Literacy and Language

[Response to Chapter 4 in Burke’s “The English Teacher’s Companion”]

We all know that today’s definition of literacy is evolving at this very minute. Literacy no longer encompasses print-only documents, but now also includes digital, hypertexts, images, etc. — essentially, a plethora of diverse ideas about what exactly a text is in the 21st century.

With that said, Burke notes that traditional literacies have changed as he says,

…the ability to read and write — have been replaced by notions of literacy that recognize the complexity of today’s world and anticipate the changes the future will necessarily bring (35).

The idea of complexity is intruiging to me, and I feel that Burke is hitting on the truth about the reality of today’s classrooms. As an English teacher, I feel that our job encompasses more then just textual, print-only forms of learning. “Students are not critical viewers” (33). It is our job to help our students gain the power to analyze and understand the less obsecure meanings behind the language around them on a daily basis.

I’m not sure I see much of helping students become true critical viewers of diverse texts in my classroom right now, however, this focus is one I hope to instill down the road. I’m not saying we should just forget about traditional forms of literacy, but I believe that we are doing our students a disservice if we don’t help them understand and enhance the various forms of multiliterate skills they are bringing into the classroom.

Ultimately, if literacy is defined by social complexes, we must lead our students to the point that they are taking ownership of the “texts” they read — whether those texts are hard copies of Shakespeare anthologies, blogs, or billboard advertisements — because in the end, we live in a “world where language is often used to coerce and confuse instead of clarify and communicate” (37). Thus, again, we owe it to our students to help them better understand the world around them.


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