Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A New Literacy?

School begins in our household today – at least for our almost 17 year-old. He begins his junior year at the same high school where his three older siblings graduated from. The Adams family is on the 15th consecutive year at North Mecklenburg High; there are lots of stories there for another time, but here’s one a lot of people are talking about around the world: today’s kids can’t write, and technology is to blame.

Wired magazine’s Clive Thompson has a great article in the September issue entitled “The New Literacy.” His main point: it’s not that today’s students can’t write. It’s that they’re doing it in different places and in different ways. It's a great read - you ought to check out the whole story.

A massive project called the Stanford Study of Writing by Andrea Lunsford, a professor at Stanford University, collected 14,672 student writing samples – everything from in-class assignments, formal essays, and journal entries to emails, blog posts, and chat sessions. Her conclusion: “I think we’re in the midst of a literary revolution the likes of which we haven’t seen since Greek civilization.” For Lunsford, technology isn’t killing our ability to write. It’s revising it – and pushing our literacy in bold new directions.

The study found that 38% of writing took place outside the classroom - life writing, as Lunford calls it. It's a huge paradigm shift - before the Internet came along, most Americans never write anything that wasn't a school assignment.

The modern world of online writing, particularly in chat and on discussion threads, is conversational and public, which makes it closer to the Greek tradition of argument than the asynchronous letter and essay writing of 50 years ago. The brevity of texting and status updating teaches young people to deploy haiku-like concision.

Most of us think of writing as either good or bad. What today's young people know is that knowing who you're writing for and why you're writing might be the most crucial factor of all.

Stay tuned.

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