Monday, January 30, 2012

Literacy as a Metaphor

After reading "Why Are We Using Literacy as a Metaphor for Everything Else?" by Anne Wysocki and Johndan Johnson-Eilola, it continues to excite me to begin delving into my Master's project. I have a secret obsession with studying literacy and really looking at what it means. Here are some essential quotes I pulled from the text and will explain below why I see them as important:
  • "[It] is possible to describe information not as something we send from place to place, in books or on paper, over time, but as something we move (and hence think) within" (363).
  • "[Literacy] changes profoundly if we choose to prioritize space over time" (362).
  • "The bundle of meanings and implications that comes with [the word, literacy] is...much denser and messier" (353).
  • "No single term--such as 'literacy'--can support the weight of the shifting, contingent activities we have been describing" (366).

Honestly, I might as well reference the entire article, but I contained myself to these four quotes. For my project I will be studying literacy and the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) - this is in a broad sense. Wysocki and Johnson-Eilola just reassured me that the way I define literacy is not out of the ordinary. I see literacy as MORE than just reading and writing. Yes, I believe that it is the base of literacy. However, society has advanced in technology, and literacy has and needs to advance with it.

This is why I decided to pull out the first two quotes. These quotes emphasize that literacy is something we are constantly using, and its changes do affect space over time. The third and fourth quotes reflect how I currently feel when dabbling with the term, literacy. To me, Jay L. Robinson in “Literacy in the Department of English” describes it best: “[literacy] is a wonderfully ambivalent term, its meaning dependent upon the contexts in which it is used” (483). Wysocki and Johnson-Eilola would support what Robinson says as they end the chapter by discussing that even though many new terms are given in relation to "literacy," the list may never be exhausted (368). That is the thing with literacy - it is creative.

I've realized what I enjoy most about studying literacy is that it is a challenge. I am never bored reading information on literacy because people view it differently and the ways of applying it to teaching changes every minute. It will be very interesting to see what "literacy" looks like 10, 20, or 50 years from now. My guess is that we would see remnants of the definitions from 2012, but it will probably be drastically different and much more complicated.


  1. I know you must see connections between what Wysocki/Johnson-Eilola have mentioned in their piece as well as almost everything we uncovered in Gallup's. That was a year ago, right? Anyway. After reading your post I started to think about how literacy identity is formed. Do instructors form it for their students or is it this process we talk about. Does this collaboration/process/co-existence of literacy create an identity through literacy for the student? You’ve brought another facet of exploration to my Master’s Project. You think we can present them together ;)
    Jay L. Robinson in “Literacy in the Department of English” describes it best: “[literacy] is a wonderfully ambivalent term, its meaning dependent upon the contexts in which it is used” (483). I could see connections from this quote to another text I just finished reading from another course.
    In this piece Peter Roberts talks of literacy as a process. And that’s how I’ve always identified with literacy. “Literacy is an activity, a way of thinking, not a set of skills. And it is a purposeful activity. People read, write, talk and think about real ideas and information in order to ponder and extend what they know, to communicate with others, to present their point of view, to understand and to be understood.” P. 16 Do you think this definition of literacy is in contrast with what Wysocki/Johnson-Eilola are saying?

  2. I'm glad to hear about the linkage between this reading and your work with the CCSS, Leandra. Wysocki and Johnson-Eilola don't pose many counterpart terms, as I recall. They're more concerned with ___ literacy (the tendency to use literacy too breezily in all domains, especially so called "digital literacy"). I suppose this also ties in with questions about what it means to be a literacy expert. That is, when does it become useful (or necessary) to narrow what the term refers to, perhaps by introducing an alternative vocabulary?