Literacy Essay, Research Paper
Whether we are experiencing a ‘literacy crisis’ depends on ones understanding of the term ‘crisis’.It is obvious from our personal experiences that there are prolems among groups on a broader scale and on a smaller, local individual scale but I do not believe that it is a ‘crisis’ but a concern that needs to be addressed. The media reports construct an image of ‘this’ massive danger to the individual, the State, the national and our standing in global networks because of the illiterate masses’. My concern is that as an educator in a Senior Secondary School I am obliged to prepare my students to enter the workforce with the survival skills that they will need in our everchanging world.
It can be argued that to be literate gives one a feeling of self worth and is more positive than being illiterate which implies individual defiency and failure.Whereas literacy leads to economic progress and development illiteracy leads to social demise. The individual themselves may not perceive it this way but the media definitely do and it is through the implications of their reporting that a have-have not structure is reinforced.
What has caused this concern to evolve to what is now viewed as a ‘crisis’ can be seen in our historical background. Social changes have been rapid since the 1950’s with the influence of television and media now predominating. The authoritative stance of youth has altered, from the ’50s there was a gradual move from the acceptance of society’s codes of behaviour to a youth culture in the 60’s demanding rights – something which predominates today. At the same time retention rates increased and in the 1970’s Labour introduced its social reform or ’social equality’ policy which encouraged all young people to remain at school. Now there is the everchanging and ever demanding technology change- of television,video,computer games ‘distracting’ and influencing us.
Alongside these changes there have been changing economic patterns, a change in employment situations where it is predicted that today’s youth could expect to change jobs at least five times in their life time. The rationalisation of businesse and employment has seen adults suddenly without a job where in the past often a job was forever. We all now need to be multiskilled and to be productive members of the workforce if we want to retain our jobs. With changes like this then naturally there has been concern about the education system which provides the nation with its literate employers. Ours is an information society, it is one that is part on international globalisation of markets, everyone must be productive within this system and to do so it is recognised now that must be literate. Adults must be able to read and write and now more importantly that before to interpret written information because modern technology is superceding a lot more of a communicative skills jobs, it is rapid because of this technology which is forever changing.
Instead of working individually,adults now work as a team to be more productive, to review,analyse and to make the necessary changes to increase productivity consequently we have to be flexible and forever open to change. The conconcept of literacy has changed, in the 50’s an ‘ideal’ literate person was a moral subject but today with all the changes education is linked with economic restructuring and productivity. Surveys or tests now indicate how we are literate and how shools are improving this and on the basis of these there is often seen to be a problen as portrayed in the media. Based on these changes that is what it is, not so much a ‘literacy crisis’ but a change in the expectations of what an individual should be able to do. They are as in Lo Blanco and Freebody state the ‘ New Foundations’ of literacy. The new modes of understanding means that there are more means of communication to be learnt and more meanings all of which put new demands on the individual and consequently on society as a whole. The definitions of what literacy is vary but generally it is ;a quantifiable continuum of acquisitions-skills that enable developmental community ‘function’ and not as many believe the ‘function approach’ concentrating on the ‘old basics’ in isolation which do not sufficiently relate to something concrete’ that can be seen to be in context with the real world. It is therefore the conflict between those with the support for the latter and the real needs of the individual where it then becomes to portray a crisis. Society has changed and will continue to do so’ it is more complex, literacy is changing and this is when it becomes portrayed in crisis. The nature of literacy is so diverse from the expected coding of information in the written format,meaning in texts, the diversity of it across cultures especially in a country like Australia, the social aspect, the personal, the public and the international communication. All of these aspects are what we expect a ‘literate’ person to be competent in and for the education system to provide the basis for. So there tends to become an expectation that schools can do it all and that all children will come out of school competent in these areas. There are some who do not perform and they are the ones often targeted by the media or tests to illustrate this ‘crisis’ that we are having. The reasons are vast- we are multiculturalist, there are the Indigenous Australians, people’s attitude or ability to pursue education depends on their socio-economic class, parental support, home environment. Students with special needs,visual or hearing impairments or other handicaps will influence the individuals progression at school. All of these factors influence the results of tests or surveys but all are rarely mentioned-even if a child is literate they may have ‘other problems’ that will impede their educational development. My personal experience has had a major impact on my decision thaat there is not really a massive problem,there are problems but there are individual ones based on one or more of the reasons listed above.
The degree to which you perceive that there’s a ‘literacy crisis’ would also depend on your personal experience. I personal do not feel that there is a crisis but that there are problems and these are within the teaching professionand student population. I teach in a sma,, country Secondary School, Years 10-12 with a majority Anglo-Saxon working class population. At times I wonder about the competency of colleagues when students come through who can barely read or write but there are reasons other than teacher incompetency as the media implies.
Parental attitude and expectations are important and an experience that I had last year made me realise just how much influence the media has on the moulding of people’s minds. A parent contacted me re her son’s inability to spell at the year 11 level and wanted some tests done to find the problem and consequent solution. I had an in depth discussion with her because she was blaming the primary school teachers because she had told them all aling that there was a problem but they had ignored her. When she explained the problem in more detail I could relat to it because my son hah had the same problem relaiting to his vision which I had pusued and that which we had resolved by about Grade4. But this mother did not want that it ahd been aproblem that she could have helped resolve- it was the teachers alone- and in our conservation she told me how her son had been given glasses to wear when he was little and he refused to do so and of course she did not enforce it Now the answer was logical to me and even although I suggested a visit to the optometrist to see what the sisuation was now she could not see that that was a concern. She wanted the teachers, who she argued created the problem and did not fix it to resolve the problem before he went into Year 12. Her attitude is typical of a lot of our parents, they do not want to acknowledge a problem until it is too late when they see how important the VCE is and the problem is ours not theirs.
Other parents are very concerned early in their child’s education especially where there is an obvious impairment pr disability. The school does the best,in the current economic climate to cater for all students.
Other soecific example s are obvious, for example, last year I had two students for a part of a special work program and fit them in I took them separately and what was meant to be my lesson turned into an English class because they could cope in the classroom. They both had poor literacy skills but could orally tell me the answers so we worked out that we could do it orally and because it had to be written I copied their response on the board and they copied it down. It took me all my time to get their teacher to accept just the basics from these kids because they were aware of their limitations but they wanted to succeed and they wanted to pass but the teacher could not accommodate them because of their poor literacy skills. I have no doubt that the parents and their primary schools did what they could for them (one is dislexic). This year we have a Futures program for these kidsto try to keep them at school ,it is more hands on and even although they do not get their VCE they do get special certificates for the areAS THAT THEY ARE INVOLVED IN.All of this builds their self esteem and they will hopefully learn some skills thAT CAN BE TRANSFERRED INTO THE WORKFORCE.
Other exoeriences with poor literacy I believe relate to self-esteem and teacher attitude. Las t year and this year some of my students had not written beyond half a page in their secondary schooling,thet had low self-esteem and neede some positive reinforcement to at least write to develop the skills that they had. Through this means I have had them writing five pages on topics that interest them and that they have the knowledge about and once they have done this successfully they are more willing to have a go at the analysis and text reponses where I keep on encouraging them even though they may be off track because good self esttem means that they will have a go and further develop their skills. Yet unfortunately these students are rejected by other teachers. Our English department head only likes bright, competent students and evey year she puts pressure on the not so bright as she sees them to do other subjects or she demands that they be taken out. The kids are not stupid,they know why she does it whish does very littlte to build their self esteem and consequntly their literecy skills. Other teachers ignore these students in their classroom giving a lot more time to the bright ones which again does nothing to develop their skills. My concern is that to some degree teacher attitude probably does play an important role in the development and sustaining of literacy skills. Naturally when they are treated like this then they are not willing to take any risks in the classroom and if it happens earlier then by the time they reach us it is a battle to begin with. A lot of teachers are in their mid 40s and very set in their ways, our teaching is influenced by our own education based on standards and expectations, where the not so academic could leave and get a job. Compounding the problem is parental expectations which rarely means tertiary aspirations for their children so acceptance of what they consider a fair effort is accepted yet tests would show that we are on the lower end of the scale. I think that as teachers we have to persevere,offer assistance to these students and not reject them,at least provide them with the basics for lif,give them hope and encourage them to do the best that they possibly can and encourage our collegues to do this too. With maturiy these skills will come together for most of them and develop but it is up to us to provide them with the basic experiences and knowledge in our changing environment;to find something positive for those students where we cannot completely resolve the problem. There is aneed for teachers to respond cohesively,to be given Professional Development so that they become more aware of the changes in society especially in a country town where the teacher population remains stagant many still teach the way that they were taught. It is not the teachers fault even although I question their attitudes but other factos that are probably stringer are parental and local community attitudes that are probably reinforced by the media. The school as awhole needs to be seen to addressing these problems,positively, as well as publicising the positives of their school programs through the local media otherwise the parents will only see the negatives as portreyded in the media.
The media manipulates their readers through their presentations of news stories often sensationalising it like the Heral Sun does or through subtle seemingly logical persuasion as seen in The Age. It is quite often the headings or photos used, that imply a double meaning, will catch the reader’s eye and create a lasting impression.
The article in The Age (3/2/99) by Carolyn Jones uses a misleading heading “Millions struggling to read and write:study” to immediatetly catch our attention and to imply that the masses ‘the millions’ are struggling to overcome a massive burden ‘to read and write’ and placed strategicall at the end ’study’ which would not initially catch the reader’s eye until they read on. The use of a cartoon is a clever means of again catching our attention, to sum up the situation,and this implies who’s the cause,the teacher, who wants to take her time and not be rushed to teach the ABC. Immediately we have made some rahter bleak decisions about this massiive ‘crisis’ and who’s to blame.
Her opening sentence is a generalisation again reinforcing how bad the situation is the ‘Nearly half,between 15 and 65 ..have poor literacy skills ‘Such scare tactics certainly reinforces the alarm about literacy because she implies that nearly half of the population can not read ‘a newspaper or a magazine.’ With the sentence,cartoon and this opening paragraph Jones has reinforced her readers that there is a problem. Note that she is the ‘Education Reportewr’ which to her readers implies that she has some standing in their eyes becauuse she should surely know what she’s talking about. Also ‘The Ages’ audience tewnd to be the more educated and those with a further education,the ones who would be very concerned with such news,the ones who would have more influence in their schools.
From there her article is scrambled jumping from the teacher skills,the general population and the unemployed as she attempts to portray just how big the real problem is. She uses the statistics next,from the ABS report’Education and Training in Australia,1198′ selectively using the figures that create more concern about the situation for the reader although the follow on statement re Howars policy which caters for those unemployed who can not read or write. It’s a slight contradiction because she previously stated’those aged between 20 and 44 are less likely to have problems.’ This would be ignored by most because the scene has been set with her statement that ‘44% OF Australians have low literacy levels ‘. She then goes on to try to pull it all together. Reference to the future job prospects,presumably from the report but maybe her view based on her perceptions-for those happy laboring why be concerned but her audience isn’t them it’s the ‘middle-class’ and this implies to these readers “If you child has low literacy do you want them tobe a labourer rather than a professional ? ” A very subtle way of creating concern in the readers! From here the generalisations continue because Jones wants to create concern in the readers mind and reinforce the image of the ‘crisis’ which isn’t stated but implied. So she uses ‘The level os skill ..’ but what skill? We are left to decide on the levels of the five scales,the implication being that one is obviously the worst, where the ‘millions are struggling.’ She then returns to ‘the skills’, not to reinforce this image of the masses but to then subtly attack teacher skills stating that the secondary teachers are better than the rest,reinforcing the cartoons image that the primary teachers are to blame. She cleverly plucks some figures out to reinforce this creating further concern on this for her readers,she notes how Victoria and New South Wales have the largest proportion’ ..with poor literacy skills ..’but does not try to calm us with the fact that we have ‘a higher proportion of non -English speaking people.’ but this is really reason for more concern and directed at them implying that we are not assisting them. Jones then looks Australia wide to further reinforce the bleak picture that more ‘ people born out of Australia help post-school qualifications ‘. She uses a quote from where we do not know,prsumably the report, of our ‘ “middling” literacy performance’ implying that we’re not as bad all the other countries but by now the reader is fearful that unless something is done we will be.
Jones creates a bleaK PICTURE BY CLEVERLY USING ASPECTS OF THE report and she reinforces the image by her constant selection of specific words like-’poor literacy skills’,'good literacy’,'lowest literacy levels’, as against ‘highest skills’,’ .five levels- the lowest and the .the highest.’ Skill becomes a general term- she refers to people skills and teacher skills as she outlines how ‘half’ of the population is unable to grasp everyday tasks What appears as initially as amixed report is in fact a very clever way of putting as much as she can into the report to illustrate just how bad the picture is knowing full well that her readers will make deductions from it.
Jones article was followed by The Ages own opinion in its Editorial ‘Literacy levels a national scandal’(4/2/99). Its byline and the use of ‘national scandal’ immediately informs us of the situation. It draws the reader in ‘If you can read this sentence .’ which of course its readers can, implying you’re lucky not like the ‘nearly half .between 18 and 64 (who) have poor literacy skillss ‘ ( Note the slight discerpency between this and Jones 15 and 64) The introduction is similar to Joes’ but the actual article uses the statistics differently. Alarm is established in the introductory paragraph,we are’accustomed to regard basic literacy as virtually universal among adults’ so ‘the figure is astonishing and the survey contains .disturbing revelations.’ Admittedly it acknowledges the source and that it’s based ‘on about 9000 Australians .’ but there’s no questioning the limitations of such a survey because it’s used in this context to add authorisation to the ‘national scandal.’
It deliberately and directly attacks the primary teachers, acknowledging that all teachers ‘had much higher literacy levels than the population at large’ which sets up an ‘us versus them’ atmosphere. But what it does moreso is to set alarm bells ringing for those readers concerned about this situation. If primary teachers only had ‘42%’ with ‘adequate skills’ and ‘16% ..had poor skills ‘ then that implies that the rest of the population is worse.