Saturday, March 18, 2006

What is literacy, and when it's never enough

Bill Kerr has posted an important question, considering that by taking on board a diversified understanding of literacy we risk diluting the development of deeper understanding of text. Bill seems to be undecided on the question, or seeking a debate, so I thought I'd have a go at answering:

I tend to think its time to expand our expectations of what it means to be literate, beyond text. Not to dilute the importance of text, but to promote the importance of other communicative mediums, that in many ways serve to enhance text.

Being able to read and write text is one thing. Being able to read and write txt digitally is the same thing but in another dimension. Being able to read and write digital images, sound, semiotic compositions, music, video etc, is the same thing again, but at another dimension again.

Its all about the intention of communication and having the skills and awareness to employ the appropriate communicative dimension. So yes, text is important. Knowing how to read and write hand written text is important. Knowing how to read and write text with a keyboard and thumbpad is important. Being able to read and write images is important, and so on and so forth.

While talking about fluency is relatable I don't think it is same thing. Literacy is firstly an awareness of need, an understanding of importance, then an ability to perform, and here is where fluency, competency and expertise comes in. Being literate is before being fluent and competent.

So literacy in golf is the same as literacy in cars. Its the ability to engage in a communicative process about them. The more mediums, the more diversified your literacy. The more diversified your literacy, the more chance you have of finding the best communication channels. The subject of what is being communicated has little to do with it other than helping to determine what medium/s are used to communicate it with.

In short, don't stop teaching forms of communication at text.

I agree that reading and writing text is important, so we teach that for the first 3 years. I don't agree that hand written text is so important that it should need another 3 years of practice at the expense of learning how to keyboard and thumbpad. I don't agree that text is so important that for yet another 6 years we focus on writing essays for the sake of learning how to take photos, record audio, and edit video. And I don't agree that text is so important that we should dogmatically continue with fine arts of it for another 6 years again, practicing PHDs into incomprehensible peer review dialects. At some stage in all this we should be given the opportunity to diversify our literacies, and the respect to be able to bring what ever communicative process we like to a subject.

In saying all that though... did we lose God when we began painting pictures of The Words?

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wilderdom said...

well said...we need to learn literacies of the future


Since we cannot know all that there is to be known about anything, we ought to know a little about everything.
- Blaise Pascal

wilderdom said...

Education is the knowledge of how to use the whole of oneself. Many men use but one or two faculties out of the score with which they are endowed. A man is educated who knows how to make a tool of every faculty-how to open it, how to keep it sharp, and how to apply it to all practical purposes.
- Henry Ward Beecher

Bill Kerr said...

your writing is quite powerful about the old and new literacies leigh

my initial blog was really asking not so much whether both the new and old mediums of communication are both important, I agree they are

I'm more stuck on the question of is it OK to extend the original meaning of the word "literate" meaning "one who knows the letters" - into something broader

if not then what do we call the "new literacies" - gee's phrase, "semiotic domains" will never catch on
- Bill

nswtox said...

Interesting reading... caused me to reflect on personal and professional experiences with literacy.

nswtox said...

Literacy is diverse however the concept is learning the process.