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EDUCATION AND SOCIETY
Quiz Presidential Candidates About the Literacy Issue
by John Ohliger
September 12, 1988
Quality of education is the number one issue in this year's presidential election, according to recent polls. Since more dollars and personnel are devoted to adult education than to all other forms of education combined, the quality of adult education obviously is crucial to this issue.
The most salient aspect of adult ed these days is literacy. Just check the attention paid to adult literacy programs in
this newsletter, on television and in the press generally.
Here are a couple of questions about literacy you might put to the various presidential candidates or their supporters to help you decide who to vote for -- or indeed whether you will vote at all. Don't neglect the so-called third party candidates. There were 14 third party candidates in the 1984 election. Almost half of the electorate either picked one of them or did not vote at all. Establishment experts now predict that those who won't vote at all in this presidential election could increase to the highest percentage in 40 years.
What is Literacy?
First, what is literacy? If the answer you receive is that it is the ability to read and write, you have been querying a literacy illiterate. For instance, to be literate in India and in many countries of the Middle East and Africa does not refer to people who read and write, but to those who know how to speak more than just the language of their own village. In some countries anyone who has attended any school is considered literate.
In the United States there are many types including civic, computer, cultural, economic, emotional, job, library, political, scientific, sexual and visual literacy. Dictionaries now recognize that literacy means basic understanding in any sphere of activity.
In the best and broadest sense, to be literate is to attend to the world around us; to interpret what we hear and see;
and to name, in our own voices, the conclusions that we are prepared to let inform our own conduct. No adult literacy program can make people literate in that sense. It depends instead on becoming a mature person in a nurturing community of caring people.
The Literacy Issue
Second, why all this emphasis on the issue of literacy today? The term literacy didn't even appear until almost the end of the 19th century. Though sold as the fulfillment of democracy, actually the hidden emphasis of many current literacy campaigns is on pressuring the few to excel over the many, based on the dubious belief that the latest high technology demands more workers who can function at loftier levels than the minimum ones.
You will be performing a valuable service to our beleaguered dream of democracy, if you succeed in introducing some robust questioning about literacy into this presidential election year. Then we can begin to get beyond the hype of election campaigns and literacy campaigns.
To obtain a 40 item bibliography including the documentation for the statements above, send $1 for the 10 page paper "The 1988 Election and Literacy" to Basic Choices/Literacy 730 W. Jefferson, Springfield, Il 62702
John Ohliger is the editor of "The 1989 adult educator's almanac," to be published soon by LERN and Basic Choices, Inc.
The following Information from the Christian Science Monitor (8/30/88, page 2): If you're against both George Bush and Michael Dukakis, don't despair -- there are 314 others to choose from SO far this year... Fifty-six of the 314 have told the Federal Election Commission that they have collected or spent at least $5,000 on their campaigns.
Another item in the Christian Science Monitor (9/8/88, page 14): "Literacy has been so expanded to include all human knowledge, it makes the term useless," says Thomas Sticht, president of Applied Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences Inc, who has been designing literacy programs for 20 years.
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