Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Literacy Wrap-Up

It turns out to have been a rocky first month (and a half) here at Reb(el) With a Cause.  I blogged less frequently than I intended, shared less about the great work going on in DC in the area of adult literacy than I had hoped, and didn't receive ANY entries to my contest!


We donated five tubs of books and videos to Books for America, I learned more about literacy than I knew before, and there's room for improvement.  So all in all, a decent first month.  Stay tuned for next month's cause to be announced tomorrow morning!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

A Break for Some Local Requests

I haven't quite figured out yet how to publicize the "one-off" events that are worthy of mention but don't fit in the month's theme.  So with that disclaimer, a few local requests:

1. Miriam's Kitchen is looking for mugs.  Have any extra you can spare? 

2. DC WEAVE (Women Empowered Against Violence) is in a push to prevent needing to close at the end of the fiscal year--in just one week.  The subject of fundraising in a recession, earmarks, and the like is for another post.  For now, I will leave it at this: WEAVE serves a vital role in the DC community and is one of the best-known domestic violence support and advocacy agencies here.  Furthermore, this very direct push to raise $85,000 is impressively responsible.  Nervous that you'll donate and they'll have to shut their doors anyway?  Save WEAVE pledges to return all donations if the $85,000 goal isn't reached.  At the moment that I'm typing this, they are at $74,832.  I am going to donate $18.  Will you join me?

Books for America, part 3

I'm typing this post while listening to the Overture from the musical Annie.  What does this have to do with Books for America?  I'll tell you:

I went to Books for America this afternoon to look for a book on knitting.  I've been window-shopping for a book with good patterns but reluctant to spend $20-$25 when I'm unemployed and any project in the book is going to require paying for materials.  They had a few options--not the book I saw on Tuesday that I really wanted, but beggars can't be choosers!--and as I was paying and arranging for them to come pick up the donations from the book drive in my apartment building, lo and behold the Annie cast recording! 

Anyway, Annie has always been one of my favorite musicals (though the scene in the movie where Annie climbs the railroad bridge while being chased by Rooster still makes me nervous) and it's great to be able to listen to it while blogging and knitting.

So all in all, a good day at Books for America.  $7 for 16 sweater patterns and a favorite CD.  Check it out yourself if you're in DC!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Reminder: Is Reading Really Fundamental?

Remember to RSVP today for the D.C. Public Library's "Is Reading Really Fundamental?" to be held on September 29.   For more information, see my earlier post.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Missed Deadlines?

My dear readers,

According to my site traffic report, there are none of you.  It therefore isn't terribly surprising that I have received ZERO submissions for my first Contest With a Cause.

However, I have been busy getting ready for my impending period of unemployment, set to begin at some time tomorrow.  (Note: "busy getting ready for" = "in denial about").  So I have not posted and more significantly, neglected to post a reminder to enter. 

You are therefore in luck.  I will generously extend the deadline to enter until Monday, September 21.  Any meaningful exposition on how literacy has affected your life, not to exceed about 500 words, is welcome. 


Thursday, September 10, 2009


In DC we  have an adult literacy problem, but we also have tremendous resources to address the problem.DC LEARNs helps adult learners who are looking for literacy classes by serving as a clearinghouse, a single source of information about local programs.  They also provide resources to literacy providers.  Their website isn't the best (I'm not here to criticize, but if you go to their site and have complaints, please don't come back to me and say "hey Reb, why'd you highlight this organization that...?") but they provide a very. important. service.  
I recommend that you check out their site, see what they do, and support them, a member program, or a similar clearinghouse or consortium where you live--in whatever capacity you are comfortable with.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

International Literacy Day

Today, September 8, is International Literacy Day, a day proclaimed by the United Nations to "put the spotlight on the empowering role of literacy and its importance for participation, citizenship and social development."  More information is available on the UNESCO website.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Books for America, part 2

I love love love Books for America.  Of course, I go, and spend (a relatively small amount of) money on lots of books, and then I promptly go to the library and then never get around to reading the books that I bought. This happened just the other day, in fact.  I bought a book that I'm really looking forward to reading about a week ago, and then went to the library last night and checked out something else. 

But that is my problem, of course, not B4A's.  And I really want to make all of you love Books for America as much as I do.  So I'm trying to give them as much metaphorical ink as possible here on Reb(el) With a Cause.

Unfortunately, it turns out that I'm just not that creative.  (Wait, should I not be admitting that? I want you all to come back and bring your friends!)

So today we are going to talk about just a few of my B4A purchases.  

I went into B4A a few weeks ago looking for the book that I ended up getting out of the library last night.  Used book stores are great, but when you're looking for one specific book, you might not have the best of luck.  In the process of looking (at that moment in time, I didn't even remember the name of the book I was looking for--definitely not a recipe for success), I came across a short philosophy book by David Hume on morals.  I never, ever would have come across Hume in a standard book store (because philosophy would not be right next to psychology), and even if I had, I wouldn't have spent the $10 or $12 on it.  At B4A, it was $2.  Two dollars to literacy and a reminder of why I majored in philosophy in college. 

My usual technique when I go to B4A is to look for kid-appropriate DVDs and then to go to the fiction, where I look for new books (new to me, that is, not necessarily recently published) by my favorite authors of the moment.  I got a great book by Herman Wouk that way. 

And finally I check out the section that I only recently discovered, which is the mass market paperbacks.  Not mass market as in romance novels.  Mass market as in the size of the book.  I'm not in the publishing industry so I don't really know what I'm talking about.  But at B4A, this is where you can find some good Dickens or Michener or Irving for only about $2 a book.  And lucky for me, this is the size book that I have plenty of room for on my bookcases.

What's your technique at Books for America?

Thursday, September 3, 2009


One of the reasons I started this blog was to learn more about the issues that I highlight and the organizations who work in these areas.  This week, I learned about ProLiteracy, an advocacy organization that looks at the problem of adult illiteracy on an international scale as well as locally and nationally.  Additionally, ProLiteracy focuses on the important but often overlooked connections between literacy and poverty, health, and violence.

Among ProLiteracy's programs are two book funds to provide course books to adult literacy programs, the National Book Fund, and the Charles Evans Book Fund (this fund supporting specifically those programs that serve homeless adults).

ProLiteracy's website has much more valuable information about what they do and how you can advocate for the needs of adult learners.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Contest With a Cause: Literacy

Welcome to this month's installment of "Contest With a Cause"!

First things first: why should you enter this month's contest?  The prize this month is two-fold.  One, I will make a donation to the literacy organization of the winner's choice, in honor of the winner.  $18 donation this time around; when my readership has grown, I'll consider bigger prizes for future contests.*  Two, your winning entry will be published here on this very blog.

Which leads me to the meat of the contest.  What do you need to do to win?  

First, write a brief essay (in the range of 500 words) or other creative piece about the impact of literacy on your life.  Preferably, your essay will be better written than the preceding sentence.

Second, email your response to me at Reb.A.Katz at by September 15.  

Entries will be reviewed by me, with the top entries judged by Deborah Gist, the Rhode Island Commissioner for Elementary and Secondary Education, and possibly one or more additional judges.

* The random-seeming number here is related to Jewish tradition.  The numerical value of the Hebrew word meaning "life" is 18; thus we prefer to make our charitable donations in multiples of 18.

Guest Post: What is Missing in the Current Discussions About the Economy and Health Care

Today's guest post is from Ben Merrion, Literacy Outreach Specialist with the District of Columbia Public Library. 
Ben writes:

There has been much debate in the press about how to handle, the mortgage crisis the recession and health care; however, what has not been mentioned enough is how these issues are affected by the many adults who have low literacy levels. Earlier this year, both CNN and USA Today covered the most recent report issued from the National Assessment of Adult Literacy and mentioned the statistic that 1 in 7 Americans have difficulty reading. In the DC area, that number is much greater - about 1 in 5 (19%). However, other than these two big mentions, there wasn’t much coverage overall, and now,  the topic of adult literacy has mostly fallen off the public’s radar, and most people do not know these facts.

David Harvey, the CEO of a national adult literacy advocacy organization, ProLiteracy Worldwide, was interviewed recently on C-Span and throughout the interview he mentioned how problems with the issue of adult literacy can be linked to other social issues. He mentioned how the sub-prime mortgage crisis happened in part because of people who couldn’t understand the documents they were reading and signing. He also mentions the fact that those who have been hardest hit by the recession are those who are without a GED or high school diploma.

This has been my experience working at the Adult Literacy Resource Center which is part of the DC Library. We offer information and referral services to those seeking help with basic skills, GED preparation and learning English. We also offer the GED Practice Test free to those who want to take the test without preparing and they have to take and pass it to be able to take the actual GED exam. I have seen many people who have come in for classes or to get a GED because they need a job. Unfortunately, if people do not already have the skills needed to pass the test, it usually takes months of studying and some are not ready to hear that because they need to get a job very quickly.

Harvey also mentioned that a discussion about literacy and how it affects health care is being left out of the debate. He said that adult illiteracy costs our health care system 28 billion dollars a year and if we fixed the literacy problem, we may have enough money to cover those uninsured. These statements, however, in and of themselves are debatable; I asked a colleague of mine who works in the health literacy field and who also volunteers at an adult literacy program about this and she thinks that just fixing the health literacy problem would not solve health issues and that real prevention is intertwined with things such as well paid jobs, no unemployment and housing for all as well as good education. What is less debatable is that health literacy matters: people need to be able to read prescription labels and understand correct doses to take for themselves and others they care about, for example.
Adult literacy matters - it is an important social issue because it is intertwined with other issues people care about and affects those outside of the field in many ways. But so many people are not aware of its importance; because of this, the Adult Literacy Resource Center (ALRC) and DC’s literacy coalition, DC LEARNs, are partnering to do some exciting projects in the future. We will be creating videos about adult learners who have had successes and we will launch an adult literacy blog on DC LEARNs’ website in late September. If you would like to help, check out the ALRC’s facebook page for volunteer opportunities, and announcements about the previously mentioned videos and blog:

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Library Card Sign-Up Month

I just learned that September is Library Card Sign-Up Month.  It has been proclaimed so by the Association for Library Service to Children, but that does not mean that the celebration should be limited to children.  Budgets for public libraries frequently are dependent on circulation; the most books and other materials that are used or checked out, the higher the budget.  (I am making this statement without any citation because I am not doing the research to confirm the assertion.  If you have evidence that my assertion is incorrect, or a citation to support it, please put it in the comments, and I will update this post accordingly.)
So using your local library helps not only you but everyone in the community. 
In DC, to get a library card, you can apply at any branch of the library or (and I think this is cool) apply online.