Wednesday, December 31, 2008

21st C Literacies: Same only Different?

I've been reading about the use of the term "21st century literacies" - is the term meaningful, accurate, useful... ? This is an important conversation - perhaps more for the process and educational journey than for a definitive outcome.

But for the most part the dialogue appears to focus on 'new media literacies' and the changing (21st century?) contexts of information/communication.

What I would like to see in this dialogue is a discussion of some other literacies - social and emotional literacy, environmental literacy, spiritual literacy... Literacies that are also essential to function, participate fully and be healthy and successful in the 21st century.

Are these literacies? That depends on how one defines a literacy. If a literacy is defined as the ability to
  • READ - access and interpret a 'language'
  • MAKE MEANING - critically reflect on the value and meaning of the information communicated
  • WRITE - successfully and meaningfully communicate or take action

in order to function effectively, participate fully and prosper in the world then I think we can - and should - talk about more than the basic '3R' literacies of reading, writing and arithmetic.

Social and emotional literacy? Communicating about relationships and feelings - the so-called '4th R' - relationships. The ability to access and interpret social and emotional language - eg body language, personal feelings - perhaps the primary language of intrapersonal and interpersonal intelligence.

Environmental Literacy? The ability to access and read the natural world - an essential indigenous literacy and - in the light of current global challenges involving natural systems - an essential 21st century literacy. Is this the primary language of naturalistic intelligence - leading at higher levels to the ability to commune with nature?

Spiritual Literacy? The ability to access and read the deep and sacred in everyday life - an essential literacy for finding deeper place and purpose in the universe. Is this the primary language for a spiritual or existential intelligence - and an important aspect of what it means to be a healthy whole human being?

Some argue that these literacies are not new - we could just as easily label them 2oth century literacies. And this may be more accurate given that we could also argue that fundamental educational change has largely skipped the 20th century :-)

Are there new 21st century literacies? Or are we talking about the same literacies in a different 21st century context? These are worthwhile conversations but we should also include the possibility of more than just 'multimedia' or 'new media' literacies.

What other symbols/meanings/languages do we need to be able to read and understand and communicate in the 21st century?

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