One of my classes this quarter is Psychology and Social Justice. Part of the class requires us to take part in 25 hours of community service at a local site here in Chicago. Today in class we watched a video about one of the sites – a center that focuses on adult literacy. The film profiled a few of the people who have learned how to read at the center, and their description of life before being able to read was nothing less than heartbreaking. One man recalled accidentally buying cat food because he could not read the food labels and having to eat it anyway due to his limited funds. I was struck by two things: 1. How incredibly privileged I am to be able to interact with the world thanks to literacy taught to me at a young age and 2. Just how many aspects of our daily lives rely upon literacy. The site members referenced bus schedules, ATMs, and street signs as just a few examples of the things that they once encountered with difficulty and fear.
The creators of the video asked a few of the adults what had hindered or prohibited their reading and writing skills early on in life. Many of them simply didn’t have academic opportunities or went into trades that were labor-based. Some, however, described the cultural/family influences on their illiteracy. One woman explained that people in her family never asked for help; aid from others or institutions was looked down upon as weakness. She went on to say how schooling in general was not valued in her community. I thought that this attitude towards literacy was an interesting one and very pertinent to our class discussions in general.