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21st Century Literacy


Twenty-First Century LiteracyBertram C. Bruce (Chip)Library and Information Science501 East Daniel St., mc 493University of Illinois at Urbana-ChampaignChampaign, IL 61820217-244-3576; 217-333-3280fax: [email protected]/~chip[A version of this paper appears (1998) under the title, "Current Issues and Future Directions" in J. Flood, S. B. Heath,&D. Lapp (Eds.), A handbook for literacy educators: Research on teaching the communicative and visual arts (pp. 675-684). New York: Macmillan.]The word "literacy" never seems to stand still. It makes its appearance in the discourses of history as well as those of comparative linguistics. It shows up in debates about economics and literature. It mediates interdisciplinary conversations among scholars from history, sociology, anthropology, political science, linguistics, education, literature (Keller-Cohen, 1994). It also participates in public debates about schooling, employment, and public values. It is one of the ways we now talk about the visual arts and new electronic media. As it appears in these areas, it assumes different guises and enacts different purposes. The diverse array of meanings and connotations for literacy that we see today provides perverse evidence for Humpty Dumpty's view that a word can mean "just what [we] choose it to mean--neither more nor less."If we want to survey current issues in literacy, we soon find that any attempt at a fixed definition of literacy quickly becomes enmeshed in larger discussions of language, thought, society, culture, and values. And the situation becomes hopeless when we begin to examine future directions for literacy. Accordingly, in this paper I will make some working assumptions to keep the word within some bounds, even if it cannot be fully reigned in. First, literacy means control over discourses that use and communicate complex forms of knowledge. Since there are many such discourses, there can be multiple literacies. Second, literacy is so embedded in our daily practices that it can scarcely be conceived as an activity separate from any of them. Third, the changing technologies of literacy provide a window into literacy practices, both because they are the tools through which literacy is enacted and because their construction reveals our basic conceptions of our basic humanity.This paper surveys five broad areas in which important and dramatic changes are occurring today. The first concerns democracy, and in particular, the issue of universal literacy; the second relates to work, with a focus on changing demands for literacy in the workplace; the third takes us to social relations, and especially, the emerging global society; the fourth concerns the evolution of language; and the fifth relates to technology, with an emphasis on the way our literacy practices are immersed in new technologies. Although the areas of democracy, work, social relations, language, and technology cover much ground, I hope to show that trends in these areas exhibit some convergence. Given the many facets of literacy that pervade our lives, these speculations will necessarily be abbreviated, and like all such imaginings, their naive will become most apparent as reality actually unfolds.

  • Cataloged: 2002-08-07
  • Contributor: mailto:[email protected]
  • Author/Creator: Bertram, Bruce C
  • Publisher: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  • Rights: Bertram, Bruce C
  • Source: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  • Resource Availability: 200 OK

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