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· Literacy, Halloween Style ·

Boo! I thought to sustain a ghostly theme today since, ironically enough, I have recently used the word haunted here. For I've a spirited passage to share with a bit of added comment.

Stemming from my cleaning a desk Saturday to make room for a new computer, it's ordered less by space than by time — and for serious consideration of college-level literacy. Here is my tale.

In papers horizontally filed and archeologically found, I chanced to spot an old letter I'd sent a few years ago to my local newspaper. The paper had done a piece on a forty-year-old who had started reading through the dedicated help of our college staff. You can imagine what personal courage it took to tell his story. My thank-you letter appeared as

Literacy begs all pause

"Literacy," according to R. P. Blackmur, "is the form ignorance takes in a society subjected to universal education."

Although disagreeable, even arguable, Blackmur's definition has, like your front-page story last week, an arresting appeal. Literacy begs all pause. We readers are in your debt for the reminder of what it is we do and are. My thanks.

Lest we forget our ignorance, however, we might pause at literacy's definition. Blackmur helps. Ignorance is, universally and ironically, he suggests, an "ignoring" of real education, the education of selves in the sense of their "leading out."

I submit that functional illiterates led out of school to our current boundary line of failure only reveal our definition of success. Our failure now to produce folks who fill out forms or read signs is just that, our failure. We only miss what we call a target.

Clearly, we miss much. My hope is that in years to come when we air education's dirty laundry, we'll find souls merely confessing that poetry or the ways of persuasion passed them by. Though still taking courage, the confession would, for us all, not be embarrassing to read.

It so happens I've some youngsters at my door begging Halloween treats. Understandably, I'd like to tell them how Martin Luther, four-hundred-eighty-eight years ago tonight, changed the world by showing that the real trick — always requiring "missing what we call a target" — demands more "leading out."

As I recall, Luther posted reasons why on his church door and created a Reformation by his effort — one with true Literacy, Halloween Style as its start.

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OK, Styles, I think you're talking about critical literacy, but I'm not sure. Help me out?

Posted by Aunt Huldah on November 4, 2005 01:51 PM

"We only miss what we call a target." Wow! You're right — on so many levels!

Posted by Loretta Markle on November 7, 2005 09:49 AM

Critical literacy, though not my sole aim, does fall within the scope of my larger concern. Leroy Searle, quoted in Function Follows Form (Indicitively Speaking), happily defines it as liberating "authority." He rightly suggests "if we wish to concern ourselves with literacy, let's go all the way with it."

In his Democratic Vistas, the poet Walt Whitman authoritatively comes to Searle's aid:

Books are to be call'd for, and supplied, on the assumption that the process of reading is not a half-sleep, but, in highest sense, an exercise, a gymnast's struggle; that the reader is to do something for himself, must be on the alert, must himself or herself construct indeed the poem, argument, history, metaphysical essay — the text furnishing the hints, the clue, the start or framework. Not the book needs so much to be the complete thing, but the reader of the book does. That were to make a nation of supple and athletic minds, well-train'd, intuitive, used to depend on themselves, and not on a few coteries of writers.

But then again seldom does anyone ever fulfill such a promise. Even here, I confess, we all need help.

Posted by Styles on November 8, 2005 03:04 PM


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