ERIC Number: ED252863
Record Type: RIE
Publication Date: 1984-Nov
Reference Count: 0
The Politics of Nonliteracy: Logocentrism in the Classroom.
Edwards, Bruce L., Jr.
The conventional notion of the term "literacy" is rather narrow. Harvey Graff's work demonstrates that literacy in Western society not only means the ability to read and write, but also takes in a profusion of values and beliefs including empathy, innovativeness, and achievement. By contrast, a term such as illiterate comes to represent social conditions such as poverty, disease, and lack of intelligence. It is easy to forget that there have been great civilizations that did not depend upon universal literacy for stability and control. Walter Ong suggests that literacy should be seen both as a technology and as a pattern. Writing, for instance, can be seen as a technology, as a way of getting something done using words. Literacy makes possible analytical thinking processes unachievable in an oral culture, which relies primarily on memory to store information. Because literacy involves a cognitive act, it is not only a technology but also a pattern or perspective through which the world is viewed. Since writing allows knowledge to be detached from personal memory and put in a text accessible to those who know the code, it is tempting to assume that the written word is a medium more capable of conveying human experience than speech. This attitude is what Jacques Derrida calls logocentrism, and he suggests that it colors the Western view of literacy. Teachers, acting as if literacy should be equated with human worth and dignity, convey the impression that illiterate students should learn to read and write so they can communicate with their teachers. Teachers rely excessively on books to teach writing, putting students through meaningless mechanical exercises and expecting them to figure out how to proceed. Better results can be achieved when the teacher works directly with students on their writing, helping them to learn by watching and doing and using the textbook only as a supplement. (RBW)
Publication Type: Opinion Papers; Speeches/Meeting Papers
Education Level: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A
Note: Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the National Council of Teachers of English (74th, Detroit, MI, November 16-21, 1984).