I went to a panel this morning that was about whether or not literacy was in decline. The panel consisted of educators and librarians and one writer of historical fiction. The moderator of the panel made a distinction between literacy– as being able to read– and literateness. He suggested that while Sarah Palin was someone who he was certain could read, he did not believe her to have any degree of literateness.
I listened to what was being said for the first half an hour and decided that I was in disagreement with a great deal of what was being said. I am an educator and I disagree that our children are becoming less literate. Our children are more engaged with the stream of information than any other generation in history. They play games, look for information, and engage with a variety of different media. They are thinking and engaging with information.
It was suggested that texting is creating a loss of literacy skills. I adamantly disagree. The text of texting is a written dialect or code. It is a new type of written language and those using it are both capable of writing standard English and writing text. The usage is at this point in time situational. Further, texting may very well cause a shift or evolution in the language but this is not a detriment as long as communication is happening and thoughts are being relayed.
One educator lamented that high school students cannot write an essay. I would agree with this but I do not see this as an issue of literacy. I would prefer to take it out of the narrow context of being able to write in a subject oriented manner such as “English” or language arts. I think that this breaks into two other categories which are content and the organization of thought.
Content should not be narrowly defined. Content is anything that someone is willing to read.
Writing should be nothing more than a way to communicate and the art or skill is only one possible avenue. Writing out of necessity needs a larger meta-skill. Most people who can write at all can write a few words, a sentence, or a paragraph, but they cannot put these together in an organized way to relay thought because they do not know how to organize thought.
We are currently going through a revolution in thought and society due to the explosion of electronic media. It is only comparable to the invention of the printing press. While the printing press solidified conventions of spelling, it expanded thought. Brochures, broad sheets, pamphlets, books, etc. could suddenly be printed after the printing press was invented. The incidence of literacy in that era soared and out of that time period came huge shifts in thought and humanity moved towards more a egalitarian sense of the world.
Electronic media are making information more easily accessible both in terms of speed and in terms of widely being available. Teens text instantaneous messages. Adults tweet. News of a closed election escapes in real time. Politics and thought will shift. Geography becomes less of an obstacle. It is important to keep information free and accessible to foster further freedom and nurturance of thought.