Joan Sheldon Conan died unexpectedly September 21, 1992 while teaching a class of literacy volunteers at the Redwood City California public library. Her sudden loss is a blow to her family, friends and comrades.
For more than thirty years Joan Sheldon worked as an educator. She was, at various times, a classroom teacher, a specialist in remedial reading at the middle school level, a GED instructor, and a writer on adult literacy. Joan also worked in the San Mateo County jail where she taught inmates and organized inmates to teach one another. However, the work closest to her heart was adult literacy. Joan was a leading figure in the California Literacy Campaign. In addition to helping establish many of the local literacy projects, Joan trained literally thousands of volunteers to teach others to learn to read. Through this work Joan helped us to understand just how profoundly political teaching someone to learn to read can be. Literacy not only empowers people to start changing their lives, it also empowers them to start changing the world. [See Joan’s article, “So you want to help an adult learn to read,” in Forward Motion, February-March, 1989.]
Joan was also a lifelong political activist who spent her life in the people’s struggles. The list of campaigns, mobilizations and projects she was active in would be a litany of all of the major fights against racism, imperialism and capitalism of the last forty years. Above all else, Joan was a fierce fighter against racial oppression. From the early days of the Civil Rights Movement to the Jesse Jackson campaign, Joan could always be found in the midst of struggle.
For the last several years, Joan had been a member of the Freedom Road Socialist Organization. She brought a unique combination of wisdom, compassion and common sense, which enriched all of us who were privileged to have been her comrades.