Reading the Past, Writing the Future

Today the world observes the 50th anniversary of International Literacy Day, which was initiated by UNESCO in 1966. The 2016 theme, “Reading the Past, Writing the Future,” reflects the emphasis on literacy in Goal 4 of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals for 2030.

Sustainable Development Goal 4: Ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning

  • By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and Goal-4 effective learning outcomes
  • By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care and preprimary education so that they are ready for primary education
  • By 2030, ensure equal access for all women and men to affordable and quality technical, vocational and tertiary education, including university
  • By 2030, substantially increase the number of youth and adults who have relevant skills, including technical and vocational skills, for employment, decent jobs and entrepreneurship
  • By 2030, eliminate gender disparities in education and ensure equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable, including persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and children in vulnerable situations
  • By 2030, ensure that all youth and a substantial proportion of adults, both men and women, achieve literacy and numeracy
  • By 2030, ensure that all learners acquire the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including, among others, through education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles, human rights, gender equality, promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship and appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture’s contribution to sustainable development
  • Build and upgrade education facilities that are child, disability and gender sensitive and provide safe, nonviolent, inclusive and effective learning environments for all
  • By 2020, substantially expand globally the number of scholarships available to developing countries, in particular least developed countries, small island developing States and African countries, for enrolment in higher education, including vocational training and information and communications technology, technical, engineering and scientific programmes, in developed countries and other developing countries
  • By 2030, substantially increase the supply of qualified teachers, including through international cooperation for teacher training in developing countries, especially least developed countries and small island developing states

In observance of International Literacy Day 2016, UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova has announced the launch of the Global Alliance for Literacy:

Literacy is essential to success across the board. A foundation for human rights and dignity, literacy is vital for poverty eradication, for gender equality, for more inclusive and sustainable societies. This is why we launch today the Global Alliance for Literacy, to mobilize investment and promote innovative initiatives, with a focus on gender and new information and communication technologies. We must seize every opportunity — we must work across all sectoral boundaries.


Adult Education and Family Literacy Week 2016

Adult Education and Family Literacy Week provides an opportunity to reflect on the many ways that adult education programs strengthen and enrich their communities. Take some time during the week of September 26-30 to learn more about a program in your neighborhood.

Quick read about adult literacy: 2016-08_AEFL-Flyer



Advocacy and Policymaker Pressures

The summer 2016 issue of Educational Leadership, published by ASCD, contains an article with useful guidelines for advocates seeking to influence policy at local, state, and national levels.

In “What It Takes to Get a Policymaker’s Attention,” Celine Coggins describes the three “central pressures” that influence policymaker thinking: promoting equity, allocating scarce resources, and addressing accountability issues.

  • Promoting equity: “Policymakers address equity at the system level,” Dr. Coggins writes. “Any policymaker whom you approach … will want to know how [your idea or program] creates more equity of opportunity.”
  • Allocating resources: “Policymakers must make hard tradeoffs with limited tax dollars,” Dr. Coggins observes. You must show them how your idea, activity, or program will have a greater positive effect and reach more people than other, equally worthy ones—or how it will address multiple areas of need by bringing multiple solutions together.
  • Addressing accountability: As public servants, policymakers must be able to demonstrate that they have been responsible stewards of the public interest. In other words, they must hold funded activities and programs accountable for their outcomes, and they can do this best when they have numbers. Advocates can use numbers to their advantage when they think beyond the usual data categories of testing outcomes and persons served and look to effects in the larger community.

Dr. Coggins writes, “Successful advocates will get policymakers on their side when they can show how their … proposals attend to these pressures.”

While the article is written for educators in K-12 contexts, its content has much value for practitioners in the broader education and social service communities. The article (and the entire summer issue of Educational Leadership) is available for free here.

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The Divide Isn’t Just Digital

A powerful infographic on the divide between those who have attended college and those who have not, from the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University.

“Out of the 11.6 million jobs created in the post-recession economy, 11.5 million went to workers with at least some college education.”


A Resolution That Sees Beyond the Self

In her January 14 column, Lonnae O’Neal suggests that, for this new year, we resolve to be mindful of others — and act on that awareness consistently, responsibly, and respectfully.

Must the poor lose privacy before we give?

by Lonnae O’Neal,

I had never heard the term “poverty porn” — the idea of using stories and images to tug at our heartstrings so we open our wallets — until this week. But I certainly knew it when I saw it. It’s rampant around the holidays.

It’s the story of the inner-city family shivering in a one-room apartment with no heat. Or the photo of a tattered rural teen who cares for a half-dozen younger siblings while her mother works overnight.

It’s the idea that “we have to trot out the stories of needy people,” in detail, for people to make donations, says Shay Stewart-Bouley, executive director of Boston’s Community Change, which combats racism. And the way we do it “doesn’t feel respectful to their humanity. . . . We should probably ask ourselves, ‘Why do we need to see that in order to give?’ ”

For two decades, Stewart-Bouley has worked for nonprofit entities that help underserved communities. She wonders why people do not think of giving year-round, something the nonprofits do as a matter of being part of a community. Then they would not need manipulative videos that invade privacy — that zoom close in on pain, distress and privation — in the name of helping out.

Charitable donations and volunteering drop off dramatically in January, and “by June or July, everybody is on vacation,” says Stewart-Bouley. But people need to eat every day.

Small organizations that fall outside urban areas are often especially underfunded, and Stewart-Bouley calls January a good time for the civic-minded to think not just about money but also about time and skills that might help a small organization — volunteering one’s social media prowess, delivering food, answering phones.

Michele Booth Cole is executive director of Safe Shores — the DC Children’s Advocacy Center, which serves families affected by violence. Each year, the center makes a holiday plea to donors, who are matched with a wish list that gives children’s ages, gender and what they want for Christmas. The center does not provide names or any identifying features of the recipient families out of respect for their privacy and to honor their dignity. Donors fill the lists and drop off presents.

“There were literally thousands of gifts — doll­houses, bicycles. Somebody gave an iPad to one family. People were just incredibly generous,” Cole says. “Then it’s January.”

And the donor numbers drop off to just a fraction of what they were in December. Maybe 25 people a month seek to donate instead of 250. The number does not rise again until the following December, Cole says. “One of the things we talk about all the time is that child abuse doesn’t just happen in December or during back-to-school month.”

Studies show that donors feel an emotional lift when they give. And when giving or volunteering is done outside the holiday rush, people have a chance to be thoughtful about how they want to sustain and interact with their communities. “You can find out what moves you,” Cole says. “We have [coffees and tours] where you can come in and learn what we do.”

We want people “who care about our cause to invest, then tell friends and family and co-workers,” she says. “That’s how you build a movement.”

While we’re hopeful about all the other things we want to change for the new year — like our waistlines and savings — we might also think about our responsibilities to one another.

Cole says we need to shift “the cadence of the conversation” so that giving is a part of the culture. And it at least needs to outlast our other resolutions.

Published in the Washington Post, 14 January 2016

The Power of Singing, part 2


Here is an update from Colby Itkowitz on the Atlanta Homeward Choir’s trip to Washington, DC, where they sang at the Lincoln Memorial and at the White House. Itkowitz writes: “Suddenly these men, who for most of their days feel invisible, were seen.”

Homeless singers achieve their dream by singing at White House, Lincoln Memorial

At the Lincoln Memorial the men performed Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. Its lyrics end this way:

I did my best, it wasn’t much
I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch
I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come to fool you
And even though
It all went wrong
I’ll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah

The Power of Singing

“It fosters a strong sense of community and a sense of hope … a sense of a life beyond where I am now.”

An inspiring day-after-Thanksgiving story about the Atlanta Homeward Choir by Colby Itkowitz of the Washington Post.

A carol from the homeless: Atlanta shelter’s choir to sing at White House


Adult Education and Family Literacy Week 2015

The National Coalition for Literacy has designated September 21-26, 2015 as National Adult Education and Family Literacy Week. According to the Coalition,

National Adult Education and Family Literacy Week raises public awareness of adult education and family literacy, assists adult learners in need of literacy services, leverages local resources, and supports increased access to adult education and family literacy programs. Advocates across the country use this opportunity to elevate adult education and family literacy nationwide with policymakers, the media, and the community.

AEFL Week is supported by resolutions in the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives.

The Coalition provides links to activities, resources, and information on its AEFL Week Resources page.


Why Adult Basic Education Matters

Minnesota Adult Basic Education has a YouTube channel where they are posting a series of Hot Ideas videos on Why ABE Matters. In the six 30-minute videos, adult ed professionals give TED-Talk-like presentations based in their experience working with adults who are developing literacy and English language skills. The videos are informative and powerful — definitely worth watching.

The videos all build on the fundamental understanding expressed by Jodi Versaw: “I believe ABE matters because education is a human right.”

View the videos on the MN ABE YouTube channel

(Re) Introducing Key Words

Friends and colleagues, after a great ten-year run at the Center for Applied Linguistics, I am moving on to new challenges and new adventures. Over the summer I will be transitioning from staff to consultant status, and by autumn I will once again be working for myself. I’ll be doing business under the name Key Words, which I used in my previous successful stint as a consultant (1998-2005). I invite you to follow me as my business and I grow into this encore phase of my career.