When I think of literacy I think of a list of countries. I think of a list of countries with a corresponding percentage next to it. This percentage represents the amount of people in that country that can read and write. I think of the social and political aspects that factor in to the numerical percentage. More advanced nations are found towards the top of the list; third world countries are found towards the bottom. Some of these nations have governments that require people to be in school; some could care less. Some nations provide free public education; some require people to pay for their schooling, and some do not want their citizens learning too much about the world.
When I think of literacy, I think of men. I think of how men traditionally worked in fields or in factories, and how knowing how to read and write might not be as essential to them as it is to me. I think of half-dressed men in the African wilderness hunting to provide their tribe’s food for the day. Without being able to read and write in America, you are out of luck. Without being able to hunt or scavenge in other countries, you are dead. My education consists of going to school, and reading and writing. Their education consists of going hunting with their father when they come of age.
When I think of literacy, I think of women. I think of how they traditionally stayed within the home to take care of their family. I think of how they cook, clean, tend to their children, sew and mend clothes, and stay where they are. I think of how reading and writing is not necessary for them to complete their life’s work. Cooking, cleaning, and caring for young are not taught in books for them. All these are handed down from mother to daughter throughout the centuries. I think of how civilization progressed, and schools became more common. I think of how even then they were excluded from going to school. I think of what it must be like to be told your brother could go to school, but you must stay home because you are a girl. What’s so special about being a boy that means you need to learn how to read and write? What’s so un-special about being a girl that means you don’t need to know how to do these things? After all, everything you need to know comes from your mother’s knowledge, and her mother’s knowledge, and her mother’s knowledge, and so on.
When I think of literacy I think of children. I think of children whose parents can’t afford to send them to school because their government doesn’t provide it for them. I think of children whose cities, or towns, or villages don’t even have a school. I think of places where the only school has been destroyed by bombs, or earth quakes, or lack of funding. When I think of literacy I think of children who whine everyday about going to school. I think of myself and how frequently I asked my mother to let me stay home. I think of children who go to a school that doesn’t let them act like children, a school that expects too much of them, and punishes them when they don’t meet the requirements. When I think of literacy I think of children who just want to play getting judged on a grading point scale and being measured up against their peers. I think of children who are constantly hit over the head with the need to achieve and be as good as everybody else.
When I think of literacy I think of political campaigns and social movements to raise literacy, to make their country’s numerical percentage go up, so they can beat other countries. I think of a race, not to know more and more, but to be better and better. Knowledge is power, but not the kind they tell you about in schools. Knowledge is power on a scale that says whose country is bigger and better than the others.
When I think of literacy I think of so many things that aren’t important like the social and political factors that drive people to attain higher levels of literacy. Literacy to me has such a political connotation. But maybe through education we can take literacy back to what it was meant to be. Literacy is being able to use our God-given ability to learn and grow to reach out and touch the world around us, and in turn, let it reach out and touch us.