This I Believe

Robinson - Stockbridge, Georgia
Entered on December 12, 2006
Age Group: 18 - 30
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What Is Literacy?

What is literacy? I believe literacy cannot be defined simply as the ability to read and write. I believe literacy relates more closely to culture and society. I feel that in order to truly experience literacy, in all of its forms, one must experience other cultures, languages, and forms of communication.

The summer after graduating high school, I traveled to Honduras with my family. On the island of Roatan, English isn’t the national language, but rather a mix of Spanish and

native tongues. Under normal circumstances, the existence of multiple languages in one area would not be an issue, but as the need to communicate with the natives increased, it became a problem. No one in my family speaks another language other than English, but luckily I had taken three years of Spanish in high school. I was far from fluent in the language, but my limited vocabulary of Spanish would have to suffice in order to communicate and translate for my entire family. Although many of the natives weren’t able to read or write, my family and I were the ones who appeared to be illiterate, simply because we weren’t able to speak Spanish.

This is same mindset that causes people to decide what they think literacy is and who they think is literate, even if the grounds are not completely supported. Take for example an adult who grew up during a time when computers weren’t readily accessible, such as the 1970s. In today’s society, such a person would be considered illiterate as far as computers are concerned, especially when compared to someone who has grown up around computers, such as the current young-adult population. Another example could be a comparison between an artist and someone other than an artist. The person who is not an artist would be considered illiterate the moment they could not understand the grey scale or even master the technique of mixing colors.

This may seem like a stretch, but in all actuality, this idea is directly based on the same principles as literacy with English. The moment we discover someone cannot speak English well, or read and write, we label him or her illiterate. Although this way of determining literacy is how the world makes up its mind, I do not believe in it. I believe that literacy is more than an ability to read or write, but an ability to experience other cultures and languages, and find a way to communicate.