Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Complicit in Literacy

Charles Schuster, Associate Dean of Humanities at University of Wisconsin-Milwaulkee says, 

"Literacy is the power to be able to make oneself heard and felt, to signify. Literacy is the way in which we make ourselves meaningful not only to others but through the other to ourselves."*

It would be more than easy to read that statement, and have a stupid look wash over your face as you emit a spontaneous, "Huh???"

So let me try to explain, because it's actually a pretty important to us all in MANY circumstances...

What Schuster means is that literacy is more than just the ability to read and write.  It is several things all at once.

Literacy is
  • having power,
  • having ability,
  • being heard,
  • being felt,
  • operating from a shared system of signs and signals,
  • making ourselves meaningful to others,
  • and receiving from others confirmation/affirmation of the meaning we have made.
That's SEVEN distinct processes!  And a weakness in any one of them can have devastating consequences for anyone trying to communicate.

Age, gender, social status, economic status, physical size, emotional/psychological wounds, spirituality, and the setting of someone's effort to communicate (just to name a few) can determine who has the just power and/or the ability to make meaning in a situation.

Being heard and felt  (being interpreted and experienced in the ways you intend) is very much dependent on a mutually understood and agreed upon set of signals, and an equally mutual set of rules to govern them.

Making ourselves meaningful, and receiving confirmation and/or affirmation (or validation) of that meaning takes skill, patience, love, and energy!

Whew!  Is it any wonder that lines get crossed and people get hurt, left out, disappointed, and wounded? It's kind of a miracle to have enough of those seven elements in place at once between two people, let alone many, in order for them both to be considered literate. Right?  We have to be intentional and complicit in supporting one another's literacy--recognizing and making beneficial adjustments to the various elements of our own individual literacy in order to have the most healthy and beneficial interactions.

It sounds like so much much that you might not want to have anything more than the most superficial communications with people.  But what if the whole issue of literacy could be solved through the guidance and wisdom of the Bible.

Matthew 22:37-39

New International Version (NIV)
 37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’

1 Corinthians 13:4-8

New International Version (NIV)
 4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
 8 Love never fails.

If we're living out the call to love in these ways, then maybe the literacy playing field is more level--fair.

Tall order?  Maybe...but a noble goal.

* from "The Ideology of Literacy: A Bakhtinian Perspective"

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