Monday, 9 June 2014

Literacy - the other holy cow

Next to ‘schooling for all’, ‘100% literacy’ is seen as a sublime value. Literacy is just a skill among other skills - including farming, bamboo weaving, textile weaving, making pots, tanning. Yes, in today’s world it is a needed functional skill. But that is all.

It is just that reading/writing is OUR skill set, and we have glorified that. And we make highly skilled communities seem unskilled because we measure them in our paradigm.  

We the 'schooled and colleged' divided the world into literates and illiterates, and took it on ourselves to teach literacy to all, and 'develop' them.  The weaver did not arrogantly divide the world into weaving-literate and weaving-illiterate, look down on us, and insist on 'developing' us. Only we are uncouth enough to go and tell them that they are 'alphabet illiterate' and try to 'give them alphabet literacy'. Thanks to us, the wise farmer says apologetically that he 'is just a farmer', and dreams that his son will be a clerk or a typist.
Actually, with literacy, maybe our ability to memorize, remember, contemplate all come down. We depend completely on the written word. I see myself as intellectually inferior to my neighbours, dalit, landless, poor and unschooled, Eashwaramma, Annasamy Anna, Lakshmamma in clarity of thinking, expression, memory, perception.  I, the letterred, need a pen and paper to 'note' down their sayings, because I lack an understanding and perception that is in their very fabric. I also lack their memory. Through vast memory and a deep inherited culture they hold and protect more knowledge and wisdom than literates.  I think my village people see us - as literate ignorants, though they are too civilized to let us feel it, or to even think it to themselves. When and why did literacy become such a superior skill? 

But we chase them with schools, tell them they are 'uneducated', and set out to educate them. Truly a case of the blind leading the sighted.

1 comment:

  1. I appreciate these thoughts very much. I have often wondered along these lines as I homeschool my children over the years. I want them to develop in a balanced way which is perhaps impossible with so much emphasis on reading and book work and all that that implies. Thank you. I hope you will share further thoughts on this vital subject. Leslie at The Lionsgate School USA