Musings on Community Literacy

I came into this initiative defining community literacy rather narrowly — I thought of it as, quite simply, the reading, writing, speaking and listening skills employed by the members of our city and county. I thought of it as being generally a service to the disenfranchised. I also was thinking of it as something that “I” would be doing. Something that “we the CLC” would be doing.

Since reading the articles, I’ve come to a broader definition. (And I’m sure that at the end of this semester, after working with the boys of Turning Point, I’ll redefine it once more.) I’m thinking of community literacy — at least, in the terms of how it’s implemented in the CLC — less in terms of what “I” and “we” will be doing, as if we are the important actors, and more about what we will at most be facilitating for others to do. And those others will be broadening their possibilities and their voices — maybe we’re the ones bringing the pencils and paper, and even lesson plans, but they’re the ones who are writing, who are getting their ideas out of their heads, who are strengthening their minds and who are making their own voices legitimate. Not just making them legitimate, but realizing the already existant legitimacy — making it unavoidable to others and to themselves.

Flower-Higgins-Long brought up one particular challenge in community literacy — that is half-effected attempts. This is when the community members are given the chance to have their voice(s) heard, but no one is really listening. The problem with a half-effected attempt is that most people look at it and think the idea was fleshed out fully: they see the failure, and write the idea itself off as a failure. (It’s a “good is the enemy of perfect” situation, if you will.)

I’m expecting the biggest challenge for me at Turning Point to be the same as my biggest expected challenge in my teaching career. This is for me to fully break away from the idea that I’m in charge. I’m not. I’m neither the person who is benefitting from the service, nor the person who has any kind of authority. My voice is not more valued than theirs, and theirs are the reason that mine is being heard in the first place. But we tend to fall into the trap of teaching our students the way that we taught — and so I will face the challenge of falling into a teacher-directed stance, rather than what I want to be. I want to be a learner-centered facilitator — the idea of “teacher” doesn’t even come into play.

The biggest reward for me I think will be the relationships. It’s so easy to slowly cut yourself off from people who are different from you — at least, from any kind of meaningful relationship, something beyond “Morning, how are ya?” Ultimately I love working with people, and I love meeting and learning from people who are different from me. I’m expecting these boys, generally speaking, to be very different from me — and I’m expecting the differences to be their own rewards.

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