Hi there tout la gang,

We don't have much to say about research in practice at the Café right now

but we are talking policy and practice over here now: Literacy Enquirers.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

tireless, courageous and sue-ped up

Sue Bannon from the Midland Area Reading Council has been talking to her Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP) and here is what happened. Last Thursday Garfield Dunlop, the Progressive Conservative MPP for Simcoe North, stood up in the Ontario Legislature and made this motion:

"I move that, in the opinion of this House, the government of Ontario should provide adequate funding to community-based literacy and basic skills programs so that the agencies can properly address the growing enrolment."

His speech in support of the motion sounded kind of like a literacy worker speaking. Mr. Dunlop either has experience in community-based literacy or he is a good listener. Perhaps a little of both. He brought this issue to his colleagues with passion, compassion and complexity.

You can download a transcript of his complete speech and the comments of the MPPs who spoke to the motion here (PDF 100 KB). Not everybody spoke like a literacy worker. Some kept their politician hats firmly on their heads. Some spoke in support but still have a little listening to do. But many spoke of community-based literacy as we understand it: hard work that takes courage and commitment, where the rewards can be difficult to quantify but are deeply felt, and that continuously creates huge and tiny reward ripples for individuals and communities.

Here is a list of who spoke and some excerpts:

Garfield Dunlop: Progressive Conservative (Official Opposition) Member of Provincial Parliament for Simcoe North.
"...in order to have about 115 learners in their organization [Midland Area Reading Council] right now-and most of the learning is provided by volunteers in our communities - these groups operate on funding of about $60,000 a year. That's for staff time, hydro, heat, computers - $60,000. So basically they're poverty organizations as we would stand today."
Andrea Horwath: New Democrat Member of Provincial Parliament for Hamilton Centre.
"The important piece of this member's motion is to acknowledge that government has a role. Government has a role to make sure that people are prepared and able to engage not only in the economy and economic activity but in the broader social and political activities that a civil society has to offer. ...It is not a matter of inability; it's a matter of lack of access."
Bob Delaney: Liberal (Current Government) Member of Provincial Parliament for Mississauga Streetsville.
"I think it's an important subject that does deserve discussion in the Legislature."
Robert Bailey: Progressive Conservative Member of Provincial Parliament for Sarnia Lambton.
"I was very disappointed to learn, when I met with this organization [Organization for Literacy Sarnia-Lambton], that they have been struggling and operating for a number of years with only $63,000 in core funding. This $63,000 covers rent, administration and wages, which as we know is just not realistic in this day and age. In fact, the executive director, who is a retired school teacher, bless her heart, has not even been drawing a wage for the last number of years in order for the program to keep functioning."
Cheri DiNovo: New Democrat Member of Provincial Parliament for Parkdale High Park.
"I hope this valuable motion is taken up by the government, not just in a vote today-which seems inevitable now-but in actual adequate funding."
Mike Colle: Liberal (Current Governement) Member of Provincial Parliament for Eglinton Lawrence.
"There are some very good teachers and some very good volunteers teaching literacy and numeracy."
Peter Shurman: Progressive Conservative Member of Provincial Parliament for Thornhill.
"I want to underscore something else. Literacy does not mean that you're stupid or lazy or incapable. It usually means you just plain need a leg up. So that's what these programs are about, and it is extremely important. ... I myself have had the privilege of standing before 100 people and talking to them about my background and why I developed literacy skills and looking at their backgrounds and finding out that there's an array of reasons why they didn't, and watching them so hungry to suck up the knowledge they were getting from that literacy centre, that was teaching them to be as good as they could be by having these basic skills."
Ted Chudleigh: Progressive Conservative Member of Provincial Parliament for Halton.
"I would like to bring the attention of the House to the tireless workers and volunteers who tutor these students and what a wonderful job they do. As the member who brought this bill forward mentioned, there are 265,000 hours of volunteer work every year. That's an amazing number. I'd also like to commend the courage of the students. It's not an easy thing to walk into a library or walk into an organization and say, "I can't read and write." That takes a great deal of courage. I would commend those people who do that, particularly later in life."
Garfield Dunlop: Progressive Conservative Member of Provincial Parliament for Simcoe North.
"I, for one-and I'm passionate about this because I've got some strong stakeholders in my riding that push me. I'm not going to let this drop. Even if you don't put one cent in the budget, it's not going to drop. We're going to keep nagging you and nagging you and nagging you until this funding for community-based organizations is increased."

And the motion carried. It seems that community-based literacy has a new champion in the legislature. Thank you Mr. Dunlop and all the others who supported this motion. Those of us in Ontario will help you as you keep nagging and nagging and nagging. Those of us in other provinces will use your speech to energize our champions and encourage new people to join their ranks.

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