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Improving female literacy in the maternal language as a significant contribution to helping women to control their fertility

Literacy is the ability to decode and encode the language you already know. In the "advanced" world it is taken for granted. In the "Third World" it is not; most established institutions insisting on teaching the lingua franca, or the colonial language, or English, rather than the languages people actually speak..

This practice produces an inevitably secondrate literacy, (and thus an underclass,) for all but the most gifted and wealthy, for it involves learning a new language at the same time as alphabetical coding and decoding, rather than, as in the developed world, one AFTER the other,

Making the transition to literacy in a language you don't ALREADY know is a mistake, since it abandons the obvious idea that you can hear what you are reading. It means that you are condemned to exerting yourself at great length to master the colonial/national language and its systems, or to flounder about in a language of which you know only the most rudimentary parts, and probably none of the idioms, thus permanently marking out your "class" and making any real literacy in that language highly unlikely

Female literacy is, as much research shows, the SOLE conistent correlate to drops in fertility. Worldwide, they march together (see Connelly, Fatal Misconception, a magisterial history of the brutal, forcible and misguided efforts by governments and NGOs at birth control).

The answer, then, for those .concerned to remedy the disempowerment of a large proportion of women in relation to family planning, is to promote literacy in the maternal language, the mother tongue. And, therefore, to devise a program readily translatable into ANY alphabetic language, to be offered to women who show up to neo-natal clinics, designed so that any native speaker of the given language could readily supply the local elements of the program. This program would spread (like TED) like wildfire.

It would be a perfect embodiment of the global mission of the Gates Foundation.

  • J M

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    Jul 13 2012: Why should "women be helped to control their fertility"?

    If one advocates "population control" then advocate _that._ But increasing female infidelity --which is what female "empowerment" actually does-- doesn't actually "control population" best.

    Female infidelity is not the way to create "equality"[for all] and "peace" or properly raised [nurtured, educated] human children; it is the catalyst (for most negatives, eg competition and greed) and a type of *abuse.* _Female infidelity is a symptom of females searching out "better" men--on instinct._ When females are "empowered" MOST males become not good enough --hence infidelity increases with all the attendant problems there in.

    Why shouldn't high IQ men "control" things? Just like parents. Once the masses can be replaced with tech they can be phased out. That's the best way to end cruelty and stupidity; the best way to create "progress".

    Males advocating "female empowerment" is a mating display modern males engage in to box out the olde "tournament" victor males of man's past. Ie women's lib is not a thought through method for solving the human condition; it is a mating display /sex strategy by the roosters as they fight over the hen house. (Note the females are still more turned on by the vestigial tourny victor males --especially when ovulating. Ie nothing about this female liberation _tactic_ is working.)
    • Jul 14 2012: JM conflates control over one's fertility with "infidelity". Since it is obvious that JM does not want to hear arguments or listen to facts it is difficult to know how to continue the conversation.
      • J M

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        Jul 14 2012: I conflate female empowerment /"liberation" with infidelity because that's what it is. ("Infidelity" here means breaking up too not just crypto-'cheating'.)

        It is that because--like I said-- as females get more status their standards go up for what they will 'settle for". But as males try to ascend up to that mark --through competition where only a sliver win and most lose-- the other males[the losers] (and twisted females) pull them down.

        "Control over one's fertility" ...For the male that means controlling the female womb (or eliminating other males, which is a type of control of the womb).

        Neither you or your entire "movement" has established any "facts".

        You have --and you entire movement has-- assertions --which go unchallenged because they hide behind *female sexual value* (and the way this species has always deferred to it). Assertions motivated originally by --as said-- the desire to box out tournament-type (ie more physical or "sexier") males. Now the movement is simply conformity by the intellectually lazy looking for an easy slam dunk politic. It is a 'slam dunk' since "protect the females" (which is what "liberate females" actually means) has never been challenged given female sexual value (and the way this species has always deferred to it).
    • Jul 14 2012: The demographic concept of fertility is more precise than the use of the term in ordinary discourse. It refers to the average number of children produced by women during the period of their fertility, normally taken to mean between 15 and forty or so. The demographic facts - that fertility has gradually dropped to something approaching the replacement level of about 2 in developed societies and is rapidly dropping in the developing world - are very easily verified in a large literature on the subject. JM alleges, quite without any evidence, that drops in fertility represent increases in infidelity, an allegation which on its face seems rather paradoxical. The connection between drops in fertility and drops in female illiteracy are also well documented, as I have indicated. [Comparative fertility rates can be seen at].

      JM's sexual economics, apparently of the jungle variety, might well be applied to a career in primate behavior.
  • Jul 8 2012: My stress on the local, native language as a doorway to literacy is perhaps distinctive. It is an obvious idea, once one has thought of it. There are, of course, ideological (as well as apparently "practical") reasons why national education systems invariably teach national and international lingua francas rather than genuinely local languages, which are invariably looked at with contempt. This was brought home to me on a recent visit to Negros in the Philippines. I went into a bookstore and asked for books in the local language of the district. There were none!

    The general connection between education and fertility is, however, a commonplace among family planning people, demographers and so on, and literacy can obviously be used as a proxy for education as well, of course, as a sine qua non.

    The crucial issue, as I see it, is female agency, as it evidently is for Melinda Gates. And at the heart of female agency is the right and the capacity to control one's body, and the size and spacing of one's family. Literacy, then, could be thought of as the gateway to the information and technology available to a woman to achieve this agency.

    For an adult person to become literate, in the general sense of being able to encode and decode the language which she already knows fully, as part of her native endowment, is not the lengthy task it is for small children, particularly since, once you have embarked on it, you inevitably continue to "teach yourself" by reading what comes to hand.

    I recommend Matthew Connelly's Fatal Misconception, subtitled "The struggle to control world populatio", an appalling history of the efforts in the second half od the 20thC to force down fertiluity rates on the part of the UN and the IPPF. If you can't manage the whole book I recommend at least reading his concluding chapter. On page 376 he has a chart showing the correlation, on a global scale, between declines in fertility and female literacy. rates.
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    Jul 18 2012: Richard, your premise sounds quite reasonable to me.

    Clearly, a woman (or man) has more power to comprehend content when it is delivered in the primary language (mother language or L1). That said, it is obvious that a woman, who learns at once about reproduction in a context that allows her to anticipate decision-making, will be more likely to accept the responsibility for starting a new human being. Once she understands her responsibility, coupled with the means to make reproductive decisions, the easier it will be for her to act on that information.

    Conversely, information delivered in a language that is not embraced by the recipient may appear to hold an intrusive bias. That would hold particularly true for a woman who has been brought up in an environment that regards women as passive possessions. It is difficult enough to break with disabling belief systems that you have grown up knowing must be valid, without having the added complication of a set of words that may not hold meanings you can completely comprehend.

    However, it is far better to teach people to read at all, than to keep them removed from the secret codes that readers espouse.

    As a practical matter, it is not always possible to find teachers who are able to speak, read, and write well in every mother tongue. Such is the problem for schools in Los Angeles, where classrooms may have children from many language groups. Just speaking a language does not guarantee that even the native speaker has the reading, writing or teaching skills needed to teach.

    My guess is that places where indigenous people are traditionally deprived of schooling would also have a shortage of qualified literacy teachers.
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    • J M

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      Jul 18 2012: "But some time could also be spent educating men. Fertility takes two.

      If, for example fertility control is the goal,"

      No it is not the goal. Marginalization of men is the goal; meanwhile creating niches for mediocre bureaucrats.

      (Ultimately allowing females to cheat while living off of the cheated on's labor is the goal since "liberated" "equal" females [ie total dependents protected by caste structures of winner-and loser-men who fight over female sexual value] _on the whole_ really just explore their serial "relationship" adventures, with the whole career and education thing --the ostensible goal of "liberation"-- just being a back drop for that core rockstar goal. (True unless a female is from the minority of Un-fecund females; but they were always part of male intellectual collectives anyway [eg monks and nuns].) Why females don't have different core goals for their liberation --eg academic or inventive/creative genius-- is female-aptitude based.)

      If population reduction was the goal, people would advocate _population reduction._ And they would communicate the goal to the men so as to get them on board rather than going around them talking about them in third person with their conspired with females.
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    Gail .

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    Jul 16 2012: I do not believe that the simple matter of promoting literacy in native languages is the answer to female disempowerment - whether in a third world country or in the USA - where women have lost most of the progress they gained in the last 40 years. You have to look at the SYSTEM that encourages men to look at women and women to look at themselves as inferiors. Treatment of women is a SYMPTOM of a curable problem.

    Education always helps - let there be no question. Literacy is part of that, and literacy in any language is a good thing. BUT, if you are being taught lies and misinformation in any language, you haven't taken much of a step just by teaching literacy.

    Nearly 30 years ago, my worldview crashed, and I was left knowing that I needed a replacement. I also knew that I wasn't sufficiently educated to do so, so I began to educate myself. This was before the Internet, so I became very familiar with my local library and book stores. One part of my education included being well-read, so I joined a book club that offered the 100 greatest books. After about 20 books, I realized that the list was obviously written by men, because all the books painted a rather dim view of women. Had I not been educating myself in other fields at the same time, I would never have been able to even recognize that I was being systematically disempowered - not only through the use of literature, but through cultural (and legal) programming.

    By the time my education got around to understanding the various economic models that are possible, I learned how our current (global) economic model CREATES the problems that we are spending money trying to fix. It did so in order to maintain the illusion (lie) that it serves us. It was the economic model that had been enslaving me without my conscious awareness.

    I conclude by saying that unless information is honest, literacy helps little. We need people encouraging others to educate themselves at the most basic levels. Literacy = 1.
    • Jul 16 2012: Gail, your contribution to the conversation is most inspiring. I have been teaching literature for some forty-odd years, and my object has invariably been to launch students into their self-education. My own education - though I got a doctorate - was itself almost entirely of this kind, beginning in my very early teems sixty-odd years back. Key books for me were those of Kenneth Burke (almost entirely self-taught), Paolo Freire's Pedagogy of the oppressed., Ivan Illych's Deschooling Society, and A.S. Neill's Summerhill. I feel you would love these books, particularly Freire and Ilych.

      My notion of maternal literacy is, as you point out, no panacea, though I believe it could make a contribution.
      particularly in the context of clinics in very rural parts of Africa (which remain very multi-lingual) and, say, Pakistan. .

      Although it is rather a dense historical book, I also recommend - around the issue of birth control (as distinct from controlling one's own fertility via family planning ) - Connelly's Fatal Misconception. It deals with the ghastly and brutal birth-control movement of the later 20th century. He also indicates that it was largely the work of the neo-feminists of the seventies which put a stop to it. . . He also documents the connection between family planning and literacy.
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        Gail .

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        Jul 16 2012: Let's look at the issue from a mathematical context. I can fly to Africa and spend a few years teaching the best and most able how to read (if village leaders permit me to educate the females who still endure female genital mutilation) But I would have to also provide books and/or computer technology to make it meaningful and that's a BIG obstacle. Then I could go to Pakistan and do the same (being a woman, I would be allowed into many homes that you would not). I could do the same thing. Getting information to Pakistani women is far more difficult because so many are not allowed to leave their homes unescorted by a male (either the one who tacitly "owns" them or someone assigned by him).

        In the meantime, I could spend far less time going about teaching mothers who are holding their infants who are dying of malnutrition and thirst (because milk has dried up) about birth control. I don't need them to be literate to understand the relevance of that.

        Before you can expect to improve female literacy, you have to fix the system that imprisons them. Though we know HOW to do that, it's a well-guarded secret among those in the higher echalons of the hierarchy of every culture.

        Literacy can be a 2-headed monster. Lacking good reading material,missionaries may come and say that the Bible is the only readable book and it says that women are to be silent and submissive - or they will go to hell. How do you explain to an African villager why quantum mechanics is essential knowledge?

        I'm all for literacy, and I'm all for birth control on this planet that has already exceeded its ability to sustain our numbers. But what works in Appalachia doesn't work in the places you speak of until there is a willingness on the part of the slave owners to allow the slaves to be educated. They know, just as American slave holders knew, that education is a threat to slavery.

        How do you intend do get around that conundrum?

        Thx 4 the book suggestions. Will look into.
        • Jul 16 2012: I will try to be clear. I am not offering any kind of panacea or cure for the manifold forces at work to prevent women from becoming literate: simply a gateway to a gateway, just as Pythagoras is a gateway to the calculus. I would also sharply distinguish "birth-control" as a public policy from family planning, the former lending itself to coercive methods, the latter aiming to enhance the agency of women. I believe literacy enhances female agency.
        • J M

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          Jul 18 2012: Why should female "agency" be "enhanced"?
        • Jul 18 2012: JM inquires why female agency - a rather technical term, meaning roughly " having a real say in one's destiny" - should be enhanced.

          The answer: because, surprise, surprise, it turns out that they are actually human beings !
        • J M

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          Aug 2 2012: "surprise, surprise, it turns out that they are actually human beings !"

          Everybody is a human being. Says nothing; typical political talk.

          Children are "human beings" Should they be in charge of the everyone's sex lives? Health? Child rearing protocols? Big picture decision making?

          Children are already protected and provided for. (If they were females --rather than children-- they would be the cause of everyone's' competition too.) What do they need "agency" for? For what purpose? So they can make it more difficult for the protector
          class and competing classes?
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      Jul 18 2012: Gail, I'm thinking that you may be trying to make a distinction between rote memorization of words, which in and of itself is not reading, with critical thinking, in which the reader uses text as a jumping off place for thought.

      Are you perhaps suggesting that the reader must be prepared to challenge the content of a text, while at the same time working to fully understand the intent of the author?
  • Jul 15 2012: It is easy to dream up ideas such as mine; putting them into practice is quite a different matter. The most intractable issue is the last: the issue of sustainability. . For this idea to actually take hold anywhere would entail commitments from the the authorities, who would need to understand the underlying logic of using the local languages rather than Lingua Francas.

    Literacy is a notoriously badly understood statistical category, with no real internationally accepted standards. I strongly suspect, therefore, that the numbers inflated (for all the obvious local political reasons.) A strong, widely accepted definition, then, would be a first step.

    My notion is a gateway to a gateway. It is focused on those who, even under these lax definitions, are still counted as illiterate, those, that is, who can still not manage elementary coding and decoding in any language. It proposes that the first step in becoming literate is to grasp this basic process, and that a very good way to prevent this from happening is to insist that this process be approached in a language that the illiterate adult does NOT already know. To become literate in this most elementary sense is to cash in your own fluency, a fluency which is a universal human capacity for anyone over the age of four or so. An adult brings with her a thorough familiarity with the language she has grown up around. Learning to encode and decode this language can be accomplished quickly. That is the first gateway; the second is to gradually become proficient in the Lingua Franca, a more laborious and lengthy task. My proposal is simply to open the first gateway.

    The learning program I suggest - which I call the 500 Words - would be a "meta-program", involving oral as well as visual elements, specifically designed to be virtually automatically translatable into any alphabetic language. Perhaps one could recruit Pimsleur, or some such, to help.
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    Jul 15 2012: I agree with the principal in this idea. Giving women greater control of their reproductive rights has repeatedly been correlated to improve quality of life in the children and lower death rates due to preventable illnesses and malnutrition. Similarly, increasing women's education is directly correlated with a decrease in infant mortality. ( The issue I see here is translating from a theory to a practical program.

    Do you have any ideas of how to shape such a program? The program would have logistical concerns like the cost of printing the books or providing the paper on which to write the books, which could be overcome through donor organizations but would be hard to create in a sustainable system. Similarly, the literacy materials would have to have a high enough perceived value to be used for their intended purpose and not for things like starting fires or 'toilet reading.' On the other hand, it would have to have a low enough value to justify being used in every home, rather than just at the clinic or with supervision.

    At a glance, it seems like the assumption that literacy will breed literacy may also have issues. Reading is not a simple task until one passes a certain threshold, even in one's mother tongue. Just providing the reading materials wouldn't be sufficient to increase the literacy rate of the women, though it could help the children who have more free time to pursue such activities. I think increasing the literacy of women would need further incentives like continual access to new and relevant information, which would provide another hurtle to sustainability.

    I like the idea of linking places where women are already gathering to literacy through local programs but I would like to see more about the practical application of this idea.
  • Jul 14 2012: Outstanding Richard I really didn"t understand the pun, but it is a good point.
  • Jul 13 2012: I didn't understand the maternal language thing. O.K. there are alot of things going on, but humanity is somewhat matriarchial. Shouldn't eventually or now everyone be able to read? Aby advicacy of rationality and thought in this world is a good thing.
    • Jul 13 2012: "Maternal Language" is a kind of weak pun. It refers both to the "mother tongue", the language of the household and community into which the child is born, and to the actual mother through whom the language enters into the basic makeup of the child. Children are, by the age of four or so, completely fluent in this language, incapable of making certain kinds of mistakes common among those for whom this is a second language, learned later in life. In a literate household the child is also introduced early to printed materials in this language which, he gradually comes to understand, somehow "hold" the words he has become used to hearing and using. So begins his transition to literacy.

      In many countries only a small proportion of mothers are literate. Those who are not are, in a sense, trapped, as are their children. Among other things, such women have little access to the means of controlling the size of their families, and little capacity to run the tiny businesses which might help them out. Often, what little literacy they may have is confined to a national language of one kind or another, often totally different from the maternal language.

      What I propose, then, is the construction of a program specifically designed to be very easily translated into any alphabetic maternal language with the help of a native speaker. This program would then be used in a clinic for young mothers and mothers-to-be. Its product would be a set of very simple books written by the newly literate mothers themselves, and from which these mothers could read to their kids. This program would come to be regarded as an essential part of maternal health.

      At least modestly literate in the maternal language, both the children and their mothers could then, at school, come to terms with the national language, having already mastered the basic steps of decoding and encoding an alphabetic language which they already know.
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    Aja B.

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    Jul 7 2012: Richard, I haven't heard this before, do you have any reports or data on this?
    • Jul 11 2012: Good question!
      My question to all of this would be not about the "maternal language" but rather about how we change the minds of the Men(African especially but also Asian) in order to allow the women in those countries to participate in the decision making about the size of their families? Honestly! It has nothing to do with the language but rather the power structure within the family or clan. Don't you agree?
      • Jul 13 2012: Marta: you claim that the issue is decision-making within the family, and that this has nothing to do with language.

        Think of it this way: language is a kind of gateway through which you may or may not pass, depending on your status. During the Taliban era in Afghanistan, girls were not allowed to attend school. Recently two girls there, on their way to school, had acid thrown in their faces by a Taliban "militant". Literacy, it is clear, is a real threat to a patriarchal order. Only six out of ten girls in Pakistan are permitted to attend primary school.

        Whether my notion of literacy in the maternal language is valid or not, literacy, however achieved, is an absolutely crucial element in development, and development is crucial to the liberation of women..
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      Jul 18 2012: Actually, Aja, there is an extensive body of work to support the use of the mother tongue in literacy development. In brief, allow me to reference three, three that just happened to evolve independent of one another in very different situations on three different continents.

      2000 characters will only allow one real illustration, so I will only mention the first two.

      • Paulo Freire, a Brazilian lawyer, knew that poor, hungry "unteachable" children of peasants of Brazil had as much cognitive power as the children of the elites. One of Paulo's premises was "To know the word is to know the world." Perhaps his best-known book (though not best translated) is Pedagogy of the Oppressed.

      • Sylvia Ashton-Warner was a New Zealander, sent without a budget to tend the wild "unteachable" Maori children. Each child would bring words from home that they wanted to learn to read, words like "kill" and "ghost" and "blood." She wrote those words in big letters on laundry cardboards and handed them to the donors. Soon, the kids were able to distinguish whose words were whose. You might refer to her book Teacher.

      • Septima Poinsette Clark, the daughter of a former slave, was born in South Carolina, USA, and eventually established Citizenship Schools designed to provide literacy to the disenfranchised Blacks who could not vote because they could not read. So, she taught people with dialects that would count as a different language when written down.
      ONE EXAMPLE If the learner said, "Dat wasn't right." Septima would write down exactly what was said. BUT she would then explain that "Dat is how we say it, but when you go for the literacy test, it will be 'that'."

      And then the learner had a piece of meaningful text, written in both languages, to take home.

      In this way, literacy empowered the Blacks of the South and gave them the vote.

      Much has been written about Septima Clark, but she co-authored a memoir called Ready from Within: Septima Clark and the Civil Rights Movement.