Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Literacy is a word I'd rarely use without thinking

You know, I have heard teachers proclaim an understanding of what it means to be literate and numerate more times than I can count, and never have a heard a breath of self conscious doubt as to whether or not they know for sure what such a thing means these days. Some use language in their discussion that betrays a thinking that there is a definite line between literate and illiterate, others accept the idea of it being a continuum but little more than that. There are a few who talk about something called 21st Century Literacy, hardly in any depth and always seconds away from being dismissed by a skeptic who hasn't even considered the proposition.

Closer to home at the Poly, we even have a few people knowledgeable in alternative ways of thinking about literacy - particularly centered around a person's readiness to develop such skills.. Steiner.. or Postman's "Crap Detectors".. but such alternative thinking was long ago absent from our educated discussions..

Meanwhile, we the teachers of today, with our self assured yet precarious confidence and government mandates, devise measurement sticks to use on people we class as "learners", a stick that will tell them what we think we already knew - you are illiterate or you are literate. We don't dare measure ourselves, that's for sure, certainly not with any contemporary measure.

I'm just finished reading a post about this thing termed 21st Century Literacy.. and while it takes a broad brush, it perhaps (perhaps not) will stimulate a more self conscious consideration of what we deem as worth measuring in terms of literacy and numeracy:

An Operating System for the Mind

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Dzyanna said...

Having a hobby of exploring and learning other languages I've have been recently pondering pretty much this question. At what point am I "literate" in a language. If I go to somewhere like Europe there are assessments of language ability that let you then do things like get a work visa or go to university. But for a hobby what do I judge as acceptable - for me that comes down to what I want to do with a language (or for that matter any skill). For German I am quite happy if I can just read a novel in German (as it opens up for me a wealth of literature that we never see in English) but an assessor might judge me to be illiterate in German because I don't attempt to write in German (possibly I could but I haven't had a need). So I guess what I'm saying is that literacy should be referenced to the needs of the individual. A university professor is going to need a higher benchmark for their literacy than say someone who wants to read the morning news and for either of those tasks critical thinking/analysis is probably as much a part of the "literacy" as the use of words and numbers.

willie campbell said...

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Thanks for this alert.