Literacy-The the University of California instituted the Subject
Literacy-The state or quality of being literate; specifically, the ability to read and write. This definition is as ambiguous as they come. Depending on whom you ask, you may get a completely different answer as to what literacy is. In the United States, this has always been a tricky debate. The circumstances that go along with being literate or illiterate are profound.
It carries with it significant implications on how we are supposed to educate people. Mike Rose in Lives on the Boundary explains the troubled history of literacy in the United States. He explains some the failures as well as successes in our nation’s quest to combat illiteracy.
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One of the more recent pushes to reduce illiteracy was coined the back-to-basics movement. This movement was a call to grade schools to better train students in grammar, spelling, and punctuation. This was stimulated by an increasing concern that our country illiteracy population was not only increasing, but also spreading into superior sectors such as good colleges. Colleges were complaining that students were arriving at college ill prepared. There were all kinds of seemingly convincing evidence being brought forth to verify this new threat. Low SAT scores, high enrollment of remedial classes in colleges, were all given as a confirmation that the country had a problem somewhere in their education process.
Rose makes clear that this is not the whole truth, suggesting that all this compelling evidence is misleading. “In 1841 the president of Brown complained that students frequently enter college almost wholly unacquainted with English grammar.’ In the mid-1870’s, Harvard professor Adams Sherman Hill assessed the writing of students after four years at America’s oldest college: ‘Every year Harvard graduates a certain number of men-some of them high scholars-whose manuscripts would disgrace a twelve year old boy.'” (Rose 6) This sounds very similar to some of the complaints these modern colleges have about their students today. Rose is simply trying to illustrate that this idea that our country is caught in some devastating downward spiral is simply an illusion. In 1898 the University of California instituted the Subject A examination.
In that year it was established that 30-40 percent of the people who took the test were not proficient in English. Today’s scores are roughly the same. An encouraging fact is that there are more young people graduating from high schools nowadays. In addition, there are more college students enrolled than there ever was. “We see the past as a better place.
We half find and half create a curriculum and deploy it in a way that blinds us to the true difficulties and inequities in the way that we educate our children.” (Rose 7)The school system can be an extremely frustrating, bewildering, and fearful place for many individuals. If a teacher is capable of getting truly close to the student, to really examine where their student’s problem is based, than they are better apt to help the student succeed at overcoming their apprehensions about learning.Rose taught a wide variety of students during his career as an educator. Some of his peak teaching, as well as learning for himself, occurred through a program where he taught reading and writing proficiency to a Vietnam veterans. This was a program to help people read, as well as to help them prepare for higher education. He explained from start to finish the process of preparing a unique curriculum that he felt would be appropriate for his particular group of students.
“More than realized I had learned a lot in El Monte (a former teaching position) about developing a curriculum: I had approached learning carefully, step by step, systematically. I found I knew what questions to ask.” (Rose 138)His primary goal, he stated, was to get his students to think about thinking. It was a class about thought. His curriculum focused on four basic strategies that he had learned from his former educators; they were summarizing, classifying, comparing, and analyzing.
The semester would begin by him having the students attempt to summarize a simple reading. He often would use songs or articles from pop culture magazines to make the learning more personal and accessible. They also spent a lot of time talking about writing. “A traveler in a foreign land best learns name s of people and places, how to express ideas, ways to carry on a conversation by moving around in the culture, participating as fully as he can, making mistakes, saying things half right, blushing, then being encouraged by a friendly native speaker to try again.” (Rose 142) This is the essence of his teaching methods it seems. He is a sincere individual honestly striving to help people in their pursuit of higher knowledge.