[A-librarian-at-every-table] International Literacy Day and Health

Kathleen de la Peña McCook kmccook at tampabay.rr.com
Fri Sep 7 08:25:48 EDT 2007

-September 6, 2007

International Literacy Day and Health

Tom Sticht
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 
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 

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 
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 
part of the 20th century by Cora Wilson Stewart. She founded the 
Schools of Kentucky  to bring literacy to the illiterate country folk 
Rowan County. In her Country Life Readers, First Book, Stewart (1915)
taught reading using what today we would call a "whole language" 
integrated into a variety of functional contexts for the hill and 
people of her county. One such functional context was health. In one
lesson, she taught basic sight word reading using a lesson about the 
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 

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 
Unlike Stewart, Laubach was a very strong proponent of phonics. 
like Stewart,  Laubach engaged in teaching literacy in functional 
including the integrated teaching of reading and health information. 
Stewart's focus on diseases spread by flies, in one of his lessons 
adults in India, Laubach dealt with diseases spread by mosquitoes
(Laubach,& Laubach, 1960, p. 257). He called this Fiction with a 
The reading accompanying the reading lesson read as follows:

"Stop Mosquitoes!

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 
[note: this is an abridged version of the reading passage for this 

Teaching Literacy in Health Contexts in World War II

During World War II, Paul Witty, a professor of reading instruction, 
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 
comic strip for adults learning to read. In a special newspaper for
soldiers learning to read, the September 1945 issue included a comic 

Pvt. Pete Keeps Healthy.

In this strip, the fictional soldier Private Pete and his sidekick, 
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 
unless he takes care of them.  Every man is taught how to care for 
feet...That's part of first aid.

After Daffy and Pete take off their clothes to take a shower, Daffy 
When do we use this foot powder, Pete?

Pete says: We should use it after the shower, Daffy. It will keep us 
getting athlete's foot. ...

Waking up the next morning, Daffy says: Pete, I think I could lick 
the world
this morning.

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 
adult literacy teachers are urged not to wait until adults have 
some arbitrary level of literacy before teaching them important 
information. Instead, teach adults to read and write while they are 
learning about health. This way, more adults can stop diseases spread 
flies and mosquitoes, they can understand how to keep themselves and 
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 
"Its all a matter of keeping fit!"

Thomas G. Sticht
International Consultant in Adult Education
 Kathleen de la Peña McCook  

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