"The whole movement of life is learning" (Krishnamurti). "To be an act of knowing, then, the adult literacy process must engage the learners in the constant problematizing of their existential situations" (Freire). "Once you learn to read, you will be forever free" (Douglass). "I can learn anything I have the desire to learn" (White, S.G.).

Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Power of the Pen and Those That Read It

Last semester I began graduate studies eager to uncover how much I still had yet to discover and learn.   I knew there was so much more to what drove a person to want to learn and how they took in the information that they sought.  I am still, and may forever be, uncovering the layers of the onion known as education.  My most recent "ah has" have absolutely come from the readings and discussions found on Tuesday nights in Adult 650.  Collectively I am discovering a layer that is so much more complex and powerful than I could even begin to imagine.  As the newly discovered (for me) and now revered Paulo Freire mentions in the video posted last week, "Literacy is a fundamental chapter of education as a whole." A "chapter" or layer I believe that is truly underestimated in its power. The words on a page can be used as a vehicle to get a message, skill, or ideology across.  But literacy can also go much further than just the text in one's hands.  What is the individual(s) true understanding of what they read?  Was it the message intended?  Or was it something else entirely?  What experiences and prior learnings do they attribute to what they have read and how they understand it, or even feel about it?  What then do they do with that comprehension? Perhaps these considerations and more were the reasons behind so many efforts historically to oppress individuals and their opportunities for literacy.   As Arnove and Graff cite in their article, "One basic reason for doubting the resolve of political and educational leaders in many countries is that widespread possession of literacy by a populace may lead to unpredictable, contradictory, and conflictive consequence."  Literacy can after all standardize language, expose cultures and perspectives, spread the religious word, and even promote continuous economic growth of a nation.  Literacy efforts can be paused by the limitations of support as resources are instead attributed to war; or literacy can be the key to what begins a war among us.  So while many may not yet truly understand the power that literacy can wield, perhaps sharing another quote from our readings this week may assist in putting it in perspective "literacy…(is) not just the process of learning the skills of reading, writing and arithmetic, but a contribution to the liberation of man and to his full development.  Thus conceived, literacy creates the conditions for the acquisition of a critical consciousness of the contradictions of society in which man lives and of its aims; it also stimulates initiative and his participation in the creation of projects capable of acting upon the world, of transforming it, and of defining the aims of an authentic human development." (Arnove and Graff, 598)  Literacy can truly be power and empowerment.


  1. Holly, I enjoyed your post. I appreciated the historical perspective of literacy movements in the Arnove & Graff reading. I was particularly struck by the fact that literacy has been a tool used by "political will" to both effect change and control group behaviors. The concept of "unbridled" literacy as being feared by the very reformers who utilized it to further adherence to particular texts or doctrines was revealing. As you point out, the ability of literacy to empower is without limit.

  2. Holly, so glad you connected with Arnove and Graff. Isn't it weird how sometimes, to crack through the "natural attitude" (or the basic beliefs, as Schein calls it) we sometimes get shocked into by art, like Ai Wei Wei; sometimes by bracketing our beliefs and dialoging across differences, sometimes by trying to live the expereince to see how its immediacy feels on our bodies, and sometimes through historical perspectives gain by distances of hundreds of years! Here, the historical perspective of literacy campaigns reveals in a big way, the dangerousness of literacy. (As, equally so, did Annie's ver personal post below.) Literacy. Dynamite.

  3. Holly, I enjoyed your post, and I share the new understanding that literacy is not just what is written and read, but an epitome of the marco social-cultural environment and the micro individual beliefs. This remind me of the study about Dream of Red Mansions,one of the four Chinese literature classics. In that novel, the rise and fall of a big family is detailedly presented. What makes the book classical is not just the story, but the social and cultural history imbedded in the story. By studying the novel, we see what Ming Dynasty looked like, what people at that time did for fun, what the criteria of beauty was, what cultural value was appreciated, what food the rich or the poor had, what language they used, what education they got, how the officers got promoted, how the social hierarchy was, etc. The literature work becomes a lenses for historians to understand every aspects of that era. It shows the power of literacy, and it proves, again, that words are never free from power and other social-cultural impacts.

  4. I agree that uncovering the layers brings out new sights. I, too, started the program with the intention of learning more about learning and making it part of what I do. My enthusiasm can be a bit much at times, I know, but I agree, Holly, that the discussions and readings open new windows into literacy. When I try to describe the course to my friends, I always have to start with literacy being more than reading and writing.


Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts on this post. Diverse opinions are welcomed.