Thursday, February 28, 2008

Family literacy, storytelling at home... should we be skeptical?

It is an truism for most people like me, who work a lot helping to establish and sustain small community libraries in rural Africa, to think that the model of literacy I practice with my own children (lots of shared reading and storytelling through age 6 or 7, until they are firmly reading on their own) is going to be replicable in African villages. But it is painfully obvious that our librarians in Burkina Faso and Ghana have, most of them, a hard time doing that kind of shared reading. Most village parents have even further to go.

So do I (and FAVL) have to work a lot harder to change the librarians and the village reading culture? Or is it I (and FAVL) that needs to change?

I've been reading a nice collection of essays, edited by A. van Kleeck, S. Stahl and E. Bauer (the E stands for Eurydice, which makes me like her automatically), called On Reading Books to Children. Many of the chapters are essays by left-leaning deconstructionist types... lots of dominant paradigms being tilted at. But there point, that my model of literacy acquisition may not be the most effective model to promote, is not lost on me. I confess, though, that I am disappointed in that no alternative models are proposed. What would an alternative literacy model look like? Whenever I try to imagine alternatives, I use as a touchstone the family/convent alternative of much of Europe for so long (yes, an aunt was a nun!). So the nuclear family isn't for you, what do you do? Join a convent. Very different living arrangements. So what's the parallel for literacy? The One Laptop per Child is going to bypass book reading? Television and radio in rural areas? Does anyone honestly think that promoting these at the expense of promoting shared book reading is the right course of action?

So the answer to my earlier question: I'd love to change, but I really have no good idea of how to do it! I'm stuck in the family literacy-shared reading rut and I don't have a machete to make a new path.

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