The New Literacy
In George Orwell’s seminal novel 1984, he showed how large portions of society could be destroyed or subverted through the changing/rewriting of language and ideology. Through this the majority of the society (the “proles” as he called them) were controlled and pacified through a mind-numbingly large outpouring of literary garbage and even pornography if I recall the novel correctly.
The whole point was to keep them distracted and illiterate so as not to question the order of society or rebel for that matter against “big brother.”
This was the creation of “un-education” through a new literacy. A “newspeak” as Orwell termed it.
And where are we today? I don’t believe that Orwell ever intended for the work to be prophetic but more for it to serve as a warning in an effort to not let history repeat itself as it always seems to do.
I consider myself very very lucky in that somehow despite everything I became educated enough to be able to enjoy my life and supersede most of the hurdles that I’ve come across and keep going.
I’ve also been able to stand my ground and hold my own opinions on things when faced with mob-mentality, prejudice or outright bigotry.
While I’m certainly not a Harvard academic, I’ve always been very proud of my vocabulary and literacy level no matter how much I used to get teased or bullied as a nerdy bookworm type kid (who also enjoyed climbing up elevator shafts, jumping from three story buildings into swimming pools and other random acts of insanity).
In short, I’ve always felt educated enough to be able to question the information society has been fed and recognize right from wrong and fact from outright disinformation.
And that’s been good enough, but only up until now. Because now I am a father.
A lot of us look to how we were raised in determining how we are going to raise our children. We usually reach one of three conclusions:
1. We aren’t going to raise our children anything like how we have been raised.
2. We are going to raise our children as close as possible to how we were raised.
3. We are not going to raise our children how we were raised for the most part, but some things we’ll pass on to them.
Put me down in the #3 category.
In looking back I realize that perhaps the greatest gift my father gave me was my education and to a certain extent, my vocabulary. He was unusual in that regard. When other parents would push their kids faces in front of the TV cartoons, he was shoving my nose into the dictionary. He had me learning words such as “defenestration” when I was four years old (that means ‘to throw something out the window’ by the way). At the time it didn’t make much sense to me, but it certainly does in retrospect.
So now with kids of my own, I am naturally concerned about ensuring my daughter gets a good education.
Most of my education I acquired simply by camping out in libraries all summer long and reading thousands and thousands and thousands of books. But I also did do public schooling.
I imagine that my daughter will end up taking a similar path.
The scary thing to me isn’t just the battlefield that most public schools have become but also what passes for literacy in general nowadays.
Just spending an hour on twitter, tumblr and the internet in general can leave any parent greatly dismayed at what passes for literacy or even decent conversation. No matter how entertaining a person is, I don’t follow them for long if they can’t, don’t or won’t write decently. There just isn’t enough time in the day to read people who don’t respect the written word.
Profanity and explicative expressions seem to have largely replaced the ability to clearly enunciate one’s feelings in a decent manner. The worst part is that so many of these people are obviously emulating what they see as “acceptable speech” in today’s day and age where it seems that speaking like an illiterate is becoming an increasingly hip way to speak.
There is a way to balance this. George Carlin is one of my favorite comedians and he is both crass as well as deeply insightful. He swears a lot and hey, I swear a lot for that matter too. I’m no saint, but I can also balance it. To some it seems that the shock value of their language overrides the need to balance it with decency.
I’m hoping that by starting my daughter’s education early with books and dictionaries at home in the same way my parent’s did with me I can keep her from falling into that trap.
Because after all what is it that we must truly accomplish as parents?
We must teach our children to stand on their own and to be the architects of the new tomorrow.
We must give them the tools with which to construct a better world.
We must instill within them the integrity, dignity and grace with which to carry themselves so that no matter how dark life gets, they can still find their own way.
And we have to do all that without imposing ourselves on them so much that they feel crushed or as if they are being forced into a mold of the last generation’s making.
So who was it that said parenting was easy?