Larger Literacies

Iframing actually call them ‘Frameworks’, but ‘Literacies’ is good, too. Students deserve much greater access to words and structures that ease thinking. In all sorts of domains.

We hear much of ‘New Literacies’. ‘Coding’ (computer programming) was big in the past year. I agree: far more people should understand these machines around us, machines that grow smarter every day.

Before that, ’21st century skills’ was (still is?) a big topic. These essentially mean the literacies and framework of digital file manipulation, media editing, text formatting, social networking etc. Again, good stuff.

What about OLD literacies? Some long faded from the curriculum; others never seen in our schools? Could we think about them, too? Latin, one of the older ones, could now be much more accessible. Suddenly a basic intro to Latin is a real possibility for any student, without forgoing an entire year or even semester of some other class. (At least some legal/medical/etymological/even theological basework.)

Design Thinking is a literacy/framework that was old hat to creatives; it’s been packaged anew and given fresh visual and verbal identity. Why can’t more high school students be given this? We think they can.

Geography is an old literacy that’s been given short shrift the past ~50 years. Yet we talk often of global citizenship, or global awareness. What if when we read news stories as teens and young adults, we knew something about these places? The exciting thing is, great tools make this easier than ever. Third graders can Skype with students in Israel one day and Egypt the next, and begin to put human faces on places far away in space and culture. Flight simulators let you take off from Istanbul, and fly low-level past Aleppo, over Tabriz and Tblisi, with a nice landing in Donetz if we please. In high school, we can really begin to fill in more details of the world; begin to add some real history, begin to understand 1000 year old tensions, and also grasp brand-new opportunities.

Citizenship, too, has literacies. The situation with ISIS in Iraq was seen very differently by those with a national security literacy as opposed to those who had no such framework to learn and build upon. So too with the domestic justice system.

Even musical literacies could help us. If I’m a student of a poor zip code, but I know something of Jazz, Gospel, and Mozart, I have something that gives me a place to go where I feel intellectual. Someplace where I can go to talk with a new acquaintance and show some sophistication and connectedness to the larger cultural world.


Beyond these ‘academic’ literacies/frameworks, vocabularies of craftsmanship and building are of great value. too. A box-wrench vs. a combination wrench. A plumb-line. A bobbin. A jig-saw. Diagonal cutters. A derrick. In my rural area, we grew up with these. In other neighborhoods, maybe not so much.

Evolving, more technologically equipped maker-spaces will bring in vocabularies of a much newer and greatly expanded flavor. Additive manufacturing, anyone? Negative space, bitmap, color palettes?

Fitting these and more literacies into the old school model is getting tougher and tougher. We need a new model.

Here it is.