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Saturday, September 8, 2012

Literacy is insufficient qualifier for goodness

Today is celebrated International Literacy Day
By Carolyn Bennett

“Literacy,” UNESCO writes, “contributes to peace as it brings people closer to attaining individual freedoms and better understanding the world, as well as preventing or resolving conflict. The connection between literacy and peace can be seen by the fact that in unstable democracies or in conflict-affected countries it is harder to establish or sustain a literate environment.

“Education brings sustainability to all the development goals, and literacy is the foundation of all learning. It provides individuals with the skills to understand the world and shape it, to participate in democratic processes and have a voice, and also to strengthen their cultural identity.”   

In 2000, 189 nations made a promise to free people from extreme poverty and multiple deprivations. This pledge turned into the eight Millennium Development Goals.

UN Millennium Development Goals Eight Goals for 2015

  1. 1 Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
  2. 2 Achieve universal primary education
  3. 3 Promote gender equality and empower women
  4. 4 Reduce child mortality
  1. 5 Improve maternal health
  2. 6 Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases
  3. 7 Ensure environmental sustainability
  4. 8 Develop a global partnership for development

But these worthy goals will NEVER be achieved as long as smart, educated, literate people do terribly bad things to the world’s lands, institutions and peoples.

Why is Literacy important?” UNESCO asks and answers in celebration of International Literacy Day.

“Literacy is a human right, a tool of personal empowerment and a means for social and human development. Educational opportunities depend on literacy.

“Literacy is at the heart of basic education for all, and essential for eradicating poverty, reducing child mortality, curbing population growth, achieving gender equality and ensuring sustainable development, peace and democracy. There are good reasons why literacy is at the core of Education for All (EFA).

A good quality basic education equips pupils with literacy skills for life and further learning; literate parents are more likely to send their children to school; literate people are better able to access continuing educational opportunities; and literate societies are better geared to meet pressing development.”


Does literacy or academic credentials, any more than religion —

… [t]each people right from wrong
… [t]each people how to treat one another
… [t]each people how to live in harmony and cooperation, in respect, nonviolently in caring and conversation with the whole world: all of its differences, all of its inhabitants?

I wish I thought so, but I don’t. If I ever did, I surely do not today.


Tony Blair, former UK PM
George W. Bush former U.S. President
Literate, educated, bad people

In the United States’ highest levels of governmental leadership and influence are graduates of some of the most prestigious universities: Chicago, Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Princeton. These people are “learned,” highly literate, schooled (if not educated) beyond most people’s imagination; powerful clubs and corporate networks reinforce their literacy and self-importance.

Foreign Relations USA Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama
Nevertheless, these mostly men are killers. If they know right from wrong, they act as if they don’t.

Former USA SOS  Condoleezza Rice
These same people, famous, infamously famous for claiming themselves followers, adherents, practicers of one or another religion or religious tradition; infamously famous for proclaiming the “rights” of pieces of flesh, fetuses, “únborns”; infamously famous for proclaiming personal “rights” to enter marriage (a thoroughly archaic and oppressive institution) – these same people are notorious bullies, terrorizers and torturers, killers and destroyers.

They destroy with flagrant impunity not only the lands and institutions and peoples of places far away from the shores of the United States, people who have done absolutely no harm to the United States. In the process of wave upon wave of destruction, these mostly men undermine and destroy international law.

Susan Rice at UN
No space, no people escape. In the United States, these erudite, literate, educated men dig a swath of devastation deep and wide, right through the U.S. domestic laws and structures and institutions and people. These are bad people.

Literacy, education insufficient

David Cameron, UK PM
On the other hand, I have known people who could not read or write but who knew and acted as if they knew right from wrong. They knew how to treat other human beings and they treated them with honor and respect and caring — caring as equal among equals.

I am all for literacy but I know that literacy alone—and depending too on what a person does with his or her literacy or education — is not enough. Nor does achievement of literacy or education make good people (people who do no harm) or caring people (nonviolent in practice and advocacy), honorable and just people.

I’m sure UNESCO knows this. But sometimes people (e.g., NGOs, nonprofits, UN agencies, et.al.) and are blinded by their focus: invested in narrow lens, in the institutionalization of and fundraising for their advocacy, in their own perpetuation so much so that they fail to see and incorporate into their thinking broader contexts and realities. They lose sight of or deliberately set aside achievement of interrelated goals: peace as cessation of war and aggression; elimination of poverty; reinstatement of international law; ensuring nations’ sovereignty, ending invasions, occupation; ending torture, prosecuting torturers and others who abuse human rights; promoting all of these and democratic practice among all people, not just people of the global south.  

Sources and notes

Literacy and Peace

The theme of International Literacy Day 2012 is Literacy and Peace, the theme “adopted by the United Nations Literacy Decade (UNLD) to demonstrate the multiple uses and value that literacy brings to people.”

For more than forty years UNESCO “has been celebrating International Literacy Day by reminding the international community that literacy is a human right and the foundation of all learning,” says. UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova.



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