Tuesday, November 10, 2009

literacy

It seems like the current trend in humanities is to deconstruct everything. The term literacy is being deconstructed now. Does literacy mean able to read? Does it mean able to read and write? Does it mean able to figure tax in your head? Does it mean being able to use a computer? Does it mean being able to use LinkedIn? Literacy has become a moving target. Perhaps literacy should only be used with a modifier.

Reading literate, writing literate, math literate, computer literate, social networking site literate.

This becomes clunky but necessary to define what type of literacy is being discussed. Time to go to the source, Merriam-Webster online dictionary define literacy as: "the quality or state of being literate." Well that was useless, I guess I am not dictionary literate or possibly reference work literate or most likely I am online dictionary illiterate. Second try, literate: "able to read and write." Now that is more like it.

Academia has complicated literacy far beyond what it is. If the Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines literacy as "able to read and write" where do the complications come from? My theory is political correctness. It is no plonger socially acceptrable to call someone or some group illiterate. The term has moved from a simple description of reality to an indictment of that person or groups intelligence. Many words have moved in this direction. Ignorant has moved from: "destitute of knowledge or education (M-W)" to unintelligent. Unintelligent and ignorant to two completely different things yet current usage equates them.

So what is the offshoot of all this? Academics argue constantly about things that already have a definition. This is tiresome but it is actually important, without people pushing the accepted definitions or norms we would still accept Eugenics as science. Academia can be frustrating but the trivial arguiment actually can become far from trivial in the long run. Woodrow Wilson/Wallace Sayre were pretty astute in their observation that the intensity of an argument is inversely related to the value of the stakes of the issue, that is why academic arguments are so bitter. Many times the stakes are miniscule but they can have a broad and overreaching affect.

7 comments:

  1. It seems to have become a trend in our culture to make everything more complicated. A bit ironic you'd think considering advancements in technology and knowledge are meant to make life easier.
    As far as I'm concerned, literate means to be able to read and write. Everything else can have its own terminology.

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  2. I do believe that all of these complications that have come to be over the past few years seem to have made society digress as opposed to moving forward, as I am sure it was meant to do. There are too many restrictions now on what is appropriate or "politically correct" and I think this puts too great a strain on what people actually mean or want to say.

    As Tahreem said, literate to me will always mean to be able to read and write. No matter how people may twist it so as to make this term more PC and to not offend a grater group of people, to change its meaning seems useless. If we really want to offend a smaller group of people, what we need to do is to change the problem, not the definition of the problem.

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