What can you do to help improve literacy? The Literacy Cooperative, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving literacy rates in Northeast Ohio has launched – today – a campaign: the Top 10 Things You Can Do to Improve Literacy in the Greater Cleveland Area. Books@Work is honored and excited to be included in the Literacy Cooperative’s Top 10. The campaign is both hands-on and holistic, recognizing that there is a great need for literacy education for both children and adults. Other important strategies they encourage include raising awareness, taking a child to the library or volunteering as a tutor.
Higher levels of literacy are associated with increased social and political involvement, as well as improved health and economic prospects. And the importance of literacy in the workplace cannot be overemphasized. The power of literary reading has found increased support among business leaders across a wide array of industries.
Literacy is not a binary equation (i.e., literate vs. illiterate), but a series of competency levels along a multi-step continuum. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), in its global adult literacy audits, details five levels of literacy attainment, from basic comprehension to the synthesis of multiple, dense texts. In their book, Literacy for Life: Adult Learners, New Practices, Fingeret and Drennon explain: “Viewing literacy as skills or tasks does not adequately encompass the complexity of the experience of literacy in adults’ daily lives. Literacy reflects the fundamental interdependence of the social world at many levels.”
The most recent OECD United States report shows that fewer than 12% of American adults score in the top two levels combined, making literacy improvement something that benefits most of us. Proficiency, the global report explains, “is not fixed once and for all on leaving formal education. What an individual does at work, the activities he or she engages in outside of work, the opportunities available for ongoing learning […] all affect whether proficiency increases or declines over time and at what rate.”
At Books@Work, we use literature to facilitate literacy in the broadest sense, from reading complex texts to the social interaction that comes in the seminar experience. While the majority of our participants are comfortable readers, we make the program accessible to permit as many people as possible to engage with interesting and classic texts. Because literature is multi-layered, points of entry are possible for many – regardless of educational background. In fact, many of our programs are cross-hierarchical, involving representatives from the shop floor to the management suite. This diversity permits a broad array of personal experiences, perspectives and ideas to shape the discussion, often surprising and delighting our participants. Finally, the texts we use speak to the complex social world in which our participants live, work and raise their families.
Image: Herkulaneischer Meister, Sappho, fourth style fresco, Pompeii [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.