I am so sorry for the dearth of posts in February. I have been working on the recipe guide promised in my last post, and, in an effort to not write half-baked posts, have been more keen on finishing an idea already started than writing about something I am not entirely passionate about.
Either way, postless periods will be over as of now.
Today I want to talk to you all about literacy. Now, I get that literacy and sustainability aren’t exactly synonyms. However, many times our understanding of concepts, ideals, or even sustainable efforts is hindered by a lack of topic literacy.
Before I delve into what my vision of topic literacy is and my argument for improving it, let’s delve into what the current definitions and applications of literacy are.
Literacy is defined as the ability to read and write, in its most basic sense. Generally, literacy implies an ability to read or write text with a holistic understanding of what that text is trying to convey. Right now, your literacy allows you to read these words and derive greater meaning of the ideas I try to convey by continuing to think about what you have read. Historically, literacy is one of the greatest aspects of humanity that mankind has succeeded at teaching. The education system, in its current demise thanks to Ms. Devos, would have been even worse (although hard to believe) if no student were able to read. Indeed, the internet would be nonexistent.
However, when literacy was first taught in schools, it was taught in its most basic sense. Students were taught to read and memorize specific texts. There was no expectation that the students understood the texts, or could apply the knowledge they learned to other aspects of their lives.
As education evolved, students were introduced to the idea of “reading comprehension,” as everyone who has somehow survived through standardized testing has come to understand, tests someone’s ability to analyze, understand, and extrapolate from a story, article, or general piece of writing. In schools across America (and the rest of the developed world), literacy is taught in this very general sense I have previously described.
At the same time, our world develops more rapidly every day. Technology allows for information to be spread much more easily, and increasingly, young students have access to documents they would have to be trained to read just a decade sooner. In other words, children have access to documents of foreign policy, but do not have the necessary education to adequately read, understand, and analyze those same documents.
Thus, our education methods do not satisfy the concerns and interests that the public currently has access to. Therefore, in an effort to make topics that range from sustainability to physical chemistry to criminal law understandable to every individual with access to those topics, our methods of literacy education need to be revised.
Our methods of literacy education must remain vague enough to understand the varieties of language in each sector without losing the specificity and jargon that allow for increased power within each sector.
Yet, the question of how to create this learning environment remains. As I previously mentioned, education is always evolving, and today’s political climate has shifted how our world recognizes and interacts with literacy.
We are expected to be literate with literature (books, novels, poetry, etc), political news articles, social media, movies, music lyrics, powerpoint presentations, scientific journals, policy journals, court cases, and more. This expectation, however, is rarely emphasized in schools, who have curriculums designed to only inform the twentieth century’s most basic definitions of “reading comprehension.”
Instead, our schools need to begin exposing students to more evolved methods of communication. Students should be reading rigorous journal articles early in their academic careers, and reading rigorous literature should not be during special projects, but should be normal. They need to be well versed in scientific research, literary criticism, law, and even mathematical discoveries. Instead of textbooks paraphrasing great findings, our students need to read the research of history-changing theorems, even if they struggle to understand all of the language.
The reason that I bring up such a random topic right now is twofold.
First of all, I don’t know about you guys, but I struggle to read news right now. After the election of Mr. Trump, the amount of bias swinging between different media sources (including the alarming social media accounts of Mr. Trump himself) have confused me more about our nation’s future than anything else. Luckily for me, the internet has a solution. All of Mr. Trump’s legislative decisions can be found by simply googling for them, on www.whitehouse.gov. However, all laws are written in very precise language to maintain order and standards between all other documents. While reading, I quickly became accustomed to the language and structure of the laws. Yet, I had time and persistence to reach that comfort level. Most Americans do not have the time or
interest to understand documentation they are not literate in, rendering any sector in which they have not specialized unchangeable.
The same applies in science. During my first year conducting scientific research, I had no idea what was going on. All research was written in the very precise jargon of, in my case, metabolic engineering and microbiology. However, after diligently reading, I became scientifically literate in my specific field. But what I learned was not how to read about microbiology; I learned how to become literate in a very specialized field. I learned how to read in a way that applied to several fields, and how to understand text even if I did not know every word being used.
Second of all, as I leave High School, I worry that our education system is not properly preparing students to read and learn from the variety of texts they will undeniably encounter. If we want our nation to be able to pilot the overload of information we can access, they need to be able to understand what they read, and be able to extend their capacity to read to complicated texts.
We must accept that our paradigms for education do not do modern issues justice. Literacy allows for Americans to accept climate change, challenge police brutality, differentiate between threats from ISIL are separate and refugees from the Middle East, and do so while understanding the completeness of the issue rather than reading someone else’s bias and forming their opinions afterwards. Literacy does more to eliminate “fake news” than any “presidential” (notice the quotation marks) tweet or social media algorithm.
Therefore, to reach a more holistically sustainable future, our first step must be properly educating our youth to meet the literacy needs of the modern century. That way, we can successfully transition into a much more uncertain information age.