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Literacy and the Literacy Myth

A service learning course I'm taking through the English department, which focuses on Educational Politics and Literacy has addressed throughout the semester many of the same issues brought up in the article titled Literacy and the Literacy Myth: From Plato to Freire. It was interesting to see the importance of linguistics in the highly politicized debates regarding literacy that these two men are known for. In my other course we've focused mostly on Friere's modern concepts of how literacy cannot ever be politically neutral and it was interesting to see ideas of a founding father of Freire's thoughts through Plato. Both men as revolutionaries of their time period have found a key way to interpret language, literacy, and linguistics as more than just the ability to understand and produce elements of a certain language but the larger implications of having these skills in regards to education, social status, job marketability, etc. It was a great article through which to examine socio-linguistic impact in regards to literacy, the human experience, and life quality determined by level of literacy.


How could literacy not be linked to economic status? It is true that a few centuries ago economic status came first, permitting the relative leisure of education. But in the USA, everyone now has access to literacy (albeit to varying degrees). There are very few jobs in which literacy has no essential component -- even the guy with a wrench at the service station needs to be able to read the manual to know how to bleed the brake lines on your Acura (and you'd better hope he does it right). The link between literacy and economic status at the basic level of exchaning information is not snobbery; it is essential to the basic elements of getting work done. At higher levels, however, literacy does not convert to wealth. The world is chock full of poets and aspiring novelists with food-service day jobs. And even these require a bit of literacy. You have to be able to push the key with a heirogyph of a cheeseburger on it.

the link between literacy and the assumptions made about a person who has or doesn't have that skill are remarkable. and i didn't know how much i made of it, but when we discussed in class about how third world countries that haven't developed literacy technology yet are in no means far behind other cultures i was in disbelief. literacy is such a huge part of american culture, and i can see how people make judgments based on that reality.

As a side note to your comments on the political nature of literacy, I would like to add the flip side: language/literacy in politics. For example, John Kerry has a much more elevated vocabulary than Bush, as demonstrated in the previous debates. However, this did not work to his advantage in the least. Many articles later argued post election that his literacy level being above that of the average American made him not as relatable or common man as Bush. I think that this is extremely interesting that a presidential candidate can sound/ speak "too" intelligently. In no way am I saying that this aspect of literacy was the only factor related to the election results, I just think that it is a very interesting aspect of literacy in politics. Furthermore, when I watch House or Senate debates on C-Span now, I'm always listening for the referent when politicians speak of "major changes being made" where? how? by whom? etc, now that I actually know what I'm not hearing (referents) has a linguistic name. I feel I have a greater level of literacy now, which will, of course, have political implications...

Amelia, you bring up a really interesting point about the presidential debates. I heard both positive and negatives opinions regarding Kerry and Bush's speech patterns during the elections, but after taking this class I am even more interested in why one degree of literacy is preferable over another and why certain groups of people lean one way or the other.

Gee and Freire's comments about literacy, and the ability to interpret something how it was meant to be interpreted, and to what degree you understand the "correct" interpretation makes it clear that the "Literacy" debate will continue until a common understanding of what literacy is, is found.

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