Re: snapshots

Mon, 8 Jan 1996 11:40:27 -0600

John Oughton <john.oughton@SHERIDANC.ON.CA> writes,

> My students are -- many of them, not all of
>them -- unsophisticated and practised in reading and writing. They are
>sophisticated in viewing media, using computers, assembling documents and
>presentations with effective visuals, etc. So I would argue that the
>"text-specific" kind of literacy we grew up with is being supplanted by a
>media-generic kind of literacy.

I know what you mean, John, but I'd suggest that your literacy - like that of
anybody alive since about the 1890s - has strong electronic components.
Networked computers, like tv, didn't spring up from nothing. PPl have been
talking on the phone for over a century. The first American copyrighted movie,
somebody's sneeze, was filmed (by Thomas Edison I think) in 1893; there's
footage of a train going into the Gare du Nord in 1895. The first commercial
film was 1896. There were a quarter of a million tvs sold in 1946. Radio, like
telephone, is electronic but not visual. These all are the electronic media,
and I for one am steeped like a tea bag in electronic culture, as bookish as I

> Many of them can't spell well,
>consistenly create varied and correct sentences, or distinguish between
>"its" and its'" or "effect" and "affect," but they can channel-surf, and
>net-surf, and tell you if an instructional video is any good or not.
> In terms
>of their development as writers, I think that's the main difference --
>they haven't had the same kind of cognitive ping-pong going on between
>their reading and their writing throughout their education. They read --
>and often write -- grudgingly, because other media are more seductive.

This gives me an opportunity to ask rhetnet members if you've read a book I've
been looking at. I wonder what you think of it. Carl F. Kaestle, et al.,
_Literacy in the United States: Readers and Reading since 1880_ (New Haven:
Yale UP, 1991). Kaestle and Stedman have what are to me two *very* interesting
chapters analyzing literacy studies for the last century and analyzing what's
been made of those studies. They discover only one period in which there was a
statistically significant slide in literacy in the United States, a very slight
one, esp compared to the general march upwards, between something like 1969 and
1979, and that's all. But they also make clear how difficult it is to study
literacy and suggest as far as I can tell that there are no reliable studies of
literacy - that there are problems with *every* one of them. But these chapters
are very complex, as is the argument, and I'm not doing it justice.

To the issue of grammatical errors - I was amused in my most recent rereading
of Jane Austen's _Sense and Sensibility_ to see how she makes fun of the speech
and writing errors of the characters she doesn't like. The characters she most
dislikes say things like "had rode" and make other errors we talk about all the
time as evidence of too much tv and not enough reading. I'd guess that little
has changed and that the problems exist within English itself and not these
times. Any linguists here to comment on this?

Sharon Cogdill

"Tender is the person who finds [his] homeland sweet; already strong is the
person to whom every soil seems like home; perfect is the person who finds the
whole world foreign." (Delicatus ille est adhuc cui patria dulce est, fortis
autem cui omne solum patria est, perfectus vero cui mundus totus exilium est.)
-- Hugo St. Victor, via William A. Johnsen from Edward Said from Eric Auerbach.