Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

Emergent Home Literacies: A Challenge for Educators

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

Emergent Home Literacies: A Challenge for Educators

Article excerpt

Literacy and deficit

As new generations of children are becoming literate in an age of escalating technology, we are well aware of the intricate interweaving of technology and literate practices that underpins our society. Material technology, culture and the literate practices that emerge as a result are so complexly linked as to be inseparable. Thus, those who become literate in an age of hypermedia may develop substantively different understandings, skills, practices and expectations than those who became literate around a predominantly print-based technology and culture. Green and Bigum (1993, p. 122) argue, in fact, that `young people are also increasingly alien ... differently motivated, designed and constructed'. Different literate practices and requirements reflect the different lives and identities and changing patterns of social advantage. However, as late as 1996, literacy was still being defined by some as fundamentally focused on the `ability to communicate through and about print' (Pellegrini & Galda 1998). While this is indeed one of the key markers of literate behaviour in our society, it is no longer, of itself, a broad enough description. Our society, our technology, is undergoing rapid change, and thus our understandings of what it is to be literate in this new climate should also change.

At the same time as Luke (1997) argues that `print literacy is not obsolete but certainly substantially transformed' and further, that `we need a broader notion of a cultural and technological literacy that includes a study of the intertextuality of imageries, texts, and artifacts of media and popular culture' (pp. 24-25), Griffin and Morrison (1997) go so far as to identify television viewing as `literacy-competitive behaviour' (p. 234). They position `literacy' and television as mutually exclusive activities.

We find ourselves, then, in contentious times as legions of literacy definitions, drawn from diverse paradigms and historical contexts, co-exist, often uncomfortably. As educators and researchers, we know that different understandings of what it is to be literate and what literacy is are linked to differing ideological positions. Make no mistake, literacy is a highly politicised notion where the stakes are high and emotions run high. However, this recognition does not relieve us of the responsibility, as educators, to ensure that we understand the implications for students of the literacies we deliver to them in classrooms and further, to note the shifts in the types of literate practices that will be of most advantage for our students in their lives.

Television and video have penetrated most cultural and socio-economic social groups in Western societies. In the United States, for instance, television, video and cassette tape ownership has reached saturation point (Roberts et al. 1999). Virtually all homes have at least one of each of these technologies and many have more than one. According to their research, 99% of American homes have at least one television and 97% have a VCR; 90% of homes have radios, tape and CD players and almost 70% have computers. The research reported here, although of a significantly smaller scale, suggests that the Australian experience parallels this trend, and that it is a trend not confined to the economically and culturally advantaged upper middle classes. For increasing numbers of citizens, television and video constitute valued social and cultural texts and consequently, critical reading of these texts is now an aspect of literate behaviour in our society. If this is so, there are a number of educational implications relating specifically to literacy.

Current debates centring on literacy are not, however, confined to operating definitions of what counts as `literacy' in New Times and what doesn't. There are also ongoing debates regarding the relationship between the types of home literate practices in which children are engaged and their success in classroom literacy events (Auerbach 1989, Cairney & Ruge 1997, Heath 1982, Morrow 1995). …

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