We’ve all heard on TV and other media about the rising illiteracy rate in America, but little do we know how much we can do in our daily lives toward prevention.
Our very own children fall victim – under our watchful eyes – to bits and pieces of illiteracy which I call windows of illiteracy. Although windows are there for us to open, through our own fast pace and lack of awareness, they may (as do other windows) serve to block as well as let in the light of learning.
Many wonder how very literate parents often begat children who don’t value learning in themselves or others. Perhaps this may be due in part to the way we ‘let George (schools, etc.) do it’ and blindly trust that someone else has more time or skill to do the job.
Historical Illiteracy was observed recently by Reader’s Digest, noting that today’s youth – although required to pass history – have very little ‘sense of history.’ Such a sense can be increased with one-on-one visits with someone close.
One reason may be the blatant lack of intent to remember. Maybe we’ve forgotten to tell our youth the purpose of studying history: to avoid repeating old mistakes and to continue smart moves from earlier times.
A good way to help make history ‘stick’ is to sprinkle it with such human tidbits like how the Teddy Bear came from Teddy Roosevelt. Students listen more when historical characters seem to be more than just dead people! Smart phones, iPads, and ready availability of computers makes this a doable project.
Cultural Illiteracy will be clear to you when you hum a few bars of the William Tell Overture. Ask any child, and you may be told it came from the Saturday morning comics. This probably includes teens. After clearing that up, discuss Beethoven and deafness and wonder at the mystery of it all. Your listener will remember if you tell it with your heart, which is what cultural pursuits are all about, isn’t it?
Language Illiteracy reflects that students study words and meanings for tests, but that’s often why the study, only for tests. Our language is full of flavorful expressions which require a trained and literate mind to interpret.
“Chew the fat” denotes visiting in an unrushed country atmosphere. So many such expressions carry a wealth of information which cries out for explanation to our youth.
This is not to say new expressions and trends are unimportant, but when things were named after someone, it’s a shame for children to never know their legacy. A good example of this type of gap was when a child came upon the term Roy Rogers in a story, and he interpreted it as having to do with a beef sandwich!
I often see students completely misunderstand the original meaning of a connotation, relating to it only by its second or third removed cousin expression.
Illiteracy of Great Literature (from whence the word literate came) is more serious than we think in our highly connected generations. Even Mother Goose rhymes carry phrases revisited in the written word throughout our lives.
Tell a child about “sealing wax. .. and cabbages and kings” from Alice in Wonderland. Or talk (when telling why to say no to drugs) about the “road not taken” and why Robert Frost claims one’s choice can make “all the difference.”
Democracy and a Sense of Community are necessary concepts for literacy in America. We can easily be astounded when we realize many of our youth don’t really believe in or appreciate democracy. Neither do they understand it.
Perhaps this week would be a good time to go beyond the blood and guts and power stories into the higher level thinking arena of the whys of freedom, and its first cousins, choice and responsibility. Injecting some fun and curiosity into it may help students give enough attention to these studies to actually process our culture’s gifts.
Maybe a neighborhood activity is in order to let your child in on the underlying reasons for and the joys of community responsibility. If you can’t have a barnraising have a fence-raising for someone who needs the help. Concepts of freedom and earning are caught, not taught.
Expressive Language Illiteracy is not so easily noticed by adults in this age who suffer themselves from time warp, making it harder than ever before to take time to listen to their children.
Yet, without being listened to, many children are not learning to express their thoughts and feelings orally or in writing. Maybe instead of movies at night, families could have performances at home, put on by the children. Perhaps video technology would help if it could be scheduled in our lives. Focusing on reality instead of reality shows might even prove rewarding.
Emotional Illiteracy is the most dangerous of all, because survival in the real world depends more upon that element than any other. Self esteem, assertiveness (rather than aggressiveness or ‘bottling it up’) and group skills are vital keys to unlocking and using mental capacities.
Our progeny needs to be emotionally literate, knowing how to stay in tune with their feelings without undue manipulation, acting out, or what I call “riding bad feelings.”
Time spent on self-worth and coping skills and non-academic pursuits can be the catalyst that releases a person’s intellect for real-life use. Middle class America is often so swept up with academic and competitive achievement that we forget the importance of underlying emotional growth.
As you can see, all of these areas of literacy tie into each other to help support a literate society. The next time you are with a child share more than just cookies and milk. No preaching is needed – just share tidbits and tales, and listen with respect to their dreams and ideas.
Perhaps awareness will make us take a few extra moments, here and there, to visit with our future, our youth, about our past legacy of literacy.
Let us give them something to carry into their new world of the 21st century. Let us open widely the windows for literacy!