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Richard Stack

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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.


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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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        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?

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