Friday, October 9, 2009

What does it mean to be literate?



(I believe) one of the most important goals of Freshman Composition (and of college for that matter) is the development of critical reading/thinking skills - skills that most poetry and criticism readers probably take for granted.

That said, I am always a bit surprised when I get to more critical work during the semester and my students seem relatively uninitiated. Typically, they can analyze/ interpret pictures or ads, but with texts, they rarely question the information they are receiving. For that matter, they often even have trouble summarizing what they just read, even when the texts are fairly straight forward and fresh in their minds. I am sure that some of this is due to lack of interest, but it also makes me wonder...

Suffolk has relatively strict admissions standards. All of my students have been through high school, know how to write and read words and sentences, and have undoubtedly written research papers and read some classic authors. I would be willing to bet that all of them have read some Shakespeare. I would not call them illiterate, but if they have trouble summarizing a simple argument, could I call them literate?

The National Institute for Literacy, and the UN would call them perfectly literate because they can "read and write a simple sentence." By these definitions, they have probably been literate since the second grade, and this is an achievement, but calling them literate by those standards really shuts the door on a whole range on literacy. In a sense, it says, "this is enough, you are literate," almost branding them "success." In these terms, the UN considers 80% of the world as literate. But reading and writing a simple sentence is really not enough.

It seems equally important to me that students also be able to understand simple sentences or even further, be able to think about them and grapple with them before literacy actually takes place.

Yet, understanding alone poses a pretty complicated problem that most readers of poetry face at one point or another, because understanding a line implies that "it has been conceptualized to a given measure." But this definition is incredibly sticky since "a given measure" is not "entirely," and "entirely" is really impossible. So what makes an adequate measure for understanding a simple sentence?

At the most basic, I think a reader would need to understand the direct meaning of a sentence implied by its word sense. Take this simple sentence for example:

The beautiful rose burst into season.

At its most basic, the sentence implies by its word sense that an attractive rose (the flower) blossomed (or opened up). The majority of readers, I think, would grasp this understanding of the sentence; however, rose also (literally) means "an ornament" and burst literally means both "to break open" and "to come apart." Season in this sentence is much more complicated because the most straightforward implication is that the rose flowered, or it was "in the season" of flowering. However, season could also be "fashion," as in the rose became stylish, and if burst is seen as "breaking," the rose can be seen as falling apart into a season. Even beautiful could be seen as "enjoyable" instead of "attractive," which further complicates the literal meaning of the sentence.

Yet, beyond the literal, in order for a reader to be truly literate, he or she would need to take into account the sentence's symbolic levels of meaning, and this complicates the meaning exponentially. Most people would agree that a rose (almost to a fault) is a symbol for love or passion. And in this sense, the sentence also means that love is beginning passionately. Or if season is seen as foul weather (implied by seasonably (ie, seasonably cold)), then the rose or passion could be bursting (breaking) into foul weather (reality). And these symbolic meanings are every bit as present as the literal ones.

Moreover, there is a rich history of "roses" in sentences and in writing, and it seems that to really understand the sentence, a reader would need to be aware of some of the major allusions -at least "a rose by any other name could never be as sweet."

And in this same sense, writing about roses blooming has definitely be done - so much so, that it is cliche. A literate reader would need to be able to identify a cliche or at least have a sense of what is cliche and what is not.

If literacy requires all this, then the majority of people around the world are probably not literate (I am barely on the cusp myself). And furthermore, there must be ways of reading and understanding by which even fewer of us (myself included) are literate. Shakespeare is read by almost all English speaking high schoolers, and most of them probably apprehend him on one level or another, but so much is probably lost that I am not sure it can be adequately called "reading" Shakespeare. By these standards, not many people (if anyone) probably can "read" Shakespeare. And that means we are all illiterate in one sense or another since his work is such a cornerstone of the English language.


35 comments:

健康保寶 said...

看看blog調整心情,又要來繼續工作,大家加油........................................

龐克搖滾 said...

處順境須謹慎,處逆境要忍耐。........................................

冠宇 said...

成人色圖片免費成人影騙免費成人電影觀看曼雪兒情色文學成人小說杜雷斯成人貼圖區一葉情成人影片區一葉情成人論壇一葉情貼貼片區一葉情貼圖片區,一葉情圖片區一葉情語音一葉情語音聊天一葉情語音聊天網一葉成人網一業晴成人一業情貼圖ㄧ葉晴貼片ㄧ葉晴貼片區ㄧ葉晴貼圖區一本道影片一本道線上觀看一夜情天室一夜情無碼影片一夜情貼圖區一夜晴貼片一夜晴貼圖片區一夜晴貼圖區一情夜一貼片一葉情論壇蜜雪兒免費小說 色ˋ情小說 玩美女人嘟嘟成人

婉婷婉婷 said...

I do like ur article~!!!..................................................

水憲妤慧 said...

書籍乃世人累積智慧的大明燈。......................................................

NicolaSigel0508 said...

很喜歡你的blog哦...加油唷 ........................................

惠IdellA_Fecteau1231蘋 said...

成熟,就是有能力適應生活中的模糊。 ..................................................

雲亨 said...

長見識了,謝謝你! ........................................

雅伯 said...

責人之心責己,恕己之心恕人。........................................

MariaFoley0念火 said...

enjoy your artical, thank you .............................................

DennisPick麗珠 said...

沒有友情,人生何樂?.............................................

韋于倫成 said...

好的開始並不代表會成功,壞的開始並不代表是失敗......................................................

怡迪怡迪 said...

弱者等待時機,強者製造時機..............................

祥傑祥傑 said...

哈>v<"" 感謝分享...................................................

estherme said...

Man proposes, God disposes.............................................................

Vi2139 said...

你不能左右天氣,但你可以改變心情..................................................................

登山登山 said...

Where did you purchase this product?..................................................

佳燕 said...

一個人的價值,應該看他貢獻了什麼,而不是他取得了什麼....................................................................

韋以韋以 said...

知識可以傳授,智慧卻不行。每個人必須成為他自己。.................................................................

秋娥秋娥 said...

成熟,就是有能力適應生活中的模糊。.................................................................

王名仁 said...

It takes all kinds to make a world.............................................................

原秋原秋 said...

閱讀您的BLOG文章,真是件快樂的事!..................................................................

吳婷婷 said...

A bird in hand is worth two in the bush. ..................................................................

承蘋承蘋 said...

連接生與死這兩塊陸地的橋樑是愛…….......................................................

廖珮秋廖珮秋 said...

累死了…來去看看文章轉換心情~.......................................................

魏江伶魏江伶 said...

雖然不能常常來看,仍然祝你人氣百分百 ............................................................

楊儀卉 said...

唯有穿鞋的人,才知道鞋的哪一處擠腳............................................................

吳淑芬吳淑芬 said...

要繼續發好文喔^^加油!.................................[/url]...............

謝俊宏 said...

不會從失敗中找尋教訓的人,成功之路是遙遠的。.................................................

文王廷 said...

Make yourself necessary to someone..................................................................

蔡曼鄭美玉屏 said...

責人之心責己,恕己之心恕人。............................................................

文汝劉文汝劉文汝劉 said...

友誼能增進快樂,減少痛苦......................................................................

翊翊翊翊張瑜翊翊翊 said...

快樂,是享受工作過程的結果......................................................................

孫邦柔 said...

你快d upday個blog啦~..................................................................

黃英吳思潔吳思潔邦 said...

知識可以傳授,智慧卻不行。每個人必須成為他自己。............................................................