Literacy, Test Literacy and Equality

‘The Elements of Literacy” addressed a serious issue with recent changes to the education system. No Child Left Behind is possibly the biggest change to teaching in the past century, it changed the way we access students and standardized teaching methods throughout. I think there are many problems with NCLB, but the biggest issue I have is the way it forced teachers to change their methods. In order to satisfy test requirements set by outside forces many schools have chosen to adapt  Common Core learning which is a huge problem for teachers and students alike. The changes somewhat help lower end students, but severely cripple those borderline advanced students who aren’t confident enough to take AP classes but have the aptitude to succeed in higher education. No longer do teachers get freedom in their lessons, it’s regulated by every kind of committee and board imaginable. It hurts people to enforce standards across a board, but having goals for students to met is necessary. The NCLB and Common Core changes are addressing the Board of Education’s concerns not students.

The metaphorical pissing contest America has with the rest of the world over who is the “best” at everything, has led to wanting quantifiable data to compare with other nations. The easiest way to do this is to make standards to grade students against. Unfortunately this hurts students in the long run, when they try to get a job there isn’t a test they take to apply. You need real skills like interpersonal communication not memorization and regurgitation. Treating students how to be mini-encyclopedias for a few months then forgetting everything they learned isn’t how you prepare students for their future.

Multiple forms of literacy are equally important for living in the 21st century. Social, Cultural and Digital literacy are a must. The ability to infer information from conversations with others is key in the business world and is one of the basic forms of social literacy. This isn’t really taught in schools, instead it is supposed to be “common sense” which for some people it isn’t.  In my mind the problems created in our public school systems are easily solved within those systems but outside forces are retarding progress towards general literacy and imposing testing literacy on students.

My view on literacy stands as the ability to interact and understand concepts across multiple platforms. Without a broad knowledge base across the many facets of living in the modern era, I don’t think you can thrive in this modern world.



To be literate in the 21st century takes more than satisfying the literal definition of being able to read and write. By modern, first-world standards if you aren’t literate you might as well find a cave and start painting pictures on walls. If just being able to read and write no longer qualifies you as literate what does? A word coined in 2005 “transliteracy” does justice to modern literacy, defined as the ability to read and understand concepts across a multitude of platforms: speech, writing, mass media and social media. The focus of literacy in 21st century America should be on critical thinking not on comprehension, we as a race are past the point of looking for context clues and are ready to delve deeper by asking questions and forming opinions.

As far as writing is concerned, the high-school taught five paragraph structure is clearly wrong. In the olden days, one could get away with structuring every single paper the exact same way with boring introductions, bland thesis statements and regurgitated facts spread across two pages.Good writing has no such guidelines. Transliteracy calls for us to break free from those boundaries into a more effective form of communication. A well written piece should contain proper grammar and be easy to read but the countless ways to do so are all equally valid. A 140-character tweet can be “good” writing in the same manner a fifty page thesis can so long as they convey the author’s intentions clearly and efficiently. I am not a “good” writer. I do not have grasp on grammar, I cannot convey my thoughts efficiently and I tend to ramble. Thus I do not think myself qualified to have grammar quirks as I often commit the most atrocious grammatical crimes imaginable. Yet it still is possibly one of the most important things to master in order to be a “good” writer.

It may be obvious that I agree with Mr. Jenkins about the problems with high-school writing rubrics. If however it was not obvious, let me make myself clear. I think the typical five to seven sentence paragraphs, five paragraph papers are horrible. In addition, the third-person standard is outrageous. But aside from the confounded rules they arbitrarily force onto students, I believe high-school does an okay job at preparing students for what is to come. The emphasis put on grammar is sufficient and the ability to write to a standard are necessary for students to be able to address a wide variety of topics. Sometimes the three topic persuasive paper is needed to construct a basis for further conversation, such as writing speeches. Having clear goals set out early in a speech allows you to guide their attention and develop a clear pace that is easy to follow. So while high-school writing may be lacking in diversity it does serve a purpose and instead of scrapping it altogether it would probably be best to improve it.