Is Literacy on the Downfall?

October 12, 2009 at 11:24 am | Posted in uncategorized | 2 Comments

(Authored by Elyse Boress)

I’m trying to remember when it was I first started using the internet. It’s hard to imagine those days without the internet, but I think it was around my college days that the internet was being utilized for anything and everything.  Even though we’re in the technology revolution, some people like Tom Long discuss how all these technological advances are harmful to the literacy of our future, whereas others, like Clive Thompson, advocate that these advances are beneficial..  I understand both arguments, but still questioning what technology will do to the future of literacy in our country? In fact, what direction is technology going to take us in the long run?

In Longs article Literacy Limps Into the Kill Zone, which can be found at , he talks about the all out assault on the English language and the role technology plays in that unprovoked and dastardly attack.  He also talks about the ways dumbing down the language is not only seen as acceptable, but is tacitly encouraged as the status quo.

In a sense, I understand where Long is coming from.  In thinking about all the text messages and emails I’ve written, I can tell you that majority of them consisted of incomplete sentences, slang and symbols that would not be looked highly upon if written on paper. In fact, you might even question whether or not I know how to read or write. It’s not just me either. This is how we are functioning today.  Our fingertips type out more information than we handwrite.  Are we forgetting how to pick up a pen and paper and write? Are we getting educated by this technology?

In the article Clive Thompsons View of Literacy,   Professor Andrea Lunsford says

technology isn’t killing our ability to write. It’s reviving it-and pushing our literacy in bold new directions.

She has found that more people today are reading and writing due to this technology boom. Whether it’s instant messaging, texting, emailing or blogging, people are actually reading and writing while they are doing this. They might not think of it that way, but they are. Also, people are attracted to this type of technology over a pen and paper style of writing because they have a different audience they can address. This means that the meaning, tone and information can change to meet the needs of that audience.

Again, there are some good points here.  Yes, I agree that more and more people are reading and writing via technology but you just have to be careful about the slang and types of information they are reading and writing. Also, what about all that information that you don’t want your kids reading about?  It’s there. All online. And they’re reading it. Is it educational? That’s for you to decide, but just know that they are reading, even though it might not be the reading you were hoping they would choose.

It is clear that there are arguments on whether or not these technological advances are beneficial in reading and writing or not. Do you think we should continue pushing technology in the classrooms as much as we have been? Or should we push for more paper and pen activities?

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2 Comments »

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  1. As someone who is reading and writing more than ever BECAUSE of technology I’d have to say an emphatic NO to whether literacy is on the downfall. I think what many are missing is the improvement of richness of context in the reading and writing we experience as a result of hyperconnected conversations in any form.

    I also think that many believe literacy is an either or in terms of print vs. computer-based literacy. It’s not black and white. I still read physical books (I like not having to worry about battery power), but do most of my reading online.

    I believe what we are lacking in schools is the context for student literacy. Why should students read? Why should they write? Is what they are doing worth reading more about it? Is it worth writing (sharing) about?

    My answer to your question of whether we should be pushing technologies is no. We shouldn’t push the technology, we should push for more context and offer the resources available today (books, computers, paper, pen, crayons, etc.) that allow students to be more thoughtful, creative and collaborative with their learning.

    • In response to Elyse’s initial blog post, I believe we should continue to incorporate technology into the classroom but should also still be working on student’s reading and writing skills. Like Brian commented, this issue is not black or white. If we can incorporate both aspects into our daily classroom, the students would benefit from it in a much greater way. Elyse mentioned that in Long’s article there is a dumbing down of language so that all students can understand the text. This I can definitely see just by looking at the old and new textbooks used in my student teaching placement. The course “Living Environment” is the new class that took the place of “Biology” in the early 2000s (not quite sure which exact year it was). I have a copy of the old textbook used in the Biology course and have seen the new textbook used in Living Environment. There is a drastic difference in the way these two books were written. The language in the new book is much simpler with far fewer vocabulary words. Are we helping our students by ‘dumbing’ down the textbooks they use? My response would be no. In fact we are doing more harm than good. We should be holding our students to higher expectations, not lower ones. It reminds me of the study done in 1968 by Rosenthal and Jacobson. This study showed that students who were expected to do more actually did more! Why we do not hold all of our students to higher individual expectations is a myth to me.
      Brian brought up a good point of the richness of texts we are providing to our students. We are only helping our students if the article we let them read online are worthwhile. They should enhance the student’s understanding of the topic and make them want to research more into the topic. If the texts are not content rich or relevant, then why are we having them read them?
      One last comment- students abilities to write in proper grammar and spelling are appalling. I do not know if the greater increase in technology has anything to do with this, but students cannot write or spell. I have been correcting papers throughout my student teaching placement and it is unreal how aweful the students are at spelling and proper grammar. Spelling and grammar are two things that every successful person needs to be able to do. My question to you is, is our increasing use of technology having detrimental effects on the basic skills of spelling and proper grammar?


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