[Technology 1266] International Literacy Day and Health
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September 6, 2007
International Literacy Day and Health
International Consultant in Adult Education
The theme for International Literacy Day September 8, 2007 is literacy and
health. This is a theme that brings together two great scourges of the
world today: illiteracy and ill health. But these are not new threats, nor
is this the first time that illiteracy and ill health have been paired.
Too often it is thought that literacy is something that one must first get
before it can be applied to solving important problems like ill health. But
that is a myth. The fact is that one can be developing literacy while also
working towards better health. One can learn literacy and health
information at the same time.
Teaching Literacy in Health Contexts in Kentucky
Teaching literacy and health together was clearly illustrated in the early
part of the 20th century by Cora Wilson Stewart. She founded the Moonlight
Schools of Kentucky to bring literacy to the illiterate country folk of
Rowan County. In her Country Life Readers, First Book, Stewart (1915)
taught reading using what today we would call a "whole language" approach
integrated into a variety of functional contexts for the hill and hollow
people of her county. One such functional context was health. In one
lesson, she taught basic sight word reading using a lesson about the health
problems caused by flies. The reading for the lesson went as follows:
"Here you are, Mister Fly.
I know where you have been.
You have been in all kinds of places.
You have been to the pig pen and to the cattle pen.
You have been to the slops from the sick man.
You have been feeding on a dead dog.
Now you have come to bring the filth from all of these things to my table.
I know what you will do with all this filth.
You will drop it into my soup.
You will put it in the baby's milk.
You will put it on my bread.
You will put it on my butter.
You will drop it on the meat that I have cooked for dinner.
If I let you live you will spoil our food.
And if we eat it, we may all be sick.
What shall I do?
I will kill you, Mister Fly."
Teaching Literacy in Health Contexts in India
One of the greatest literacy educators of all times was Frank Laubach.
Unlike Stewart, Laubach was a very strong proponent of phonics. However,
like Stewart, Laubach engaged in teaching literacy in functional contexts,
including the integrated teaching of reading and health information. Like
Stewart's focus on diseases spread by flies, in one of his lessons for
adults in India, Laubach dealt with diseases spread by mosquitoes
(Laubach,& Laubach, 1960, p. 257). He called this Fiction with a Lesson.
The reading accompanying the reading lesson read as follows:
Mosquitoes carry malaria. Malaria makes many people very sick.
Malaria may make you sick. It may make your child very sick.
The best way to stop malaria is to kill the mosquitoes.
Mosquitoes grow in still water. In the little streams and
in the lakes the mosquitoes make their home. They like to live in
the swamps too. They grow in wells that have no covers on them
Here are four ways that you can kill mosquitoes:
1. Drain the swamps
2. If you can't drain swamps, pour oil on them
3. Cover the wells
4. Get fish for your lake
If you do these four things, soon the mosquitoes will die.
You will not get sick with malaria. You will have good health.
You will find that the work in killing mosquitoes will be worth the trouble.
[note: this is an abridged version of the reading passage for this lesson.]
Teaching Literacy in Health Contexts in World War II
During World War II, Paul Witty, a professor of reading instruction, was
called upon to develop literacy programs for tunctionally illiterate
soldiers. Using a whole word or whole language approach, Witty developed a
number of innovations for teaching adult literacy, including the first
comic strip for adults learning to read. In a special newspaper for
soldiers learning to read, the September 1945 issue included a comic strip
Pvt. Pete Keeps Healthy.
In this strip, the fictional soldier Private Pete and his sidekick, Daffy,
discuss what to do after a long march:
Daffy says: I'm glad that march is over, Pete.
Pete: So am I. But if we keep fit, marches won't be hard for us.
The first thing is to look for blisters.
Another soldier says: That's right, Smith. Blisters can cripple any soldier
unless he takes care of them. Every man is taught how to care for his
That's part of first aid.
After Daffy and Pete take off their clothes to take a shower, Daffy says:
When do we use this foot powder, Pete?
Pete says: We should use it after the shower, Daffy. It will keep us from
getting athlete's foot.
Waking up the next morning, Daffy says: Pete, I think I could lick the world
Pete replies: It is all a matter of keeping fit. I feel the same way.
This International Literacy Day, with its theme of literacy and health,
adult literacy teachers are urged not to wait until adults have reached
some arbitrary level of literacy before teaching them important health
information. Instead, teach adults to read and write while they are also
learning about health. This way, more adults can stop diseases spread by
flies and mosquitoes, they can understand how to keep themselves and their
families healthy, and both parents and children can wake up like Daffy and
say, "I think I could lick the world this morning!" As Private Pete says,
"Its all a matter of keeping fit!"
Thomas G. Sticht
International Consultant in Adult Education
2062 Valley View Blvd.
El Cajon, Ca 92019-2059
Tel/fax: (619) 444-9133
Email: tsticht at aznet.net