Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Value of Literacy

I’ve come to realize the value of literacy. It’s a miracle to me, actually—to have the ability to read words on a page (by putting the graphemes and other linguistic cues together), to generate meaning from these words and to understand them, to associate personal experience with those recorded by the author and to synthesize these thoughts, and then to document them (by writing these thoughts down), which then provides an opportunity for others to read, generate, understand, associate, synthesize, and document…The literacy cycle begins all over again.

I remember trying to project this idea on my ESL students enrolled in the advanced writing course I was teaching in an effort to help them look beyond the mentality that what they were doing was more than completing a homework assignment. Rather, they were engaged in the meaningful task of effectively documenting their synthesized thoughts. And to be able to do that is significant. Luckily, they grasped this concept, and it changed the way they approached the task of writing (which is often a monumental one for ESL students).

We won’t all be published authors in our lifetime, exposing our thoughts in writing to the “world,” nor do we all aspire to be such. But we all have a mind (and some of us, the will) to project our thoughts and experiences, generated from others’ documented thoughts and experiences, in our own writing, whether it be in formal or informal writing. I learned this when I read the thoughts informally inscribed on the inside front cover of a used book by its original owner in 1931. This is what it said:

Dear Father,

I hope this book will serve to give you a few hours of happiness, in lieu of a real Christmas present, which I do not seem able to get now, owing to sore-footedness and some discouragement from being a bit down physically.

I am sure you have dreamed and do dream of such wild guests as that so beautifully described in this interesting chronicle. I do, and will continue to, so long as the red blood of virile interests continues to abide in me. However, to most of us are given only the every day kind of adventures incident to our jobs, in which we must find our joy, serve our God and our fellows, and strive to so deport ourselves that when the great adventures come to us, we shall be hard and fit for their grist.

New York

I like that part: “…to most of us are given only the every day kind of adventures incident to our jobs, in which we must find our joy, serve our God and our fellows, and strive to so deport ourselves that when the great adventures come to us, we shall be hard and fit for their grist.” I realize that it is the way we respond to our every day adventures, which come through every day living, that prepares us for “the great adventures [that] come to us.” And sometimes the greatest adventures we experience come in the form of the adventures associated with every day living. For some of us, our “great adventures” are manifested through every day life.

There it is: the cycle of literacy. The words of the published author influenced the thoughts of “Weston,” who then documented his thoughts on the inside front cover of the book, whose words stimulated me to document my thoughts as a result of reading his words…

Again, I realize the value of literacy—that we can read words, generate meaning (both on a general and a personal level) and document these thoughts conveyed through writing, which stimulates the cycle of literacy again. That’s significant.

I’m sure Weston, the author of this inscription, did not know that his words would be read and synthesized 76 years later. That’s the value of literacy.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Lessons Learned from Life

Lessons learned from life experience seem to influence me the mostThey seem to change me the most.  But the life experiences from which I glean the most are those learned from other people.  

I’m amazed by how much I’ve learned from people I meet in the world. Everyone has so much to offer. Some of my greatest education has come from the lessons I've learned in my travels. I've traveled to Taiwan, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Japan, China, Macau, Inner Mongolia, Uganda, London, Costa Rica, Mexico, Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, Kiribati, Prince Edward Island, India, Qatar, Dubai, Brazil, etc. Without fail, I have gleaned valuable lessons from the lives of the people I've met in my travels--even strangers.  

From Jake, a horse guide in Song Pan, China, I learned the value of literacy. I watched him spend twenty minutes writing his name and address by the light of the camp fire with three other horse guides (at times, more) huddled around to assist him in this great effort. 

From the elementary-age students I taught in a small village in Uganda, I learned what a privilege it is to have access to books. I watched their thrilled expressions as they handled a book for the first time and curiously examined the colorful illustrations.

From two 20-year-old girls I met at the Kiribati airport who were departing their families and tiny native island for the first time, I learned that courage is required when gaining an education through new life experiences. When we arrived at the Fiji airport, I couldn’t help but notice the fear and hesitancy on their faces as I coached them through their experience getting on and off an escalator for the first time.

But I've also learned that I don't need to travel outside the country to learn valuable life lessons from others.

From a woman I met this week in Indianapolis who attended the literacy training I conducted, I learned that it’s never too late to learn. She wants to learn how to teach literacy amid her demanding schedule because she knows a 90-year-old woman who has expressed an earnest desire to learn to read before she dies. 

From my younger sister who was just diagnosed with cancer (again) and who will likely have to drop out of law school (again), I learned about the role of commitment in pursuing an education. Although right now she is forced to shift her efforts from pursuing her education to fighting a debilitating disease, she is committed to fight this disease, get it behind her, and then continue pursuing her educational goals.

The common theme woven through each of these lessons learned is education...life education—lessons learned from life. When we think of the word "education," do we think of pencils, desks, and notebooks? Homework, test-taking, and reading? We all have different ideas of what education means and its value to us personally. I've learned, personally, that some of the greatest lessons learned in life are not in a formal classroom setting or on a university campus. Rather, they’re learned in the school of life.

I realize how education plays an integral part of life experience, regardless of age, native language, and native country. And in a world full of unfulfilled needs and unmet desires, I recognize the need to contribute to others’ education...others' life education—lessons learned from life.