Modes of Literacy, the News, and Persistence

Literacy has been on my mind of late. To be literate is more than just being capable of decoding words on the page and comprehending those words. Decoding and comprehension of words on the page – or the screen – is the minimalist’s definition of literacy.  Literacy involves so much more.  The capacity to engage in the world outside our personal bubble is part of literacy, understanding and participating in our community and in our government is a vital component of literacy. Being able to read a credit card offer and to know that the fine print on the back side of the letter is more important than the large print on the front and balancing a bank account is fundamental financial literacy; to understand how the levels of government affect our daily lives is civic literacy.  We must persist in maintaining and promoting all modes literacy.

Last week, I worked ten hour days Monday – Thursday, and on Friday, I put in only nine hours. This week, the configuration of late days and times is slightly different, but I have arrived early and/or stayed late every day. Today, I left early – oh, I mean I left work ON TIME. As a salaried public school teacher, that’s how it works sometimes. Overtime doesn’t exist in the public education system. Teachers fall under the Professional Exemption according to the FLSA (Fair Labor Standards Act).  Perhaps Republicans should keep that in mind as they attempt to dismantle much of the public education system and turn it into a competitive private sector endeavor.  As a professional educator in the private sector with an advanced degree, I would expect a wage of $35 dollars an hour minimum, plus benefits. Charter schools, in the system it seems that Betsy DeVos and the Republicans are so keen to switch to, would be considered the private sector.  Few charter schools pay that to their teachers – at least in Colorado, and even fewer are willing to pay a professional wage at all. Teachers are resilient and persistent, and our students benefit from that professionalism.  I digressed for a moment. The point is that even though I worked long hours last week, events in Washington did not escape my notice. However, most of my students seemed oblivious.  Last week’s news topics looked like this:


On Tuesday history was made when the Vice President was forced to cast the tie-breaking vote confirming a woman to the cabinet position of Secretary of Education.  That she lacks the qualifications to perform the work of that cabinet position seems not to make any difference to the man who nominated her: our tweeter-in-chief.

And peaceful protests continued. I like to think that Thoreau would have joined. Civil discovery (wokeness?) and civil disobedience are not that far apart. I borrow a term from black lives matter: it seems that to discover our voice and our civil self is to be “woke.” As a nation, we are becoming more woke, and we need to stay woke.  It’s hard to stay woke 100% of the time. Nevertheless, we must persist.

I missed some important news late in the day Tuesday.  The Senate Majority Leader silenced Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) as she spoke out against the nominee for Attorney General of the United States, now confirmed.  The words “She persisted” seem to have somewhat backfired politically for the Majority Leader; still, Sessions was confirmed as Attorney General.

Relieved that the Ninth Circuit Federal Court decided not to lift the ban on the Executive Order issued by the White House, I observed along with other twitter users that the decision stung our neophyte President – if the tweets are any indication.

I noticed that immigration issues, the US southern border wall, women’s rights, veteran’s rights, and civil rights were in the news.  Health care and the Affordable Care Act were prominent in the news, and I had no time to process much of it.

This week the White House has suffered some negative news with the resignation of Flynn and rumors of infighting and one-upmanship among the “advisers” to the President. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I am getting damn irritated with the shenanigans going on with this administration. Remember when adults were in charge of the government?  Have our nation’s high school students noticed that this isn’t normal?

My juniors are working on a unit of study concerning media and democracy. Last Thursday, each of my junior classes participated in a Socratic seminar discussion on the role of media in a democracy. After observing the discussions, I was unconvinced that my students are aware of the news on a local, state, or federal level.  Many of them rarely move out of their own orbit of personal interests, and few of them can identify any national issue.  In seminar, my students said that they get most of their news from social media.  I hope they didn’t observe me wincing at the thought.

However, I created a survey for my students this week and I am surprised by their responses.  I wondered if these were the same kids who participated in seminars just last week.  In response to the question “Which type of media outlet do you rely on for accuracy and trustworthiness,” my students’ responses were:


I must point out that regarding social media, the survey responses were significantly different that the comments student’s made during seminar. In seminar, 46% of my students said they got their news from social media. This question is not the same question I asked at the close of seminar. This question asked them which media outlet they rely on for accuracy and trustworthiness. So, even if they get most of their news from social media, they don’t rely on it for accuracy and trustworthiness. YAY!

When asked the question “How important is it for you to be knowledgeable about news?”  My 17 year old students responded in the following ways (I did not edit these responses for usage, syntax, or punctuation, and I have provided a sampling proportional to their responses):

“It is important to me because this stuff might be talked about at school for a grade or just in general by my peers. It is better for me to hear the information from a primary source than to hear it second hand by someone else who might have a bias view.”

“its important but not that important that i go outta my way to figure out the news because my grandparents stay updated on the news and they’ll tell me whats going on if its that important that i should know about it.”

“the news helps me figure out what is going on around me so i know how to handle things such as traffic.”

“What is happening in the world, country, state, or even city affects all of us in some way. I like to know what is happening around me. It is important to be an informed citizen rather than a knowledgeless one.”

“It is very important because you don’t want to be dumb.”

“For me, it is very important to me to be knowledgable about news because I always see every new story that they publish as a part of history, no matter how big or small the story may be. Especially if it is a big story, I just love the fact of knowing that when people talk about it 80 years from now, I can say I remember the day I read the original story.”

“It is very important for me to keep up with the news, but at the same time i don’t go out of my way to read the news.”

“It is really important to me because I like to be informed o what is happening in the world. I would hate to be clueless and left out of the loop.”

“important because i like to know what is going on in the world. if there is going to be a war i would like to know about it.”

What did I learn from their comments? Some of them will give flippant responses, but what they write when they know their peers will not see it is generally a more reflective response than what they say aloud in a seminar discussion. At the age of 17, their self-identity and independent thinking is just starting to blossom as they begin to veer away from the collective teenage c consciousness.

The many forms of literacy including civil, mathematic, reading, digital, and financial, to name a few must be taught with diligence and persistence. Given the attacks on journalism by high government officials of late (TODAY, in fact), the significance of literacy in all of its forms must be the focus of what we teach our students, talk about with our family, friends and neighbors, discuss at town halls (when members of congress are not avoiding us), and practice in our daily lives.

We cannot afford to dismiss literacy, not one iota.


One thought on “Modes of Literacy, the News, and Persistence

  1. Pingback: Critical Literacy at the Speed of Technology – Quixotic Yawp

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