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  • Are We Living in a Post-Literate Society?

    Posted by David Foster on January 11th, 2014 (All posts by )

    Was 1950 the high point of literacy in North America?

    An interesting if depressing piece here: Post-Literacy and the Refusal to Read.

    The author notes that the post-literate individual resembles the person from a pre-literate oral culture in many ways, BUT:

    On the other hand, post-literacy is not a relapse into orality, which, in its intact form, has institutions of its own such as folklore and social custom that codify the knowledge essential to living.  Post-literacy can draw on no such resources, for these have only been preserved in modern society in literature, and post-literacy has not only lost contact with literature, but also it simply no longer knows how to read in any meaningful sense.  It cannot refer to the archive to replenish itself by a study of its own past.

    …which implies, of course, that people in post-literate societies are more susceptible to manipulation than are those in either oral or literate cultures.

    Note also the description of the private college which is so desperate for tuition revenue that it forces its professors to tolerate almost any level of bad performance and outright laziness from its students. As I’ve observed before, the idea that “non-profit” institutions are inherently morally superior to for-profit entities is ludicrous, and increasingly obviously so.

     

    32 Responses to “Are We Living in a Post-Literate Society?”

    1. Robert Schwartz Says:

      “the private college which is so desperate for tuition revenue that it forces its professors to tolerate almost any level of bad performance and outright laziness from its students”

      A better description from a WSJ op-ed by a disgruntled psychology prof at South Carolina State U:

      “We Pretend to Teach, They Pretend to Learn: At colleges today, all parties are strongly incentivized to maintain low standards.” by Geoffrey L. Collier in the Wall Street Journal on Dec. 26, 2013
      http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702303531204579204201833906182

      * * *

      “Students arrive woefully academically unprepared; students study little, party much and lack any semblance of internalized discipline; pride in work is supplanted by expediency; and the whole enterprise is treated as a system to be gamed in which plagiarism and cheating abound.”

      * * *

      “Social preoccupations trump the academic part of residential education, which occupies precious little of students’ time or emotions. Second, students’ view of education is strictly instrumental and credentialist. They regard the entire enterprise as a series of hoops they must jump through to obtain their 120 credits, which they blindly view as an automatic licensure for adulthood and a good job, an increasingly problematic belief.”

      * * *

      The professoriate plays along because teachers know they have a good racket going. They would rather be refining their research or their backhand than attending to tedious undergraduates. The result is an implicit mutually assured nondestruction pact in which the students and faculty ignore each other to the best of their abilities.

      * * *

    2. Michael Kennedy Says:

      I agree with the linked article with one caveat:

      the private college is perpetually in the grip of a panic over the prospect of a drop in enrollment. The college’s administration has therefore instituted an unwritten but implacable policy the upshot of which is that the student is always right, no matter how absurd his complaint, and the consequence of which is that instructors must never tax students beyond an infantile minimum of scholarly exertion.

      State universities, including UCLA, preferentially admit out-of-state students because they pay higher tuition. Look at the distribution of all the UC campuses and see the trend toward higher percentages of non-resident students while residents are forced into community colleges.

      I have five kids. I have always believed that a parent’s most serious obligation to his children is make them readers. The least successful effort was with my youngest daughter but I still have hopes for her. She has graduated with a degree in French, which I consider to be one of the best non-STEM majors for kids now. At least it requires some discipline. I was appalled by some of her classes at the U of Arizona and have expressed that opinion here previously.

      I agree with the parents who banish TV from their homes when children are small. Home schooling is also a useful antidote.

    3. David Foster Says:

      From the WSJ article: “students’ view of education is strictly instrumental and credentialist. They regard the entire enterprise as a series of hoops they must jump through to obtain their 120 credits, which they blindly view as an automatic licensure for adulthood and a good job”

      Of course…that’s how college has been SOLD over the last several decades…not as “Learn this stuff because it is interesting and will help you be a wiser human being,” NOR as “Learn this stuff because you will NEED it for the work you want to do,” but rather “Get a college DEGREE so you can get a high-paying job.” The marketing has been all about the piece of paper. So universities shouldn’t be surprised at these student attitudes.

      By analogy, if you market your auto product line in terms of “Buy this car so you can impress hot babes!”, you shouldn’t be disappointed that when people come into the showrooms they’re not interested in hearing about the advanced suspension design and the cunning high-efficiency valve motion. That’s not what they’re buying it for.

    4. James Says:

      WRT the pre-literate: http://www.davidwarrenonline.com/2013/12/16/enforced-literacy/ for a curmudgeonly take.

    5. Michael Kennedy Says:

      David Warren is a favorite of mine and now I learn perhaps why the Ottawa newspaper site deleted his essay Lament for a Nation. I saved it.

    6. PenGun Says:

      “the idea that “for-profit” institutions are inherently morally superior to non-profit entities is ludicrous, and increasingly obviously so.”

      There fixed that for you. You might have noticed the billions of dollars in fines for the most respected of your corporations. No one went to jail.

    7. TMLutas Says:

      PenGun – The depravity of one institution is not a proof of the virtue of another. We have undergone a multi-decade uncontrolled experiment in government dietary rules in the US. We’re fatter, less healthy, and many have died of this counterproductive advice and nobody can be called to account for it. the media doesn’t even pretend to try. Nobody even paid a fine.

      The US also has undergone semi-socialized medical pricing under a system which is known faulty, known to produce more expensive medical care, and known to reduce medical outcomes. The error started in the early 1970s, was known by the mid 1980s (at latest) and is still not fixed today. The present medical reform round recognizes that this payments problem does all these things, and then proceeds not to fix it, only to partially ameliorate it. No jail, no fine, not even a censure for this.

      No, there is no way for private depravity to prove public virtue. There’s lots of public depravity on tap too.

    8. dearieme Says:

      “a parent’s most serious obligation to his children is make them readers”: we had little success until we were saved by the Blessed Harry Potter.

    9. David Foster Says:

      Also related to the post-literacy issue: my post Metaphors, Interfaces, and Thought Processes.

      The “Tunnels of Oppression” that apparently exist at some universities seem to be an explicit attempt to replace literacy with post-literacy, as far as modes of thought go.

    10. David Foster Says:

      A couple of examples of “Tunnels of Oppression,” discussed by Erin O’Connor:

      http://erinoconnor.org/2003/03/tunnel-of-oppression/

      http://erinoconnor.org/2008/02/whats-wrong-with-this-picture-4/

    11. Michael Kennedy Says:

      The whole thing about “tunnels of oppression” makes me think of Dr Venkman and Ghostbusters. The same level of reality. “I’ve worked in the private sector. They expect results. You’ve never been out of college. You don’t know what it’s like out there. They expect results !”

    12. slumlord Says:

      we had little success until we were saved by the Blessed Harry Potter.

      Same here. J.K. Rowling probably did far more for Western literacy than all the education boards combined. The other honorable mention goes to Goscinny and Underzo, who with their Astrix books got my kids interested in Latin as well.

    13. VVXC Says:

      It’s not education. It’s animal training ala BF Skinner’s teaching machine.

      It’s power and control. Those are prog madrasas.

      http://www.deliberatedumbingdown.com/

    14. Jonathan Says:

      Skinnerian teaching machines could greatly improve education, IMO. The problem is that they lack a constituency.

    15. TMLutas Says:

      Dearieme – Miyazaki’s Spirited Away in book form and the Girl Genius online serial did the trick to get my son to the point where he’d crack Harry Potter and now he’s a fairly serious reader.

    16. Sgt. Mom Says:

      My daughter loved the Goscinny and Underzo Asterix books when she was old enough for nursery school – and still has a huge collection!

    17. VVXC Says:

      Jonathan, taking you at your literal word…

      “Skinnerian teaching machines could greatly improve education, IMO.”

      Perhaps Factory Farming could improve “teaching” even more?

      We must have a complete separation of School and State, a wall between education and governance.

      Or we burn them down, that works too. I think fire would do wonders for Americas educational system.

      Now you might think me a monster for saying that, but your opinions on animal training children are also monstrous, yes?

    18. Jonathan Says:

      I am dead serious. Skinnerian techniques have been highly successful in many kinds of training and teaching of many kinds of organisms, including people. They are a tool and have no more to do with govt control of schools than computers do. Do you want children to be taught by more-effective or less-effective methods?

      Don’t buy in to the ignorant view of behavior-science techniques that is, unfortunately, held by many conservatives and libertarians. Skinner and other behavioral scientists may have had dumb ideas about politics but the training technologies they developed have a long record of success and, I think, much to offer in non-institutional educational settings.

    19. VXXC Says:

      Skinner was the most important figure in American education of the 20th century. Any teacher of the 2d half of the 20th century would have given that exact [conditioned] answer.

      Regardless of how much the Teaching machine was used to train “organisms” his animal training philosophy’s informed the last few decades of education.

      When you’re as successful as Skinner and his colleagues you’re anything but dumb. Yes it works. We have evidence all around us. We are all baptized in the waters of Progressvism and bathe, drink and swim in them until adulthood.

      The other major conditioned response you will receive is young people repeating “we are the best educated and smartest generation in history.” It’s not arrogance, it’s a conditioned response.

      They also of course vote the way the television – Skinner again – tells them to, all educated people support Progressive goals.

      “We all believe in the same things, it’s a question of how we get there.”

      But it’s not education, it’s animal training to produce conditioned responses. His politics is the machines, the most effective of which are the Teachers. The second most important figure was Bill Ayers, who trained the trainers [teachers].

      So…either a complete separation of school and state..or..acadamae et dicit ignit.

    20. Jonathan Says:

      You are confusing a lot of issues.

      If your enemy uses a pipe wrench to fix his sink, that doesn’t make the pipe wrench an enemy technology.

    21. Richard Cranium Says:

      “You might have noticed the billions of dollars in fines for the most respected of your corporations. No one went to jail.”

      Such a thing would *never* happen in Canada, right?

      Well, except for Nortel Networks. Or did I miss the jail time for those execs?

    22. Michael Kennedy Says:

      “You might have noticed the billions of dollars in fines for the most respected of your corporations. No one went to jail.”

      Some of us call that extortion. Especially the most recent example. “Nice little company you have there. It would be a shame if something happened to it.”

      I assume that PenGun knows nothing that a good leftist should not know.

    23. newrouter Says:

      >. You might have noticed the billions of dollars in fines for the most respected of your corporations. No one went to jail<

      hi cgi!

    24. Nancy Says:

      Post-literate indeed. A young man sitting next to me at jury selection this morning, generously pierced and tattooed, tapped my arm for assistance in filling out his personal information form. He was stumped by the request for “Marital status” and did not know how he was supposed to answer.

    25. PenGun Says:

      Indeed it was.

      “Some of us call that extortion. Especially the most recent example. “Nice little company you have there. It would be a shame if something happened to it.”

      You misquoted though, it should be:

      “Nice little government you have there. It would be a shame if something happened to it.”

      OK, cool here is your Fed credit window where you can borrow whatever at .25% and churn that any way you want.
      Here is your QE which will push your stocks to the moon for no good reason.

      I could go on for a long time.

    26. Michael Kennedy Says:

      “I could go on for a long time.”

      I hate to ask you for a favor but, please, spare me.

    27. Richard Cranium Says:

      Nortel Networks, PenGun. No comment about that, eh?

    28. veryretired Says:

      My mother wanted to be a librarian, and always had a book she was reading. When I was in grade school/junior high, she was already giving me books to read that she thought suitable, mostly mysteries like Agatha Christie.

      My kids were raised with two fundamental rules:

      1) Dad might say no to lots of toys but never to a good book; and 2) if you can read you can master any subject, if you can’t read, everything else gets very, very difficult.

      All the kids read well, even the oldest who never cared for school that much, but always has a book going. I second the comments about Harry Potter, and there were other books, and book series, that also proved engaging for my bunch as they grew up.

      One boy was enraptured with a lengthy science fiction/fantasy series, and my daughter loved the “Clan of the Cave Bear” books in high school.

      My grandsons, aged 5 and almost 2, already have big book collections, and get a story every night at bedtime.

      Past ages have been called “golden” for their achievements and advances, but the increase in knowledge over the past century has been phenomenal, well beyond any other time in human history.

      I truly pity anyone who cannot read well, and is therefore left out of a period in which the knowledge available to the human mind for the understanding of the universe around us, from the largest aspects to the smallest particles, has blossomed into a garden of intellectual delights beyond the wildest dreams of our ancestors.

      It is largely for this reason I find the current culture of trivial celebrity worship and superficial scandal mongering so utterly boring and meaningless.

      Sort of like the resident troll at this blog…

    29. Michael Kennedy Says:

      “my daughter loved the “Clan of the Cave Bear” books in high school.”

      Have you read them ?

      Valley of Horses will teach girls a lot about sex. I have read them all. Like most series, it gets more soap opera-ish in the later books but still pretty good.

    30. PenGun Says:

      “Nortel Networks, PenGun. No comment about that, eh?”

      I know a lot more now. Thanks. There are crooks everywhere. Big business is a prime field as there is so much money involved and they often seem to be mainly involved in paying a few people vast amounts of money. Nortel is a good example.

    31. Michael Kennedy Says:

      “Big business is a prime field as there is so much money involved ” Especially if they are in cahoots with government, like the “green companies” and the light bulb folks. Crony capitalism is why the big businesses in this country are almost all in bed with Democrats. Republicans are more aligned with small business.

    32. veryretired Says:

      MK—I read the first couple, as I am interested in that time period, but gave up when the heroine started inventing everything short of the internal combustion engine.

      It’s a sign of inventive famine when the lead character in any fictional work starts to become this larger than heroic figure who knows all and always has the answer. I just finished the 3rd book in a mystery series that I enjoyed because the stories took place in a city in which I lived and worked, but the lead character has become almost a parody of a detective, always guessing right, and always able to corner the bad guy for a climactic shoot out.

      Predictability is boring. Real life is rarely as predictable as fiction, especially when SWMBO and our kids are involved. I sometimes think I read because a murder mystery or war in another galaxy is relaxing compared to the three-ring circus I live in every day.

      SWMBO used to ask me sometimes if I was bored with her and married life. She stopped because she could never understand why the question sent me into convulsions of laughter, and she never got an answer.