By Leah Wilkie
Columbia Basin Alliance for Literacy
Growing up, I loved making plans for my life. I would say, “When I grow up, I’m going to learn a second language,” or “I’m going to go to university”, or “I’m going to travel.” These were not lofty dreams and goals; they were entirely possible, and even probable. I would argue that many Canadian youth dream about and expect the same things. All that really stands in our way are our abilities and inclinations.
¨I take these freedoms so for granted that I rarely think about what makes them possible for me. And I definitely do not think about the millions of people in the world who are not free to pursue their own desires, or develop their potential. The society in which I live has developed systems that make it possible for me to bypass concern for my basic needs in order to reach to higher pursuits.
This year’s International Literacy Day theme, “Literacy for Peace”, prompted me to ask the question, “Why am I able to be and do almost anything when so many others are not?” Of course, part of the answer is this year’s theme. My country is among the most literate, and most peaceful in the world. My country guarantees that I receive a high quality, free education; they also ensure that I am safe and secure. These two privileges allow me to go and be and do.
So what makes Canada so literate and peaceful? The answer is complex, but I believe it is important to recognize the strong connection between peace and literacy. Our ability to read and write makes it possible to know and understand. Knowing and understanding help us participate in democracy. They also assist us in building relationships with people who differ from us. These two activities alone promote peace; conversely, without them, we would be at the mercy of our ignorance and prejudices.
This article is not meant to be self-congratulatory. Yes, I am proud and thankful to live in Canada, but by no means do I think our work is done. It is a lot more difficult to be literate in 2011 than it was even fifteen years ago. The amount of information available to us means that our ability to find, analyze, synthesize and evaluate text must be very sophisticated. If we are not able to do these things, we relinquish our right to interpret the facts to individuals who are more advanced information processors.
As soon as we give up our ability to know and understand, we surrender our capacity to participate effectively in the democratic process. The qualities of our country that allow us to realize our individual potentials are maintained through our intelligent and informed decisions. If we lose the skills to become intelligent and informed, how can expect to retain our privileged Canadian rights? Democracy and peace are hard won, not by governments, but by citizens.
International Literacy Day will be celebrated around the world this September 8th. There are many amazing projects taking place to improve literacy levels and promote peace (check out UNESCO’s website for more information). I hope, though, that you also think of International Literacy Day as your day too. We live in an incredible place, with unmatched opportunities. Let’s celebrate it! Let’s continue to work for it!
Show your support for International Literacy Day on September 8th by folding a lotus flower at the Columbia Basin Alliance for Literacy table outside of the Fernie Overwaitea.