Monday night I attended the National Center for Family Literacy‘s annual conference banquet. It was quite the affair, hosted by Jenna Bush Hager and featuring talks by both Dr. Shoichiro Toyoda, honorary chairman of Toyota Motor Corporation and Yohimi Inaba, presdient and COO of Toyota Motor North America. The banquet celebrated success stories in family literacy and the 20th anniversary of the organization, founded in Louisville by Sharon Darling in 1991.
I’m honored to serve on the Board of Directors for NCFL and have served the organization as a consultant in the past. I helped start their first organization blog in 2008 and helped push them to embrace technology to reach their core audiences of parents, teachers and program administrators. I’ve been a (very small) part of the formulation of Wonderopolis, NCFL’s most innovative social media program to date, which serves up a Wonder of the Day to parents and students alike, fostering excitement through wonder around learning.
I often encourage my Twitter and Facebook connections to share the Wonder of the Day with their children. My son constantly asks what the Wonder of the Day is. The site is intended to put kids in parent’s laps to learn on a daily basis. It fosters family learning which is far more important that any the child will get in the classroom.
As I sat and listened to the program Monday night, I was excited about the future of the organization due to Toyota’s enthusiastic continued support of the cause of family literacy and the insights Geno Church of Brains on Fire (the partner NCFL has worked with to create Wonderopolis) shared from teachers who are using Wonderopolis in their classroom. One even said Wonderopolis was his daily curriculum with his kindergarten class, who takes the topic and explores it further.
I was also pleased Mr. Inaba even pointed to social media as another reason driving literacy and education is such an important mission for Toyota to support. For the president and COO of Toyota’s presence in North America to give the social world that nod means something.
Perhaps more importantly, I was convinced again that supporting family literacy is not just good for our world and community, it’s a necessity. Without the ability to communicate and execute the core functions of daily life, people — adults and children — are doomed. It’s an economic and cultural imperative that we make up for the holes in our education system, the needs of the immigrant populations and the gaps in the development of children in America by providing the simple, but life-changing opportunity of literacy.
And please understand the difference in “literacy” as you probably see it and family literacy as we practice it.
Literacy is about school. Family literacy is about life.
NCFL supports English as second language programs, adult education classes that help high school dropouts prepare for the workforce and get GEDs, parent and child educational programs that foster in-home learning to supplement or improve upon classroom education, scholarships to deserving hard workers to move into post-secondary educational opportunities and more.
NCFL teaches people functional literacy – balancing your check book, reading bus schedules, communicating with pharmacists to ensure those in your care get proper medication. I’ve seen success stories of people learning English and getting college degrees in their 50s and 60s at the encouragement of their grandchildren. I’ve seen stories of inner-city, poverty-stricken children earning college degrees through NCFL programs, then turning around to implement those programs in their old neighborhoods.
I heard a story Monday of a Polish immigrant in Alabama who was so upset her special needs daughter wouldn’t be accepted into preschool that she returned to her Family Literacy Program to learn more so she could go to college to become a special needs teacher.
There’s no bad about NCFL. It’s helping people live better lives. It’s helping people get out of poverty. It’s helping immigrants live the American dream so many of us take for granted.
But despite the economic and cultural imperative of the cause, it doesn’t get headline support. It’s not breast cancer. It’s not the Red Cross. It doesn’t address immediate need or everybody-knows-somebody afflictions that win the majority of our cause-related giving in today’s world. Not that these causes aren’t deserving … they are. But if our needy families lose their ability to communicate, they lose their ability to learn and earn. The huddled masses will multiply, as will the gap between the haves and the have nots.
Our economy will suffer. Our nation and world will too.
This is why I’m committed to the National Center for Family Literacy. This is why I’m proud to serve on its board. Because I believe that educating and empowering those who have little education and limited communications as a result will change the world.
You can help, too, if you like. Learn more about the NCFL and how you can support it on their website. At a minimum, go to Wonderopolis and subscribe to the blog. When you get your Wonder of the Day, share it with your kids. Or any kid.
You’ll be glad to you did, both today and tomorrow.