When instructor Layli Miron was assigned to English 30, “Honors Freshman Composition,” for Fall 2019, she decided to theme the course around immigration rhetoric. More specifically, Miron hoped that her students might query how matters of literacy are central to immigrants’ experiences in the U.S., especially in issues of schooling, documentation, and overall integration. Student work moved into the local public sphere when the Public Writing Initiative partnered Miron’s course with Mid-State Literacy Council and asked students to research issues surrounding literacy, especially as it relates to local immigrant communities.
TASK: Compose a blog post for Mid-State’s Literacy in Action blog, which informs the public concerning unknown facts about literacy.
Mid-State Literacy Council is a non-profit organization that seeks to bring literacy in all forms to adults in Centre County. In 2019, over 200 adult learners received services at Mid-State Literacy Council, and nearly 250 volunteers ranging from Penn State students to retirees generously offered their time and expertise to equip community members with lifelong skills. Together, tutors and teachers help adults gain independence by earning a driver’s license, becoming citizens, and acquiring job skills.
The Importance of Literacy
Mid-State’s mission, however, is often quite difficult to articulate to the public, as the forms of literacy needed by adults in the community range from the textual to the digital, from media to health. In other words, computer skills and the language needed to talk to healthcare providers is as much a part of literacy as reading and writing. The Literacy in Action blog, as conceived by Mid-State executive director Amy Wilson, serves to concretize the range of literacy work accomplished by Mid-State in Centre County.
Because Mid-State posts an average of 1-2 blog entries per month and each of Miron’s 24 students contributed one entry to the organization, the Public Writing Initiative has ensured that Mid-State has access to over one year’s worth of blogging material. ESL Program Director Tracy Roth describes students’ impact through this program this way: “Students in the Public Writing Initiative gave voice to [Mid-State’s mission] through interviews and blog articles and informed our community about the need for English and literacy instruction, especially in receiving medical care and communicating in the emergency room and with doctors and healthcare providers.”
Each year, Mid-State offers “English for Doctor Visits” classes and tutoring in health literacy topics, including reading medicine labels, describing symptoms, and recognizing and preventing cancer, heart disease, and other conditions. In this vein, some of Miron’s students wrote about how many hospitals fail to provide translators for non-English speaking patients, and how doctors working in communities with a high immigrant population report that nearly 75% of their patients have limited proficiency with the English language.
After their work with the Public Writing Initiative, Miron’s students reported that they were most startled by the statistics showing just how important English literacy is for immigrants in the U.S. One student reported that approximately ¼ of all U.S. children come from immigrant families and further that the number of children living below the federal poverty line is greatest for first-generation immigrants. Another student discovered that immigrants who have little or no English speaking ability struggle to produce half of the income that immigrants who are fluent in English do. Still another student presented research showing that nearly 35% of college-educated immigrants arrive in the U.S. to discover that the U.S. workforce deems their foreign credentials void.
The images on the right reflect students’ work. Click the images to enlarge.
Creating Visuals for the Web
Miron’s students reported that one of the most challenging parts of writing blog posts was creating visuals to accompany their text. Many students relied upon infographics, tables, and charts to represent the impact of their research. Reflecting on the impact of visuals in furthering her argument, one student said, “When the tables showed just how much immigrants are affected by literacy, the reality of the situation was brought to life.” The reality of Mid-State’s mission, then, came to life for Miron’s students, but they hope that their blogging about literacy in all its forms brings others to heightened attention as well. Given how often immigration emerges in our present political conversations, the work of Mid-State Literacy Council and Miron’s students should bring us all to question how it is that we communicate with our neighbors.