To read or not to read?

For this blog post, I would like to discuss Bernardo M. Ferdman’s article Literacy and Cultural Identity. Early in this article, Ferdman brings up the idea of a public service announcement promoting literacy as an example of an issue which seemingly no one could take issue with. Ferdman then spends nearly the rest of his article however problematizing this original assertion. What I would like to now is spend the rest of my blog post on the question of whether Ferdman is right to problematize this issue in the first place, or if we would do better to “de-problematize” it once again. Put simply, let me ask this question:

Are public service announcements promoting literacy a bad thing? 


In reading Ferdman’s article, we could almost come to the conclusion that indeed they are. This has to do with the fact that Ferdman labels literacy as “culturally defined.” Let us step back from this definition for a moment however. In a study conducted in 2003, the US government determined that nearly 20% of the adult population was illiterate, defined as “unable to locate basic information in a text.” The texts involved in the study including basic instruction manuals, works of popular fiction and the like. I like to bring up the study for two reasons. The first is the frightening fact that one in five adults in America can’t read. When we think of how this problem relates to levels of poverty and missed job opportunities, the need for action over philosophizing and waxing rhapsodic over what constitutes literacy becomes apparent. The second reaon I bring it up is because I think it offers a much clearer definition of what literacy is: the ability to read and understand important and common documents around you. I think nearly any industrialized nation could agree with this definition, the more exact examples of countries or oral traditions which Ferdman references in his article notwithstanding. I think moreover that Mr. Ferdman’s tendency to dwell on societies outside of our own shows up a flaw in his logic. the fact is that we all lice in a modern society, and rather than reflect upon how our definition of literacy differs from cultures that use pictographs or oral tradition, we would do much better to take a much simpler and direct definition  literacy and move forward with this to try and help the thousands of people around us who cannot function at its most basically levl, let alone read a ponderous article like the one Feldman has written. 


One response to “To read or not to read?

  1. I agree that action is more necessary and effective than pondering in many cases, and that much has already been made of the differences between writing and speech and the cultures that prioritize one or the other. It is, however, difficult to come up with even a working definition of any educational/cultural concept, much less less the big one: “literacy.” It has to be batted around many different courts before it can be simplified/deduced and used for any real, active purpose. Thus, the endless pondering. Oh, theory.

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