Re: snapshots

John Oughton (john.oughton@SHERIDANC.ON.CA)
Mon, 8 Jan 1996 21:46:14 -0500

I'll buy your argument that my own literacy is at least in part electronic.
Telephones and radios were certainly part of the domestic landscape when
I was born. TV's were not -- until I was ten or so. They were around,
my parents just didn't get one for a while. So, relative to the time I
spent watching movies (no VCR's then, either) or talking on the phone or
listening to the radio, books and comics and newspapers and magazines
were by far the larger influence on me. Not so for most of today's students.

As for literacy being difficult to define and measure -- yes, it is. I
spent some time on this problem a couple of years ago while coordinating
a program to talk about student literacy expectations with area colleges
and high schools. General -- cross-opulation literacy levels -- have
actually increased over the past few decades in North America, many
researchers feel. What we're looking at, I think, is a much narrower
band of comparison -- do the students that are coming into college and
university now have as highly developed, varied, and skillful command of
writing as their peers did 10, 20 or 30 years ago? That's hard to
answer and measure, except anecdotally. And comparing our memories of our
own abilities at that age isn't fair, because by the very nature of the
trade we're now in, we are biased toward skill and performance in written

It would be interesteing to compare a passel of entrance-level essays
from 20 years ago and today to look at some of the specific things I
suspect have changed -- a shift towards more phonetic spelling, a decline
in cultural literacy around book culture in particular, and history and
geography in general, a weaker command of grammar. Can I prove it? No.

"Anyone who cannot cope with life while he is alive needs one hand to
ward off a little his despair over his fate... but with his other hand
he can jot down what he sees among the ruins..." -- Franz Kafka
John Oughton, Sheridan College, Box 7500, Brampton ON Canada
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