Happy International Literacy Day!

Book pages
Happy International Literacy Day!

One of my high school students once asked me, “Mister, why do we read?” I was pretty sure he was trying to get me off on a tangent (which my students quickly learn is an easy way to get out of homework), so I made some noncommittal reply and moved on.

Later, when I recounted this story to our school’s English Department Head, his eyes got wide as he asked, “Well, what did you say?” When I told him about my dismissive reply, he looked me in the eye and said,

“No. When they ask that tell them we learn to read because we can. We read because dogs can’t. It’s what makes us human.”

Since I’ve been trying to make up for that classroom omission ever since, on this day, as a small penance, here are my favorite quotes on reading and of course… why we read.

freire

1. “Reading is not walking on the words; it’s grasping the soul of them.”

― Paulo Freire Continue reading

For a Better World, Does Literacy Even Matter?

Literacy

Many of my favorite authors and educators believe literacy has the power to change the world. Paulo Freire, in particular, drew on his literacy work with the marginalized Brazil for his magnum opus  “Pedagogy of the Oppressed.”

So imagine my disequilibrium when I came across a writer who challenged the idea that literacy can lead to a better world—based on the fact that, well, it still hasn’t. 

Derek Rasmussen* writes: “It is interesting to note that although we prescribe literacy to the oppressed, literacy has not necessarily cured the oppressor… We say to the supposedly lesser-developed: Literacy will help you build a just society, although it has not done that for us.” 

I had to reread that line a few times to make sure I understood what he was saying (go ahead, I had to). And… he makes a good point. Many of us assume that literacy = access to knowledge = better world. So, how do we explain the fact that, while we live in a world more literate than ever before, injustice is still rampant?

Well before anyone throws in the towel on literacy, perhaps its worth considering that Rasmussen’s argument has less to do with whether or not we can read, and more to do with what we read. Or, in this case, what we don’t read. Continue reading

Is Texting Killing Language?

This just in: Texting is NOT killing written language as we know it. Let’s take a collective sigh of relief and stop griping about teenagers lol-ing.

I’ve gone back and forth on this issue, but the talk above by linguist John McWhorter put the whole thing to rest for me.

McWhorter points out that texting is not, for all intents and purposes, even actual writing. We write in long, thought-out phrases that are meant to be read reflectively or orated as speeches. In texting however, we’re essentially just speaking. And in a conversation, we talk in short bursts of words, giving no thought to capitalization, punctuation, or spelling – just like in a text message. If you haven’t guessed it by now, McWhorter believes that texting functions much more like speaking – it’s just speaking that happens to be written down.

The entire talk is worth a lunch break, with tidbits such as “If humanity had existed for 24 hours, then writing only came along at about 11:07pm,” and an analysis of the shifting function of “lol” (because, if you haven’t noticed, people no longer exclusively use it when something is even actually funny – but I’ll leave that for McWhorter to explain).

Wht do u thnk?

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Follow on Twitter @chriskbacon.

Your Final Project Word Cloud

Critical Literacy Word Cloud‘Tis the season! It’s the end of the semester and students everywhere are frantically typing up projects for classes that all seem to backload 95% of the work onto the final week.

No exception here. Just finished a big ol’ “Literature Review” – essentially our program’s first year initiation right – synthesizing 30-or-so studies on a teacher-research topic of one’s choosing.

At some way-too-late hour of the night, on a whim, I copied and pasted the entire beast into a word cloud generator, the results of which you see above. Not only was it nice to see my main topics artistically arranged on a single page, but it was also useful for editing (making me realize, for example that I had used the word “practice” far more times than was humanly tolerable – to the thesaurus!).

If you’re curious as to why the words critical and literacy look like  Godzilla and Mothra stomping toward a terrified-city-of-other-words in my word cloud, it’s because I reviewed research about using critical literacy approaches with English language learners: the idea being that “literacy” means more than just reading and writing, but is also a political act. As our society often uses literacy to “disempower those who, through Continue reading