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On devaluing illiteracy...

S...'s picture

I've been thinking a lot about the implied value that literacy = worth/intelligence/personhood. I think it's safe to say that European/US culture both hold this implied value. Conversely, these societies equate illiteracy with worthlessness/unintelligence/illegitimacy as a person.

In my writing conference yesterday, Jody described the beginning of a graduate school course she took about literacy. Everyone wrote on the board their initial word associations with people who are "illiterate." A slew of negative words like lazy, unintelligent, and addiction ended up on the board. I myself have a knee-jerk negative reaction when I imagine a person who is "illiterate" by society's standards (can't read or write, is uneducated in traditional acedemic subjects), which I'm consciously trying to replace with a less prejudiced internal image.

I think this cultural value can lead to shame and fear of being labelled "illiterate." 

Why is this? Why does the ability to communicate through text rather than speech carry with it such loaded associations? Why is that the generally agreed upon definition of "literacy"? Aren't there many other worlds of, emotional, cultural, musical...? Who benefits from this devaluing of people without "literacy"?

Heavily rooted in colonialism, imperialism, white supremacy, suppression of the lower class. Also, many other possible answers. To be explored think about as I move through my formal education in a priviledged position at an institution, no matter how liberal, founded in a time of blatant racism and class discrimination.