Although larger social issues are on the periphery of what we do as editors and writers, they sometimes grab my attention by speaking to questions of equity and human rights regarding the written word.
Here’s how this is resonating with me this week.
During the week of February 24 as Canada celebrates Freedom to Read Week, my inclination is to say what you are probably saying: “Who could argue?”
This celebration is rooted in the civil libertarian view that defines and defends “freedom” as Canadians’ right to read what they want to read. Few of us would dispute the value of this freedom. On the other hand, as a moral stance, it does not ring as true to me as the view from the other side of the freedom-to-read coin.
What could be on the other side of that coin? Perhaps someone’s inability to read and thus thrive in our modern culture? Why does that matter to me?
Let’s return to 2005 and 2006 when I worked as communications coordinator at a national literacy organization in Ottawa. My time there taught me a lot about Canadian adults who have low literacy skills and about the volunteer tutors helping them to improve those skills.
The fact is that 42 per cent of Canadian adults (based on a survey of 23,000 adults in 2003) do not have the literacy skills they need to live and work as full citizens in the 21st Century’s information culture.
People in the literacy world are abuzz—and I am also excited—because updated statistics on adult literacy in Canada are due to be released later this year. This new data will help policy makers decide what kind of programs and services Canada needs to offer adults—inside and outside the workforce—who are struggling to keep up with the literacy demands inherent in our information-rich world.
Defending people’s right to read what they want to read is a political act. That’s why we have Freedom to Read Week.
Advocating for Canadian adults’ access to basic literacy skills—and for upgrading that will allow them to participate more fully in the job market and their communities—is also a political act.
Both causes matter to most of us because we are professionals working with words. Our words are meant to be read by people.
I invite you to consider this question: Is it time to make room in our national professional organizations for advocacy work in support of these larger causes?