THE LITERACY ENQUIRER
Concerned Literacy Workers speak out about...
by Keith Harford, Prince Edward Learning Centre
One day, I learned by accident how many of my students had criminal records. I had arranged a debate on the topic of prison. Throughout the discussion, all of the students reflected on personal experiences in jail. I was shocked. It changed my perspective on the needs of our students. Until then, I had cheerily prepared them for the boundless opportunities of the labour market. I felt so naive. Obviously, I needed a Plan B in order to be more relevant to the students' needs.
First, I wondered why I was so late in noticing how widespread this problem was. Why was I so ill prepared? Perhaps it was the employment focus of the MTCU and Ontario Works. Or maybe it was me. I came to literacy from an employment preparation background. Either way, my focus had been on students' future without being properly informed about their past. I wasn't taking a holistic approach.
To be honest, I'm still not taking a holistic approach. I only know about criminal records if students chose to volunteer this information. I don't have any statistics on the correlation between illiteracy and criminal records. I have not been trained to deal with this pervasive barrier. I rarely hear people talking about this problem at workshops or conferences. I have seen next to no information on how to provide job search assistance to people with criminal records.
There doesn't appear to be a Plan B. I feel like I have been left in the dark.
The literacy field needs to shine some light on this vital issue. We cannot talk about employment without addressing this serious barrier to employability. In the rush to train students for the future, we often overlook a major difficulty in their past.
Consequently the hopes that we have for these students are often hopelessly unrealistic.
To be relevant, we need to meet students where they are now. Perhaps we can help students with criminal records secure a pardon, reintegrate with society, or catch up on the learning that they missed while in prison. These are all noble goals. There is no reason to hide these relevant, empowering and socially engaging outcomes in the dark.
I feel that MTCU should embrace these outcomes. Furthermore, literacy practitioners should receive more training on how to help students who are facing the barrier of a criminal record.
It is time to put a Plan B into action.
Using literacy to make new friends ...
by Nadine Sookermany
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Copyright© 2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company
I attended Community Literacy of Ontario's 10th Annual AGM and Conference this past October for the first time. It was an interesting, eye opening experience for me as the only woman of colour at the conference. As a literacy worker from Toronto, I learned about the different ways we do literacy work across Ontario but the conference did not represent the literacy work that we do in our program. It didn't examine the complicated lives our learners lead from a social justice perspective. It didn't consider the realities of the challenges and barriers they face everyday. Comments were made that belittled their experiences, and mine. Where were their voices? Where were the voices of the economically and racially oppressed? Where were the voices of those who are striving to learn, not just to get a job, but for other reasons like gaining independence and playing a bigger role in their communities?
The voices that stood out shared how literacy programs teach learners to
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