Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Reading campaigns

On the surface of things it would seem like a very good idea to mobilise public support and interest in helping young children's literacy development, and in fact the Volunteer Reading Help scheme has a good track record in doing just that. But somehow the Evening Standard's campaign GetLondonReading pushes all the wrong buttons. Politically it plays on the Big Society agenda and regularly features donators who are models, celebrities or former politicians - in other words public or media figures who want to do something worthy. But celebrity support is no substitute for public education and the high expectations placed on the volunteers themselves may not be the best way forward. You might predict that if the campaign makes a massive impact, there will be political capital to be made. If it doesn't it will sink from view. No surprises there, because that's just the same story that we associate with governmental interference in matters of curriculum. What worries me more is when the transport networks of London are flooded with travellers waving the banner headlines 'One in five parents cannot read aloud'. Although that's based on evidence produced by the National Literacy Trust (another reputable body) it's a scare story. Firstly, literacy is more than reading and certainly can't be reduced to 'reading aloud', but secondly, and more importantly it neatly ducks some key characteristics of the fluid multilingual demographic of our cosmopolitan capital. On the 9th June Free Standard the grinning picture of blonde (?) white model Laura Bailey - who donated £1000 - appears to be the solution to a hyped-up problem. And in the text, reading is clearly connected with empowerment, which is ironic when the most evident power lies elsewhere.

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