What Does Literacy Mean to You?
Written by Julie Slack, First Literacy Marketing and Communications Director
Literacy is most commonly defined as the ability to read and write. While this skill may seem straightforward, literacy is a rather complex skill that deserves a more complete explanation.
The National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL) defines literacy as both task-based and skills-based. The task-based definition describes literacy as the ability to use printed and written information to function in society, to achieve one’s goals, and to develop one’s knowledge and potential. The skills-based definition notes that successful use of printed material is a product of two classes of skills: word-level reading skills and higher-level literacy skills.
However you choose to define literacy, one thing is for sure – literacy is vital. Literacy impacts every aspect of our lives, from poverty levels and self-esteem to healthcare costs and recidivism rates. Literacy is so much more than the ability to read and write.
Shining A Light on Adult Literacy
September 8 is International Literacy Day and September 18 to September 24 is Adult Education and Family Literacy Week. Literacy awareness is a hot topic during the month of September, making it the perfect time to shine a light on the importance of literacy for all ages.
While childhood literacy receives a lot of attention, adult literacy is an often overlooked yet persistent issue. In the United States alone, 1 in 5 adults struggle to read basic sentences. This is a staggering and unfortunate statistic, but the good news is there’s a solution.
At First Literacy we are on a mission to fix this problem by championing the teachers who are on the frontlines of our education system and supporting the adult learners who are determined to improve their lives. We believe everyone deserves the chance to reach their full potential, but this is impossible to do without literacy.
To increase awareness of adult literacy we are kicking off a month filled with literacy awareness by asking one question …
What does literacy mean to you?
One Word Many Meanings
It’s clear that literacy is essential, but the meaning of literacy is different for everyone.
Huiling is a member of the First Literacy Community Advisory Council, a teacher, and a Program Manager at Best Hospitality Training in Boston. She shares what literacy means to her.
“There are a lot of literacies – it could be anything! It’s the most important foundational knowledge related to the topics in our learning, career life, personal life, and more. For me, literacy is kind of hard to define. It could be different from person to person!”
Dr. Pam Eddinger is the President of Bunker Hill Community College (BHCC). Born in China, Dr. Eddinger came to the United States as a young child. For her literacy has many meanings.
“The meaning of literacy has changed for me over the years. When I first came to the States at the age of 11, literacy was learning English, and being able to participate in school. As I came into my adult years, experienced life, and now working in culturally rich and diverse spaces, the meaning of literacy has expanded for me. I have given up being English-centric, and see literacy as a set of meta-skills beyond the acquisition of any one language. Literacy is interpreting the world through languages and their cultural context; and as we acquire our second and third languages, be able to contextualize the world through that multilingual lens. Literacy is a powerful combination of language and cultural fluency, beautiful in its complexity and infinite possibility for growth.”
Wilfrix is a former First Literacy Scholar and now a ESOL Career Coach at English for New Bostonians. Wilfrix grew up in Haiti. As a child he was forced to stay home from school for nine years because his family did not have enough money to pay for school. His thoughts are inspiring.
“I think of two words: HOPE and CHANGE! When you have HOPE and CHANGE as the leading force in your life mixed with the tools that are being deposited from First Literacy you are bound to succeed in whatever you put your mind and hand to do!”
Janet Costa Bates hosted a First Literacy Meet the Author event and is the author of multiple children’s books. Her grandmother immigrated to the United States from Cape Verde and was unable to read or write in English or her native language. Janet’s perspective on literacy is rooted in the stories and experiences shared by her grandmother.
“My grandmother was not able to read or write, neither in English nor in her native Cabo Verdean Kriolu, but I will not call her illiterate. Managing her household and a farm, as well as raising her family in a country then foreign to her meant that she had to learn the language, symbols, images, expressions, etc. necessary to navigate her new world. She was literate in many ways; just not in reading and writing. She, along with my grandfather, was successful in building a better life in America because of her ability to learn through these alternative forms of literacy. I wish she had been able to read and write because it would have made her life easier. Written and verbal literacy opens doors and removes obstacles. It’s not the only way to move through this world, but it certainly smooths the path.”
Bushrah is a 2022-2023 First Literacy Scholar and a student at Mount Wachusett Community College. Bushrah is the first in her family to attend college. For Bushrah literacy is knowledge.
“To me, literacy means being able to seek out information, explore this information in-depth and gain a deeper understanding of the world around me. Literacy may include gaining knowledge, being able to understand this knowledge, to teach, to apply, and to use for a specific benefit which aspects are all very important.”
Literacy Is a Superpower
The bottom line … literacy is powerful. During the month of September, help bring to light the silent struggle for so many adults in the United States and around the world.
“What does literacy mean to you?”