Worker Talk

What do workers have to say about the economy?

What happens when we hear this expertise?

You can also watch this video and other worker stories here.

 You can also watch this video and other worker stories here.

Click here to see the map and listen to worker stories from across Canada.

What do you think of these stories?

Economist Talk

Here are two videos about the Canadian economy.
They both use graphs to tell a story about jobs in Canada.

This is Glen Hodgson, Chief Economist of the Conference Board of Canada.

You can also watch this video here.

This is Angelo DiCaro of the Canadian Auto Workers.

You can also watch this video here.

Here are links to two videos of politicians talking about how the government can support job creation.
Here is Jim Flaherty talking to Amanda Lang.
Here is Peggy Nash talking to David Akin.

What do you think of these stories?
Which stories do you hear more often?
Which stories do literacy workers and learners need to hear?
How can we help literacy workers and learners understand the issues that effect them?

To see what this means to some literacy workers, see Opportunity Knocks.

Opportunity Knocks

Some people tell me Scott Murray is a real booster of literacy, but what I've seen happening as a result of all of the work he has done--starting with IALS--is policies that punish people rather than actually supporting them.

Part of my reaction has to do with the fact that I locate his emphasis on calculating literacy within a larger trend that has been happening for several decades whereby the only knowledge that counts is 'expert', 'evidence-based' knowledge, which really means people who believe that you can treat education, and other social 'issues', as completely separate from issues of power and inequality, and that ignore both the histories that have contributed to these inequalities and questions of who benefits from the status quo.

For me, part of the problem with this approach is that it makes it impossible to talk about what we know--that educational benefits are NOT equally distributed across society AND that those inequalities are not random but systematic.

The statistics that presenters such as Scott Murray use to bolster their arguments are the numbers being used to blame poor people for being unemployed. This at a time when what has ACTUALLY been happening is that rich people are using governments to erode the rights and social benefits of the 99% while they amass ever greater amounts of wealth [see Linda McQuaig on this issue at], and then say that when we are unemployed it's because we lack 'skills'. For what jobs? As far as I can tell the only people hiring these days are Tim Horton's and the Tar Sands.

Literacy workers in Ontario where literacy and basic skills has become an Employment Ontario program tasked with preparing the unemployable for jobs often ask the question, "WHAT JOBS?" They also report that what has been happening to many people who come into their programs is that people are being systematically DE-skilled -- they are being told the work they've done for 20 or 30 years now requires them to have a Grade 12 even when the job itself has not changed.

Scott Murray spoke about the looming problems. He projects into the future, but not in a compassionate way; his projections are based on a sense that he is certain about who can be excluded and exactly how to do so. I would rather be in conversation with people who, like me, try to envision a future not built on blaming and fear-mongering. I think we COULD build a future built on thinking about how we could do things differently, how we COULD find ways to 'distribute literacy' instead of punishing those people who struggle with this very particular, class-biased and culturally-specific type of interaction with the world. I would much, much rather envision a future built on imagining how multilinguialism could be a resource rather than a 'deficit' that 'proves' people with professional qualifications in their mother tongue are 'only level 1' when they struggle with the heavy language demands of standardized tests (whether IALS or benchmarks in OALCF).

Yes most politicians these days are economists. But what Scott Murray presents is NOT economics, it's human capital fundamentalism. There are many interpretations of economics. And the human capital ideologues are only one thread of economic thinking. They are not the side of people, they side with everyone who believes that less government is better and that the market should rule all aspects of social life. I think that the adult literacy field has made a HUGE mistake by choosing to side with the CEOs and the OECD rather than economists from the people's side, such as folks at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives [] or unions or the Progressive Economics Forum [].

I'm also deeply troubled by how these numbers are being used to talk about the 'skills crisis' among aboriginal youth as if it is a problem of lack of motivation, and not a legacy of colonialism and underfunded education and intergenerational trauma and dispossession. Even if human capital fundamentalism (aka neoliberalism) was the only way of approaching economics, I will not and do not adopt the language and framing of the oppressor. In my experience, what has shifted homophobia has not been queers internalizing the hate speech directed at us, it has been LGBTQ folks and their allies standing up and saying STOP. What is shifting colonial attitudes in this country is not Harper's policies aiming to extinguish sovereignty and indigenous rights but Idle No More and Theresa Spence and all of the actions of allies who say, "We are not willing to be complicit in this form of violence."

To me IALS and all of its antecedents and offspring are insidious violences that MUST be resisted. I refuse to adopt the language and logic of this mean-spirited view of the world.

To see some of the different ways economists talk about  jobs and the economy, see Economist Talk.


I believe Scott Murray is talking the economic talk that I had been advised was necessary for the literacy community to learn to do in order to reach policy makers ears - because they are now economists. Remember when our prime ministers used to be lawyers? Now they are economists! It was at the BC Conference where this advice was given. I heard it but not wanting to ever talk economist talk, I just stored it but let that one really slide.

This is the second time I have heard Scott Murray speak and my reaction is the same each time. I ask myself who is his audience? It has to be economists and politicians and policy makers. It isn't me, because the message I receive each time I hear Scott Murray speak is that we adult educators and the learners we work with are losers, failures, not making any impact, doomed to fail even more down the road. I saw a chat goodbye in the event that said the presentation was scary. That's how I felt the first time I heard Scott Murray speak at a Cesba event. To be honest, the way Scott Murray delivers his message is not something I want to hear nor do I feel I need to hear.

What does come through for me is the fact that funding needs to be invested in Level 1 and 2 students. That employers need to realize this because lots of Level 1 and 2 students are working and could be upskilled in literacy right in their workplace - that this is a good investment strategy. I think Scott Murray's message says this. I can support this message. I think his message also says that investment at the higher Level 4/5 end can be less and for a shorter duration. So for me that means that colleges should be getting less and community-based literacy programs getting way more. And perhaps that community-based literacy programs could be supported in working more closely with the employers of the students in their programs to ensure seamless and supported literacy upskilling opportunities at that level. I could support that.

I heard Craig Alexander speak on CBC radio last night before he was to get his Diamond Jubilee Award for his literacy advocacy work - and I have to say that it was heartening to hear him sort of get it right and talk about his colleagues and friends - those at the monied tables of power - not really understanding the reality of the literacy needs in Canada. I do think that voices at those tables need to be vocal and championing the cause. If they have to speak some of that economist language to do so, then so be it. Don't get me wrong, it's not my talk and I won't learn the language - but sometimes it may be the only language that is heard.

I am not justifying the IALSS or PIAAC data or process or results. I understand the purpose they are meant to serve and don't buy the message or support the capitalist/globalist structure they serve. DataAngel has worked with that data and come to his conclusions. CLLN is supporting the distribution of that data and promoting the message. Is the outcome of adequate funding for adult literacy provision for all learners in Canada what they hope/expect to achieve in their efforts? I hope so. Does the end justify the means? Sometimes.

I agree  that Scott Murray's language is really telling in terms of his own thinking and take on his data. I gasped when I heard him say "reading diseases" even though I knew it was coming from your email. OMG! It hurts the ears to hear him speak I have to say. I have to work really, really hard to keep focused and try to understand what he is saying. We so don't speak the same language at all! And that was the point made in that BC Conference I was at - we literacy educators don't speak the same language as the policy makers and economists and so we don't hear each other. But they have the power and that makes a huge difference to us in terms of not being understood by them.

Interesting how silent the Chat Room became during question time. Again made me wonder why this talk and message is being delivered to the adult educator audience? It just feels self-defeating to even carry on when the projections are so negative and whatever we do in the face of the data doesn't matter. I really feel that programs and educators should be honoured with more funding, better coordination, and hope - because they have been working for way, way too long under the very worst conditions for the worst wages and no benefits and that needs to be recognized.

Brain Scans

At about the 13 minute mark in Scott Murray's webinar for CLLN, he showed this slide and used a medical metaphor to describe the different sets of strengths and weaknesses that people with different educational backgrounds and skill sets have as "reading diseases" and posited that these different diseases need different interventions.

For example, uneducated immigrants have a different "reading disease" than a Canadian-born person with no high school education.

People should be "diagnosed" and an intervention should be aimed at their zone of proximal development to move them along efficiently, rapidly and effectively.

We were also told that the brain scans show that Level 1 and 2 people use less brain energy and use the back of their brain for recall and memory only when reading while Level 3+ readers use more brain energy and use the front of their brain for cognitive strategies such as inference.

Two responses:
Tonight I was doing one of the ESL Literacy workshops for the TESL students. I start with some stuff about the mainstream literacy discourse. I still use that Coors Foundation ad with the hole-in-the head family and the description of literacy as a genetic disease as one of the conversation starters. I usually say that this way of talking about literacy is not heard much now but that this idea persists. Tonight I said that until yesterday I THOUGHT this was a bit old-fashioned but then I heard Scott Murray describe students with different education experiences and histories as having different "reading diseases." 

He is using brain scans (from what research? conducted where? by whom? funded by whom?) that show level 1 learners use the memory part of their brain. My problem is not with the fact that scans show differences between people, but with the logical leaps he makes. Of course when we are first learning something we try to remember what we learned last time or most recently! Of course people who are more familiar with ANY skill would process information in a different way. That does not mean that brains are inherently different. Yet Scott has no trouble making that claim. This is seriously dangerous thinking.


Literacy is the chainsaw you need to cut through the crap and make decisions about your own life and make decisions on behalf of your family and your employers.
T. Scott Murray

Literacy makes you a better advocate for yourself.
Jerry Lee Miller

The Deficit Gaze

It's "Aoooow" and "Garn" that keep her in her place.
Not her wretched clothes and dirty face.
This excerpt is taken from an article by Curt Dudley-Marling from the Journal of Educational Controversy called The Return of the Deficit .

Consequences of deficit gaze on families, communities, and a democratic society
In Annie Proulx’s (1994) novel, The Shipping News, Quoyle, the main character, shares his worries about his daughter, who is about to start school, with his aunt, to which she replies:
Why don’t you just wait, Nephew. See how it goes. I agree with you that she’s different, you might say she is a bit strange sometimes, but you know, we’re all different [but] we learn how to disguise our differentness as we grow up. Bunny doesn’t do that yet. (p. 134)
We all learn to hide many of our idiosyncrasies, but the deficit model demands more – much more. For many non-middle-class Americans, cultural and linguistic differences are constructed as deficiencies that must be overcome – or fixed – by learning the appropriate or correct cultural and linguistic practices of the middle-class. For these students, the price of success in school (and in society more generally) is rejection of the language and culture of their communities and families.

For many non-middle-class students, this is too high a price to pay for school success (Ogbu, 1999). Gloria Ladson-Billings (1994) identified respect – for students, for their families, and for their cultures – as a fundamental trait among successful teachers of African American students. Characterizing students’ ways with words and their ways in the world as deficient is a quintessentially disrespectful act. To quote Geneva Smitherman: “[W]hen you lambast the home language that kids bring to school, you ain just dissin dem, you talking bout they mommas!” (in Wheeler & Swords, 2004, p. 472).

Finally, deficit approaches to education that aim to remake poor and minority children in the image of the dominant, middle-class are antithetical to fundamental principles of a participatory democracy. A US Department of State website offers the following observation about the relationship between diversity and democracy. Democracies make several assumptions about human nature. One . . . is that any society comprises a great diversity of interests and individuals who deserve to have their voices heard and their views respected. As a result, one thing is true of all healthy democracies: They are noisy. (US Department of State, International Information Programs, online)

Political philosopher Chantal Mouffe (2006) argues that democracies are necessarily noisy – and messy. For Mouffe, democracies are characterized by intense, vigorous clashes among various ideas and values. A leveling of cultural and linguistic differences – in the name of school success – undermines the schooling of poor and minority children as it does violence to democratic participation. From this point of view, providing rich, engaging curricula that is respectful of the linguistic and cultural backgrounds of all American school children is in everyone’s interest.

Caring Labour

Dora Miles and Dorothy Johnson
A message from one of our learning circle members:

Just came across this blog, Caring Labor: An archive [power to the caregivers and therefore to the class] 

It has some amazing resources that might be helpful for readers of the Literacy Enquirer, particularly because these days I'm thinking about a huge disconnect between policy and practice as being one between indifference to individuals' lives (in policy) and relationships in practice based on knowing, and caring about, how complex and difficult learners' lives are.

There are some especially useful resources in the page about 'welfare'

Here is the description of the site:
This site was born as an attempt by students in the East Bay in California to understand our role in the fight to prevent the closure of a community college childcare center and the layoffs of eight childcare workers. So far, we are successful: after months of action and organizing, the Board of Trustees reversed the administration’s decision and ordered the center to remain open indefinitely (precariously).

In the process, we found it necessary to relearn past lessons as we retraced the steps of militant feminists who won free and affordable childcare for themselves and future generations of working class women.

We’ve encountered some areas to study and to remember:
  • the origins and evolution of childcare from the home to a socialized program and for-profit day care industry
  • the evolution of “women’s work” and domestic life in the U.S.
  • debates around the centrality of affective and caring waged labor in the (post)modern service economy
  • how “housework” and the imposition of wage labor and the commodity form – exploitation – have been imposed differently at different times and places according to race, ethnicity, income, sex.
  • the use of compulsory schooling as a means of social control and deskilling domesticity
The hope is that by assembling these texts – most of which aren’t otherwise available online – and placing them next to each other, they might interact in useful ways. And ultimately, the point is to understand the conditions in which we live and “put a weapon in the hands of workers.”