Literacy and Institutions

One of the concepts that has resonated with me is the idea of personal literacies. Before this class I had always thought of literacy in the traditional sense of simply referring to reading and writing. However after doing the pilot study and reading the assigned texts I could see that simple answer, while much more palatable than the truth, was not at all representative of reality. The idea that people can have personal literacies if both fascinating and exceedingly problematic. While it is fascinating that people can function with society with diametrically opposed literacies it is incredibly problematic from an institutional standpoint.

In the manner that they currently function the institutions that facilitate the development of literacy, at least in the great divide sense of the term, primarily schools, work with the proclaimed goal of creating literacy for the betterment of society and the members of it they are bequeathing their knowledge thereupon. This sounds lovely on the surface as the notion of a society where everyone can communicate effectively is relatively pleasant. However, given that there is no one way that dominates how individuals best acquire the various literacies that they do within a life time, the idea of forcing a singular “ideal” literacy upon the masses in one fixed way becomes incredibly problematic. Though founded under (likely) noble intentions, the institutions that facilitate the development of this sterilized, uniform, “best” literacy end up causing more harm than they do good. Further they reinforce the status quo and maintain that the current balance of socioeconomic power remains stable and stagnant. This is clearly problematic but so is the version of our society that completely lacks these institutions.

At this point these institutions are so integral to the structure and regulation of our society that it is difficult to imagine what it would look like without them. By this I mean that our society, as well as many western societies, has used these institutions as a means to shape society at large’s ideal citizen that it would be the fall of our society as it currently looks if they were to disappear, though this honestly might be a good thing (pretty sure there was something along the lines of institutions shaping citizens into cogs in an Althusser reading but I’m not positive). These institutions, in an ideal world, clearly need alteration in order to accommodate a wider socioeconomic background and to address a larger variety of literacies. However, in terms of facilitating this sort of change at the scale necessary of a country like the United States the sheer amount of infrastructure and curriculum that would have to be altered and paid for is shocking, and given the American citizen’s typical reactions to tax increases unfeasible. Not to mention that the institutions would have to accommodate 10s of millions of individuals all needing different forms of instruction, a beautiful idea but one that does not seem remotely practical. All this to say that literacy seems deeply tied to the institutions that facilitate it and altering that structure or finding a more effective and encompassing way to facilitate different literacies seems like an incredibly complex and volatile problem.