“When written in Chinese, the word 'Crisis' is composed of two characters-one represents danger, and the other represents opportunity.”—JFK
2020 Board Statement
June 29, 2020
In 2020, crises have risen that challenge us as literacy educators and researchers; natural disasters, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the social injustice protests incited by police violence resulting in the deaths of Black Americans. Addressing these challenges requires that each person responsibly engage as citizens to navigate through a new way of living. School closings presented problems for teachers, students, and parents; business closings created economic hardships; and all citizens were asked to stay home, limit time in public, wear masks, and maintain social distance. Despite the potential risks of the pandemic, millions of citizens were compelled to speak out against racism and police brutality through demonstrations in every state. Crises have made evident the importance of literacy, as the public has been inundated by massive amounts of printed and digital information, requiring them to recognize bias and misrepresentations, and to read and think critically.
As members of the board of the American Reading Forum, we believe that times of unrest and uncertainty provide opportunities to reflect on our values and the manner in which they align with our lives. Our organizational commitment is to the open exchange of ideas related to literacy instruction. Guided by the concept of a forum, we aim to collectively participate in conversations that critically examine what we value in literacy education, question the institutional forces that impact literacy instruction, and re-orient educational practices toward equity and advocacy for those whose voices are small or silenced. As a forum, we are committed to engaging in rigorous and comprehensive discussions about research and teaching that are both anti-biased and anti-racist and thus puts critical literacy at the forefront.
At its heart, literacy is the ability to read, write, listen, speak, and think critically in order to understand and communicate knowledge. We acknowledge that literacy is more than reading a passage and answering questions provided by a teacher; students deserve opportunities to practice employing these abilities safely and flexibly across academic subjects and cultural contexts. When institutions define literacy as a series of discrete skills rather than harnessing student knowledge of discrete skills to become critically literate citizens, we are not preparing our children to dismantle the systemic racism that is inherent in our educational system. We view democracy, citizenship, schooling and literacy as inextricably bound, and believe that through instruction, educators should create a culture of literacy learning that is informed and responsive to students' needs inside and outside of the classroom. Democracy must be experienced to be understood, and we believe that classrooms and schools are the ideal setting for learning the critical literacy skills necessary for developing a participatory citizenry.
Literacy is a gatekeeper not only to academic opportunities, but also to personal and professional opportunities. Because literacy is a vital component to life and liberty, the board members of the American Reading Forum view both literacy and equitable literacy instruction as a civil right that we must provide to all students regardless of race, class, language, gender, or however they identify. Our goal is to create an environment that promotes a healthy discussion of research to practice connections designed to improve literate thinking for all students so that they are poised to become an active part of our democratic citizenry.