The “New” Literacy

In the academic world, all cloistered and pure, it’s “common knowledge” that the incoming students are essentially illiterate. Facebook, text messaging, and the years-old AOL Instant Messenger have wreaked a deep and terrible vengeance on the English language, making assignments and reports more and more of a trial to decipher every year.

But maybe that’s not really the case. Maybe we’re actually missing the up side to this, the new literacy revolution.

The Stanford Study of Writing, a huge study of students’ written output, points out some other interesting facts besides the demolition of grammar that we all point to. For example, students are writing more, in sheer quantity, than any preceding generation. And students are writing persuasively, adapting their words to an audience, in ways that their elders never had to. They are creating a legacy of debate and persuasion deeper than any the world has ever seen. Academia just turns up its collective nose because it’s happening on Facebook rather than in academic journals.

This is an interesting observation. I don’t know if it’s going to make me feel any better the next time I have to decode some ransom note of a term paper from one of my freshmen, but it’s a bit of comfort now.

3 Responses to “The “New” Literacy”

  1. Pitt says:

    U R 2 L8, mat, were alredy smrtr & txtng in c0de so u old flks cnt figur it out. lol rotflmao omg fu!

  2. matt says:

    See, that’s the parody of writing that professors are concerned about. But it’s pretty rare to see a student actually using texting abbreviations in an academic context — not unknown, but rare.

    Look at something as simple as this blog. I’m writing a couple thousand words a week here, plus at least that must in emails, internal documentation, and so on. I’m hardly a professional writer, but I’m pounding out text like Lord Byron. And I’m not unusual.

    The problem, of course, is that 90% of the text being produced is crap. But that’s okay. 90% of _everything_ is crap.

  3. Pitt says:

    90% of everything was crap, too, we just like to remember the 10% that wasn’t. Like for every Hemi ‘cuda there were thousands and thousands of 6 cylinder automatic 4 door valiants. And for every “Othello” there were thousands and thousands of crappy, pulp-fiction-y novels.

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