96 in order to celebrate the achievements of activists and new readers across the world. Because literacy is a broad concept mostly centered around critical thinking, literacy is positively linked to community health, maternal health, and family health. It’s also difficult to teach in an educational setting post-NCLB, when teacher training might include paying attention to and encouraging individual students, but teacher evaluation is based on standardized testing.
Teaching literacy in the US is something some have described as an “orphaned responsibility.” This has historically been something low-income communities of color have challenged as institutions, parents, activists, and teachers. Because of the race and class dynamics associated with generational illiteracy, being able to read and process particular types of information becomes one of the unmarked educational legacies of class and race privilege.
You’d think this would be something progressives would get. Not so! Last week, an older blogpost from Psychology Today began making the rounds of my Facebook friends list. This blogpost, “Why Liberals Are More Intelligent Than Conservatives,” argues that liberals generally have higher IQ scores than conservatives. I don’t really want to spend much time talking about how IQ tests — which generally are short pen-and-paper tests that measure knowledge and not aptitude — are flawed, how their results more accurately reflect consistent access to educational structures, food, and training in particular modes of thought. I do, however, want to highlight the classism (and latent racism) of a progressive movement that so quickly embraces racist rhetoric about IQ tests, particularly when we KNOW that some of the researchers spouting that crap are overtly racist themselves. I mean, how can we, as progressives, as activists, go about forming serious political alliances with marginalized groups when we’re relying on classist and racist educational standards to bolster our own egos?
Wait… back to literacy! Critical thinking is a teachable skill, one often under-funded and under-taught in American school systems, and the legacy of “each one teach one” remains a stirring reminder of the power of literacy to change a life, a government, a nation. So, for this year’s International Literacy Day, let’s celebrate the secretly radical worlds of progressive librarians, teachers, and administrators, as well as those activists making use of “activist literacy” to challenge structures of power.