Besides Knowing How to Read, What Makes a Literate Nation?

20161002_070000Back in March, Central Connecticut State University released a study that ranked countries based on literate behaviors. Grouped loosely, the behaviors centered around libraries, newspapers, educational investment, educational “outputs” (how they define those I will have to read the actual study), and computer availability. 

Though the study had many interesting findings (such as the lack of correlation between years of school and literacy) what stuck out to me is that the country I’m now living in, Indonesia, ranked second to last out of sixty countries. Though Venezuela was not included in the list, I’m sure Venezuela would’ve ranked low too.

I noticed the lack of public libraries in both countries. In Valencia, Venezuela, for example, when I would ask where a public library was people would tell me 1.) they didn’t know of one and 2.) Venezuelan culture was not a culture about reading for pleasure. A bookstore or two could be found in the mall, but the pickings were slim compared to the soaring Book Stops of my childhood or ever-present Barnes & Nobles of my adult life.

Here in Jakarta, like in Valencia, I’ve turned to my Nook and my current school’s beautiful libraries (yes, plural…four of ’em!) to satiate my hunger for literature.

Funny enough, one of the few things I miss about NYC is NYC before smart phones took over–the NYC where you could tell which books were topping bestseller lists without ever reading the paper because you would see it at least three times on your morning commute. The NYC where I went to independent bookstores, and musty used bookstores (The Strand, anyone?), and libraries that taught me those spaces could be community centers, not just places to be quiet and study.

The States has a lot of problems concerning literacy, but there is at least an expectation that people read. People explain to me why they don’t read (maybe it’s because I’m an English teacher). That’s not always the case abroad. It’s just “I don’t read [long texts such as books].”

Now, I’m in the midst of a graphic novel reading blitz. I’m excited Gene Luen Yang won a Genius Award and inspired by his uncomfortably honest portrayal of Chinese stereotypes in American Born Chinese. I’ve been meaning to read that book since it came out in ’06…and just finished it last night.

My action research that I presented to my principal concerns increasing the amount of ethnically diverse mentor texts used in the middle school classroom. Since our library is being overhauled to look more like a bookstore divided by genres instead of by the Dewey Decimal System, we’re ordering new titles. I’m so proud of the school’s libraries because they are richly diverse as is, but I’m still going crazy pitching titles.

Please let me know if you have any young adult suggestions, particularly with Indonesian, Korean, Filipino, or Japanese protagonists. Simply drop me a comment!



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