Re: Snapshots

R Yagelski (rpy95@CSC.ALBANY.EDU)
Sun, 7 Jan 1996 10:09:56 -0500


You refer in your latest post to "the literacy problem we're all
recognizing" in our students. I wonder precisely what this "literacy
problem" is. No doubt there seems to be a strong feeling among many
of us who teach writing that our students don't seem to read and/or
write as well as we think they should--or as their counterparts of
some years ago did. But what exactly does this mean? I always get
nervous during discussions of this kind since "the literacy problem"
is so often left undefined and unspecified. What exactly is it that
our students do or don't do? (I don't mean this as a challenge, but
as a legitimate question that needs to be addressed.) And perhaps
more to the point for this list, how does technology fit into our
perceptions of our students' reading/writing abilities?

As I pose these questions, I'm thinking of a few studies, such as one
by Stedman and Kaestle (1987) which examined literacy data on
U.S. citizens from this century. After an extensive examination of
these data, the researchers concluded that there was no significant
empirical basis to assert that reading skills of U.S. citizens had
declined in this century. Interestingly, they also concluded that
standards for literacy (that is, how to define a "literate person")
had increased regularly and significantly during this century. Such
studies make me wonder about what we're actually seeing in our
students with respect to their reading and writing skills. Are they
really less capable readers and writers, or simply "different" readers
and writers is specific ways? Have our definitions of literacy
changed? And have those definitions altered our percpetions of our
students' abilities?

Bob Yagelski
Department of English
University at Albany, SUNY