SECTION 1 - A FRAMEWORK FOR CURRICULUM AND MATERIALS DEVELOPMENT
As trade unionists to action on committed behalf of human wholeness and social justice, we must understand literacy in its fullest sense- as the exercise of critical reflection and action, both individual and collective.
So, to answer the question "Literacy for what?", we must take into account the full scope of workers' lives in and out of the workplace. Only when we consider our current situations and our individual and collective aspirations can we identify where literacy comes into play.
Now we turn to the important question, What do we in labour mean when we use the term literacy? Indeed, there is only one definition of literacy that is consistent with a labour perspective. As trade unionists committed to action on behalf of human wholeness and social justice, we must understand literacy in its fullest sense - as the exercise of critical reflection and action, both individual and collective.
This definition does not mean that we are not concerned with what are commonly considered to be the building blocks of literacy. These include the ability to carry out tasks like reading a recipe, writing a letter of complaint or filling out a form as well as the smaller components of literacy, skills such as recognizing words in print, handwriting and spelling.
Our definition of literacy includes both tasks and skills. Yet our definition goes one step further by taking into account the social and cultural practices - often institutionalized as systems - which structure our lives. Let's look at some examples of systems, tasks and skills.
... any given literacy task cannot be dealt with in isolation - it can only be "read" and critically understood in the context of the larger system of which it is a part.
If we look closely at examples of real life literacy activities, we will soon see that they are embedded in and carried out in the context of social systems. Indeed, any given literacy task cannot be dealt with in isolation - it can only be "read" and critically understood in the context of the larger system of which it is a part. This is what Paulo Freire meant when he said, "Reading the world precedes reading the word."*
Let us consider an example of a real-life literacy activity - filling out an accident report form at work. We know that this form is part of the Workers' Compensation system. It is obvious that being able to fill out this form entails much more than simply decoding the words on the page and writing words in the blanks. In fact, to really grasp the significance of the accident report form we have to know quite a bit about how the Workers' Compensation system works:for example, what the specialized terms mean within that system, what the procedures and rules are and the nature of our rights and obligations. Only then can we complete the form effectively in order to access our rights in the system.
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* Paulo Freire. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Seabury Press, New York. 1970.