I was just struck by how much my own definition of literacy has changed. Maybe that isn’t exactly the right term. But bear with me… I will explain.
As I sometimes do when I don’t find anything of interest in my Bloglines feeds, I looked at the education posts on WordPress. I read one called Defining Literacy Today by Steve J. Moore. He makes an interesting point:
I think that literacy has more to do with conveying and understanding ideas than with specific words, phrases, or concepts.
I liked that.
Then I decided to check out the post he linked to, The Vocabulary Crisis, by Jeffery Hill. This post refers to an article on a news radio site about — you guessed it — a crisis in vocabulary. That article, also called The Vocabulary Crisis and written by Dan O’Donnell, starts out:
The ABCs are apparently no longer as easy as 1-2-3. Recent federal studies indicate that the average American teenager’s vocabulary is less than half that of the average teenager in the 1950s.
It goes on to talk about Princeton studies and quotes someone named Maria Corkern. And then it hit me: There were no links. I could not check anything that was written there. I was supposed to just believe it because someone said it was true.
I searched for Maria Corkern to see what her credentials were. I found her blog — a site to promote her book and speaking engagements. She has a Masters in Education. OK. That is some qualification. I found more info on something called RTIR Online. It makes this rather startling statement:
Maria Corkern, teacher and reading specialist, says that our culture, in general, is dumbing down to the point where intelligent speech and writing may soon disappear.
Ignoring the attempt to scare people, there is still no link to her sources or even to when or where she said that. There is no way for me to access that information and think critically about this “crisis”.
And that, to me, is the issue. I may know all the words. I may be able to read the text and understand it. But if I am not offered references, I cannot begin to think critically. And that is where new literacy comes in. It isn’t enough just to read and accept; we have to be able to question and evaluate the information we are given.
So maybe everything Ms. Corkern says is true. But I will never be convinced until I see some of those studies referred to in the news report from WTMJ, until I see some “facts” to support the opinions.
And I guess I was right with my title for this post. I have a new definition of literacy. And it has less to do with vocabulary than it does with thinking.