Re-defining Literacy

How would you define literacy? It may seem simple at first – the ability to read and write – but given the complexities of the modern world, this definition has become antiquated. New skill sets and new forms of expression mixed with the freedom of ease of publication has changed what it means to be literate.  A variety of web searches have produced an entire spectrum of interpretations, but I have yet to find a satisfactory definition. I’m going to add my understanding of literacy to the milieu. Now I don’t have a PhD in English, but the very fact that I can post this without anyone vetting it is one of the reasons for the re-definition. This is what I have come up with so far:

Literacy involves the integration of a broad set of constantly evolving skills integrated across a range of contexts and the cultural knowledge that enables a person to recognize and use a variety of forms of language appropriate to different social situations. Literate people will be able to use language and numeracy to enhance their capacity to think, create and question in order to participate and communicate effectively in a technologically advanced, democratic society.

Literacy has evolved over time, adding new elements and skills along the way. Modern literacy  has the fundamental, original 3Rs at its core (reading, writing and arithmetic). However, with the explosion of Multimedia and graphic interfaces, a fourth R, Fine Art, is also  a core element of literacy. As well, with the accessibility and global connectedness achieved by the world wide web, these core elements are not sufficient for a person to be considered literate. Modern Literacy requires the extension of these 4Rs with 4Es: Expose the truth, Employ information, Express ideas compellingly (Kairos, in rhetoric), and the Ethics of usage (digital citizenship).

My interpretation borrows heavily from the definition of  the Edmonton Public Literacy Plan, the New South Wales Library, David Warlick and Clive Thompson.I am open to suggestions and welcome criticism. I would like to see a definition that is enduring enough to last through whatever tech changes the future holds.


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