Hi there tout la gang,

We don't have much to say about research in practice at the Café right now

but we are talking policy and practice over here now: Literacy Enquirers.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

evolving literacies

These days adult literacy work is a delicate balancing act between what people in our programs say they want and what funders say they should do. Since before Canada was a nation, education has been used to build a particular kind of society. As Harvey Graff writes in 'The Moral Bases of Literacy':

Approved books spread the doctrines of order, harmony and progress, ignoring conflict and inequlity....one key role for literacy. Yet we must also recognize that the child did not need to be proficiently literate to read and comprehend the moral message and thus be instilled with the desired values. At mid-century, before silent reading was valued as a pedagogical tool--and for some years thereafter--oral reading dominated the classroom...

In a recent essay, educator Emilia Ferreiro points out that the biggest technological development in the history of reading was not the printing press but the separation of text into words, paragraphs and chapters using spacing and punctuation. She argues that:
Texts written during the classical period were made to be 'spoken out loud' just like a sheet of music. And, also like music, the letters were the least of it....What really counted was the interpretation. And then came social control over interpretation--a badly done reading would become equivalent to heresy a few centuries later....

Silent reading nourished two unforeseen consequences: heresy and eroticism. The new intimacy with the text set off two complementary movements in a single act of complicity: the freedom of the reader, whose interpretation was for the moment out of reach of censorship, and the freedom of the writer, who could allow himself to express, in the intimacy of his cell or his bedroom, what no voice could express out loud.

But, she warns, perhaps the advent of the computer screen will have even greater impacts on literacy and society. Reading on computer screens "transforms the act of reading into a public act" and requires readers to assume rigid postures to relate to text. What does this mean? Ferreiro believes that
The real challenge is that of growing inequality, for the chasm that separates the illiterate from the literate has grown ever wider. Some have no newspapers, books or libraries, while others are flying with hyper-text, e-mail and virtual pages of nonexistent books. Will we be capable of coming up with policies to reverse this growing inequality? Or will we let ourselves be carried away by the vortex of competitiveness and profitability, even though the very idea of participatory democracy perishes in the process?

Great questions.

Ferreiro, Emilia, “Past and Future of the Verb ‘To Read’”, in Past and Present of the Verbs to Read and to Write. Toronto: Groundwood, 2003, pp. 37-56.

Graff, Harvey J., “The Moral Bases of Literacy: Society, economy and social order”, in The Literacy Myth: Literacy and social structure in the nineteenth century city. New York: Academic Press, 1979, pp 21-48.

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