On the evening of Wednesday, February 23, Fairfield University welcomed Dr. Linda Flower, professor of English at Carnegie Mellon University for a talk entitled, “When Students Enter the Public Sphere: Deliberative Democracy and the Paradox of Leadership.” The presentation was supported by a grant from the Humanities Institute of the College of Arts and Sciences.
Dr. Flower came to campus and spoke to an audience of students and faculty interested in learning more about her work promoting literacy on a local and national level. She spoke about the trials and rewards of fighting for better education – an issue that hits home in our own backyard of Bridgeport, Conn.
The event began with an opening speech, delivered by Jane Ferreira, President of Mercy Learning Center in Bridgeport, Conn. Since 1987, Mercy Learning Center has provided basic literacy and life skills to low-income women in the greater Bridgeport area. As the motto of the center is “Educate a woman…educate a family,” this half of the presentation helped the audience members see how education can and has been the one truly effective way for people to pull themselves up from poverty.
As specifically stated on their website, the goal of Mercy Learning Center is “to bring about a positive change to the problem of illiteracy; specifically, to provide basic literacy and life skills training using a ‘holistic’ approach within a compassionate, supportive community.”
It is here that Dr. Flower’s work, which unites the cognitive and social dimensions of learning, comes into play. Centers that provide education for the needy are crucial, Dr. Flower believes, in helping others to rise above poverty, as literacy rates for women rise along with success in professional endeavors. Also, the level of literacy for a mother greatly affects the success of her child.
Dr. Flower ended her discussion with a plea to the community to become involved, especially when there are baffling rates of illiteracy so close to our own homes. Leaving the lecture, I felt as though both Ms. Ferreira and Dr. Flower opened my eyes to the prevalence of illiteracy among adults and children in nearby school systems, and how community involvement can be a reciprocal and mutually beneficial process. I understand now that sharing educational resources with those less fortunate can also teach those with a more privileged educational background to see beyond economic and literacy boundaries.
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