Literacy and Numeracy: Who Needs Them?

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When Plato was teaching his students he was often frustrated by their note taking and reference to written records.  Plato was of the opinion that the new technology of literacy was creating a generation that was unable to think and meditate on what they were learning because of their dependency on the written word.

Today, technology is providing us with a broad array of new media with which we record, replay, produce, publish, communicate and collaborate without using literacy or numeracy.  Academics, publishers and governments are alarmed at declines in the reading of printed publications and student’s declining performance in the classroom.  They are claiming that “computeracy” is creating a generation that cannot read, write or perform mathematical operations because of their dependency on digital communication.

The truth is literacy and numeracy are simply primitive techniques for encoding information.  Composition and mathematics are just a bag of mental tricks for processing information.  And most of us do most of it poorly anyway.

Grieving over the loss of literacy and numeracy is like grieving over the inability to weave cloth or tailor one’s own clothes.  Computers have made literacy and numeracy very much like the mechanization of textile production.

What is happening in classrooms, to publisher’s sales and bureaucracy is not a decline in the intelligence of our next generation.  It is an increasing obsolescence of traditional literacy and numeracy.

Our children are not thinking at lower levels.  Instead, they are not wasting time with the mental effort required to mechanically process at the level of traditional literacy and numeracy and applying themselves to higher level thought.

The current method of submitting papers for peer review is completely obsolete.  HTML was an attempt to take the primitive technology of the printed page, reference and citation and emulate it with the small addition of hyperlinks.

The yet to be fully realized method of academic publication will be the publication of databases containing problem and hypothesis, subjects and researchers, schemas and forms, data and queries, measures and units, amounts and currencies, results and conclusions all available for peer review and public consumption–research databases and white databases.  And beyond that entire models in common formats which we are seeing in Computer Assisted Design Systems and Geographic Information Systems, for example.

This new generation using new media is modeling the universe in ways and at scales that were impossible with pen, paper and chalkboard.  They are even beyond printing press, radio, television, recorded audio, recorded video and most physical storage.  And the new generation can already interact globally in all of these new media.

Where are the people that are supposedly preparing them for life in this new world?  Complaining that their students are not interested in reading text books.  Even pumping normal children full of Ritalin to deny they as educators are not worthy of their students’ attention.

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4 Responses to “Literacy and Numeracy: Who Needs Them?”

  1. grant czerepak Says:

    This comment was posted by phil.shearrer@gmail.com due to an unexplained glitch it was not posted:

    Just curious. Are you a teacher? Have you ever been on Ritalin? Have you ever submitted a paper for peer review?

  2. grant czerepak Says:

    I have lowered myself to the level required to teach.

    I have developed hospital management systems for five hospitals and I have learned directly from doctors what they know and don’t know. I also know what teachers know and don’t know. I have also actively prevented parents from being persuaded to put their children on Ritalin and have seen those children proceed through the school system and university successfully without further incident.

    By the way, Phil. Do doctors still extract appendixes and tonsils from children like a production line? Do they continue to use anti-biotics without restraint? In fact, how many medical procedures and drugs last more than five years before they are deemed unacceptable?

    I have seven years of university behind me. I have taught at the fourth year honors level. I have assisted a university professor with his Ph.D. and research. I know how peer review works and I fail to see the merits except perhaps in mathematics. Most empirical research is not rigorous and all conclusions are found to have a limited granularity.

    When a person says s/he’s “just curious”, they are not. Actually, they are just furious at a lack of deference to authority.

  3. Phil Says:

    In my experience when a person is so convinced he is correct about something it usually means they don’t have a clue what they are talking about. It is gratifying to know that you have the experience to back up your assertions.

    I doubt that you are correct in your assertions, but that is a reflection on my perception of your credibility rather than any evidence about your experience. So, in that regard, you are absolutely correct in saying that I do not defer to your authority and you are incorrect in saying that I am furious about it – although I can see how you would have that perception due to the fact that we are corresponding by email and there is no tone of voice to suggest a lack of sarcasm in my question.

    I don’t know much about any of the things you mention in your original post or about the questions in your comment.

    • grant czerepak Says:

      Phil, all experience has taught me is, and I am repeating myself, that everything is uncertain. Success is as big an accident as failure. You look at history’s legacies and what do we have? Stacks of rock that did not accomplish anything.

      We are a mindless amoral fleeting level of order produced by a mindless amoral process producing mindless amoral tools.

      I agree that email does not serve well in expressing meaning. Then again, what really does?

      Know that your knowledge or lack of it doesn’t make you any more right or wrong.

      I look at the TED conference and the Davos conference and I no longer see any difference.

      They are just a bunch of people reveling in their own pointless self-importance.

      They are no different than the attendants of a revival meeting.


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