Let me begin by bringing you up to speed on the point of this book. In our society we hold a very high importance on what it means to be literate. The idea is that being literate affects your success and wealth and status in our society. The term “Literacy Myth” comes from Harvey J. Graff in his book, Literacy Myth in which the myth is that literacy translates into economic, social and cultural success. The same ideals we hold in our society. Our idea that success comes from literacy is not true and Graff uses his expertise in the history of literacy to show us that our ways of thinking are actually quite wrong and that literacy is something we use to hold power in our society.
The Literacy Myth was written in 1979, a point I feel forefronts the basis of this book as well as where we have come since the Literacy Myth had been written. To be honest, we have not come far. In fact, this myth is still very much alive and well, even in this digital age we live in. The definition of literacy has changed, but what we do with that power of what it means to be literate is still exactly the same. In fact, Graff does an excellent walk through the history of literacy and the lack of consistency when researching literacy. The book covers excellent topics such as literacy used in society as a moral basis, which also includes its importance in the economy and social order…key components to the importance of literacy in our society, or at least how we view the importance of literacy in society as stated, “…the presumed needs for social learning attracted the attention of many concerned individuals, including those dedicated to the reform of society and the reformation of the masses comprising that society” (25). IN other words, this book is a historical walk-through of our society and how we have used the idea of literacy to continually hold power over those who are “less literate” than others. He gives a break down and walk through of the myth itself.
Some of the best points made are exactly the whole idea behind literacy that, “we have seen, those without the experience of of education and without its badge of literacy, have been perceived as inferior and pathetic, alien to the dominate culture, subversive to social order, unequipped to achieve or produce, and denizens of self-perpetuating cultures of poverty…illiterates are seen as different in attitude and social attributes” (51). With that being said, the book shows both sides of what the literacy myth is how it came about and what truths can be said about it as well as what constitutes literacy as a myth. As stated by M.M. Lewis, “‘Literacy is relative…the level of literacy is the extent to which the individual falls short of the demands of literacy current in his society.’ Conversely, the level of literacy is demanded by society is also relative” (292), a point that I feel aptly points out the flaws surrounding the idea of literacy and how that does, in the end effect a society and those who may be considered “illiterate”.
The book is structured very sound in the sense that it gives a great outline of the history of literacy then goes into how literacy is considered in society, in jobs, in relation to criminal activity as well as a look at both sides using research and studies based on what they knew at the time in literacy. The truth is there isn’t much that has changed in society on the idea of what literacy is and how we react or feel towards those who are not literate. Sure the literacies have changed from paper to screen in a sense, but the myth is still there and still strong. If you imagine it was over 25 years ago that this was written and since then computers have become household staples, the internet was created, and cell phones are in the pocket of just about every single person, at least in America. In America, you would be hard pressed to find a single person or family that doesn’t have some form of digital device that can provide them with an opportunity to become literate in the sense that they have the opportunity to communicate or read communication with some other person. Even with all of this information at fingertips, our definition of literacy changes so frequently that those who may not read Faulkner but can communicate quite aptly are still considered “illiterate”. Our definition of literacy changes frequently, and even though this book was written almost 40 years ago, it still highlights the issues we currently are faced with in a very clear way, the only difference is the type of literacy he mentions.
Based on how much information is in this book and how pertinent it is to teaching reading and writing, I feel like this is a necessary read. Honestly, there have been many things written on this book and about it since, but I think reading this as an original source really lends itself to how important the book and topic really is. I feel this book is a necessary read in and of itself, mostly because I think it is revolutionary in the sense that, they saw a problem, addressed it and yet we are still questioning the same things every day. I would say this book is an excellent choice read for those who have a stigma about being literate or would like to understand more of the history of the literary myth. That and if you read anything else based off this book, it helps to have read it yourself to really get an understanding of any critics or those who praise it.
Overall, honestly, don’t let the size of this book intimidate you. It is an excellent book that brings up some very important issues. There are pictures included of sample writings and what was considered adequate writing decades ago will almost shake you seeing how far we really have come as a literate society. It also includes great statistics that originally seem overwhelming, but upon reading the book it really puts the information into perspective. This book also opens your eyes to what we do in a society in relation to being illiterate and how, even 35 years later, we are still having the same questions.