Blog Archive

Friday, December 16, 2011

Christopher Hitchens.

Christopher Hitchens has died.   I was saddened by this news.  He has been one of my favorite thinkers on the subject of religion and discourse.  I was sad that I would never get to meet him.   And then he told me that I would. Not in some vague way of some supposed afterlife, but right here and now.  His works are at my disposal to learn from or fail to do so as I choose.

Monday, December 12, 2011

On Literacy: Part 1

One of the indicators used for determining the health of an education system is literacy rates.  But what does Literacy (as it relates to educational value) really mean?

Literacy is typically thought of as having the ability to read and write. So much so that all dictionaries I checked claim that to be the case. However there is a broader definition gaining popular use which is "competence in a given field." And of course we have different degrees of the normal use of literacy, such as the idea of reading on an adult level versus reading (or writing) in a less competent manner. But I would like to explore the other idea, the one of competence. The one that allows us to discuss being scientifically literate, or media literate. To be well versed in something is to have received regular exposure to it, thus we can say that Madam Curie was well versed in radiation, but by then it was too late. Puns aside, I would like to say that having a regular exposure to an idea is not enough to have a true understanding, to be as it were, literate. Literacy is both reading and writing and these are separate yet related skills. Both however assume understanding.

We could possibly use this as the definition:

The idea of being able to understand the information as well as sort relevant and irrelevant information.

For example, when asked the shape of the earth and how we know it.   Round vs flat.  An illiterate answer would be that you learned that in school (appeal to authority).  Literate answers might mention ships on the horizon, lunar eclipses,  time differences, photos from space, etc.   This is not to say that the illiterate answer could not be correct, just that the method of knowing would be flawed and not allow the person to pursue knowing and differentiate between wheat and dross.

Nearly one-third of American adults don't know how long it takes the Earth to revolve around the Sun, according to the National Science Board.

Literacy, the mere act of reading and writing, while transformative is not enough. Critical thinking is required. Because many things are read and written spoken and heard.     There are many ways  of thinking, some good some bad.  But interestingly you can become very skilled at either.   You can become proficient at thinking poorly.   This idea is difficult to understand and has to do with what can be termed cognitive blind spots. Think of them like the blind spot of your eye (which you can't see but can be demonstrated) but for your thinking.  acknowledging that you have these blind spots will make you less prone to mistakes but this discussion belongs under a different post.

Critical thinking as a skill is a prerequisite.    However Literacy also means competence in a given area.   Once basic competence is addressed there is the issue of transferring and using skills to combine in new and exciting ways.


Subjects Where Literacy is Attainable?   Is this stretching the concept too far? Am I just replacing the term competence with literacy?

Politics/current events
Expression of the Human Body (such as dance, martial arts and other sports and athletic pursuits)

"There is a gap between 'knowing' and 'defining'."