Letting Literacy be Literacy
In my opinion, most often discussions of “new literacies” are really discussions of new skills in applying literacy to new contexts. Let me explain.
Literacy, at its core, is about gathering and conveying meaning through communication. In the very beginning, before modern language, there was showing and viewing. I’d show you how to hunt a wooly mammoth, and you would view my showing. There would be meaning gathered through the act of showing and viewing.
Then the establishment of language brought in speaking and listening. I could now tell you how to make a spear, and you could gather meaning by listening.
The advent of written language allowed for the explosion of information we are experiencing today by allowing someone to write their thoughts and meaning can be gathered by reading these thoughts. No longer did people have to be in close proximity to share information. That is exactly what is happening right here. Yes, the vehicle has changed, in this case a blog post that resulted from a conversation on Twitter, two things not in existence 15 years ago, but the nature of what we are doing remains the same. I am writing my ideas, and you are gathering meaning by reading them.
This brings us to the new literacies. In my opinion, unless we’re talking about a new core way to convey and gather meaning through communication, we are talking about the application of literacy rather than the nature of literacy itself. In response to Will’s question today, I would maintain understanding transparency in my writing as technology changes is a skill rather than a core literacy.
I think this is important because it is very similar to my dislike for the Partnership’s establishment of their notion of 21st Century Skills. What they are calling “21st Century” are really rather timeless skills. We have communicated for centuries. We will continue to collaborate for likely ever. Problem solving has always been a major skill in life. Again, the application and context of these skills are certainly changing, but the skills themselves have always been relevant and meaningful.
If we held these things, the foundational learning skills as well as literacy, as timeless, we would be able to focus more on how we are engaging them in a relevant way in our modern culture rather than constantly fighting to redefine them.
And in my opinion, it’s how we apply these foundational pillars of learning that will yield true progress rather than the constant redefining and confusion brought on when everyone tries to requalify literacy and learning skills.
Thanks to Frederic della Faille for the Flickr image.