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‘A little literacy’ can lead to dangerous false conclusions

Published: Friday, Sept. 20, 2013 10:56 a.m. CST

A little literacy is definitely better than no literacy, but a little literacy may also have some dangerous aspects if it leads to false conclusions. Literacy has much to do with our culture and what we value in life.  There is technology literacy, computer literacy, survival literacy, job literacy, professional literacy, fine arts literacy, academic literacy, classical literacy, etc.  Literacy means we are able to read and write to a competent level on a given subject, which includes both knowledge and considerable thinking on that subject.

So when can I call myself literate?  I don’t believe I can.  I say I am on my way to literacy and I really didn’t do well today, or I made great strides today.  Literacy is not a stopping place. Literacy is continually learning, continually opening up to new ideas, and continually reading what others say. Dave Hon’s Sept. 6 article about “feet off my desk” gave me a bite of history, and it also caused me to think.   Literacy is an ongoing process of reading and learning, agreeing and disagreeing — plus being able to say why in either case.

A person is considered partially literate when he is able to function comfortably in all the different branches of literacy.  Becoming a little literate in all fields is needed in modern life.  Becoming more literate in other fields is also essential in modern life.  Lifelong learning not only keeps us from being bored, but keeps us mentally healthy.  Lifelong learning includes practical knowledge, hands on experiences, and learning from reading and writing.  In other words, unless we interact with what we know, we are not becoming literate.

My husband brought up an interesting point.  He is concerned that if children don’t learn cursive writing how can they read the numerous historical documents written before today’s technology.  I can see several sides to that.  Learning to print was hard for me.  Learning to write cursive even harder.  I always wrote very small and drove teachers crazy because they wanted those lines filled with large, rounded images. I wrote very, very small but it was readable.  My sixth grade teacher adamantly said that I wouldn’t pass if I didn’t write “correctly” so my writing became big and completely unreadable, but I passed.  Yet, despite this experience I can read my great-grandmother’s feathery, beautiful writing and my uncle’s almost impossible writing, as well as various copies of original documents I enjoy reading. 

There is no doubt in my mind that those who are interested in deciphering ancient literature and historical documents will learn to read cursive.  What I hope they won’t do is let someone, machine or human, translate those items.  That is the danger of taking someone else’s word for what someone says. We may misinterpret what we read, but literacy allows us to misinterpret the original document, article, book, etc., which means that there is a better chance we will communicate with the author.  It is important to learn to determine if what we are reading is the original writing, article, etc. and not someone’s interpretation.  Interpretation is like a filter which may be good and help with understanding, but it also could mis-interpret.  Literacy is always about interpreting.

Americans can no longer safely claim ignorance in any dimension of life.  Just as medical doctors must first earn their M.D. before they can become specialists, the American people must be generally literate, and then they can become specialists.

Perhaps it is time to question that though Americans may choose to be illiterate, do they have the right to choose illiteracy for their children and grandchildren? Do we have the right to deny our children and grandchildren the chance to reach the stars?

There are a multitude of ways to promote literacy.  Some are fun, such as creating reading hideaways for children whether that be a hammock, tent, refrigerator box, etc. Maintaining healthy literacy includes declaring a reading time where everybody reads with no interference from television, radio, telephone, or electronics. Making labels for items in our house and asking the child to read them as they go through the house builds vocabulary and understanding. Cooking together can be reading together. As the child reads the ingredients and directions you bake together and learn.  You or an older child can create a scavenger hunt with clues that the child reads. When a child asks a question you don’t know the answer to what a wonderful opportunity to research at home or the library.

One thing we need to learn from children is how to keep our minds like sponges, eagerly soaking up all the information around us. As adults though, we can wisely choose what information to absorb into our mind and aide children in good choices. Helping others learn where the best sources of good information are encourages literacy in our self and others. Enjoy acting as a literate sponge.

Until next week…  Christine Pauley

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