Common myths and alternative readings
This paper is concerned with crucial issues which need to be addressed in attempting to define literacy. Several persistent myths or common misreadings of the nature of literacy are critiqued, namely the myths of literacy as: an absolute, word perfect standard; a collection of functional skills; an autonomous, context-free and unified competence; and a means of economic benefit. Alternative definitions, differing radically from the myths in their reading of reality, are proposed. These argue for a broad, inclusive definition which takes into account two broad perspectives – (i) the essentially creative meaning-centred and relative nature of language learning or use, and (ii) the patterns of social and cultural contexts in which literate behaviours are learnt, developed, constrained by or act to constrain the literacy of others. A dual focus is argued for. First, a focus on individual learning and experience serves to highlight the essentially constructive, selective, purposeful nature of the literacy process and the organic relation between literacy, experience, personal growth and autonomy. Thus, literacy is seen as transcending exclusively linguistic considerations and empowering its possessors to make sense of, to read and reread their experience, both to “take meanings” from the world and to act to transform that world. The second essential focus entails the recognition that socio-cultural contexts, including the nature, availability or distribution of information and printed materials in a society, are a vital part of the literacy process itself, shaping the meaning, values status and conceptions of literacy practices or competences. Hence discussion moves to the wider definitional framework for the analysis of literacies as social practices embedded in socio-cultural contexts of parent-child relationships, socialization patterns and ideologies.
Published online: 01 January 1986
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in press) Towards a transactive theory of the reading process and research in evaluation. Institute of Student Assessment and Evaluation, University of Florida.
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Cited by 2 other publications
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