Re: snapshots

Tue, 9 Jan 1996 12:59:56 -0600

>From: John Oughton <john.oughton@SHERIDANC.ON.CA>
>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.

Neither did mine. And something that we know is that children now spend a lot
more time watching tv than either you or I. And that some of the rhetorical
strategies of electronic discourse have evolved or at least intensified in that
time: I think of the fast cutting of MTV or certain contemporary

> 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?

Well, I don't really know about the short term, but over the longer term,
shifts in the population of students who go to universities have been
documented. Some thinkers have suggested in fact that our current fascination
with literacy questions has everything to do with social class and number of
years of education - that is, we're educating a different *class* than we used
to. A century ago, universities educated people who were much more homogenous
than the population going to school now, and the purpose was to organize and
solidify the homogeniety. These people argue that the same population we teach
now were in fact the engine behind the self-help movement of the late Victorian
period; they educated themselves.

> 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

I often think about this. I see students in my classes who are a lot like I
was: bookish, verbal, rascally. And I think about what I read: I read lots of
books that ppl consider classics - but they were swept up in the mass of
bodice-rippers and sci-fi/fantasy books I consumed every week as a teenager.
(Now I've admitted it: I became a victorianist to continue reading
bodice-rippers for pay.) Is it *really* so much better to have read 1000
romance novels by the time I was 16? (Fearful of commentary on this last, Scog
hopes none of her former exes or partners are on this list....)

>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.

rats. I have to get to class. But I've read *so* many 19th-century books,
journals, magazines, novels, where people are making these errors all the time.
And they're at the height of print literacy. Jane Austen. Charles Dickens.
Lord, read Yeats's manuscripts sometime, if you can get past the handwriting.
Of course, he was dyslexic, I think clinically, and it didn't interfere with
his writing, not his excellent writing.

I'm not really disagreeing with your ideas, but I always stick on that phonetic
spelling/grammatic errors thing, because I've read too many wonderful writers
who couldn't *write* (by that defintion) at all.

thanks for the discussion,

St. Cloud, Minnesota: where all the chidren are above average.