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Defining Literacy

vvaria's picture

I want to use this blog to reflect on some of the thoughts I have had about defining literacy.  In class we worked in groups or pairs and expanded our idea of literacy.  My group came up with the following as our working definition of literacy: the ability to manipulate secondary discourses in order to give you agency.  Each of these words carries a lot of weight and purpose for me and to the overall definition.  I particularly like the idea of “manipulation” here because I think language can be, and often is, manipulative.  Being literate can mean different things in different contexts.  This idea was also something I have been thinking about and elaborating on in the last few weeks. We typically understand being literate as simply reading and writing and associate it with books and alphabet letters, but with this definition, the more elaborate interdisciplinary nature of literacy is acknowledged. Being literate in math or in science, or being literate in facebook or twitter, are now all accepted statements, and logical under this definition of literacy. On the twitter, the idea of being literate in music was brought up.  This to me, was particularly interesting because it broached the idea that being literate is not only about seeing something on a page and understanding it, but also about feeling and transmitting feeling.  Does this definition account for that? I wonder what the boundaries of this definition are. Is this definition sufficient? Or are we still treading around it? And how does emotion play into literacy acquisition? 


alesnick's picture


I think your definition is strong.  Andbut it makes me want to ask how you define agency :)  What are its connections to belonging, legitimacy, power, and self/group determination? To conflict/struggle?  To creativity?  The creativity notion connects with your music example.  If I am moved/taught/accompanied/changed by a piece of music, though I can play nor read not one note of it, does it make sense to describe my participation as literate?  What would calling it so get us, and what would it cost us?