[Assessment 1436] Vote because you can
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October 12, 2008
International Consultant in Adult Education
Nothing has moved so many illiterate or poorly literate men and women to
seek out teachers of literacy more than the shame of making a mark X- for
their name on public documents. Among such documents, signing voter
registrations at polling places during elections have played a central roll
in motivating adults to learn to read and write.
In her Country Life Readers: First Book (1915), Cora Wilson Stewart, founder
of the Moonlight Schools of Kentucky for the emancipation of adult
illiterates, wrote about the value of voting and adult new readers studied
this motivational material. Stewart, writing before women had the national
right to vote, wrote:
With his vote a man rules.
The man who does not vote has
no voice in the affairs of his country.
He cheats his country, his family,
Every man should make use of his
right to vote.
He should always vote for the best
man or for the one who stands
for the best things.
The man who sells his vote sells
his honor. (p. 53)
During World War I, soldiers in literacy classes learned to read and write
using the Camp Reader for American Soldiers published in 1918. They read
about their right to vote at a time when womens suffrage was available in
some but not all states:
In the United States the people have a voice in the government.
The President of the United States is the choice of the people.
The people choose the President by their votes.
In many states both sexes have the right to vote.
In many states voters pay a poll-tax.
A poll-tax is a tax you pay before you can go to the polls to vote.
Do you have to pay a poll-tax in your state?
In many states only the men can vote.
In many states both sexes can vote.
Do both sexes vote in your state?
In the United States the people choose the government.
The soldier fights for the government the people choose. (p. 33)
By World War II womens suffrage was in place across the United States and
in the Army Reader of 1944 soldiers in literacy programs were reminded of
what they were fighting for. Discussing Private Pete, the fictional soldier
that adult literacy learners could identify with because he, Pete, was also
in a literacy school learning to read and write, Chapter 2 was entitled
What Every Citizen Knows. The chapter says, Pete is a free man who lives
with free people. Free people have self-government. They have the right to
vote. They have the right to pick their leaders. Then can make and change
their laws. (p.120).
But even after World War II African-American citizens who were illiterate
were prohibited from voting by Jim Crow laws across the southern states of
the U.S. But this situation was challenged by Septima Poinsette Clark,
sometimes called the Queen Mother of the Civil Rights Movement in the
United States. Clark started citizenship schools while working for the
Highlander Folk school of Tennessee and later the Southern Christian
Leadership Conference at the request of Dr. Martin Luther King. She taught
adult illiterates to write their names, read election laws and other legal
documents needed to meet voting requirements for literacy. In four years at
the SCLC she and others trained some 10,000 teachers and registered some
700,000 African-Americans to vote in the South. With the political power of
the vote, it was not long before politicians were prodded into passing laws
extending civil rights to millions of citizen whose voices had not been
heard due to illiteracy and oppressive voting laws.
Soon, adult literacy learners, and all other American adults will have the
opportunity to once again choose the leadership of the United States. Adult
literacy educators to need to join with the adult educators of times past
and encourage adult learners to learn to read and write so they can
exercise their rights as citizens.
Writing about her work with adult literacy learners, Septima Poinsette Clark
wrote, How can anybody estimate the worth of pride achieved, hope
accomplished, faith affirmed, citizenship won? These are intangible things
but real nevertheless, solid and of inestimable value.
Election day is November 4th this year of 2008. Vote as though your life and
the lives of your children and grandchildren depend upon it! Because they
do! And because you can!
Thomas G. Sticht
tsticht at aznet.net