Inert vs. Liberating Literacy

A recent find, as applicable to new media as to numeracy. From Robert Orrill’s Mathematics, Numeracy, and Democracy:

“For both Dewey and Cremin, the matter becomes even more complex when we ask what literacy means in a society dedicated to democratic ideals and informed by an ethos of individual freedom. In democratic settings, Cremin says, it is important to distinguish between what he calls “inert” and “liberating” literacy. As Cremin de?nes these terms, the former is that level of verbal and numerate skill required to comprehend instructions, perform routine procedures, and complete tasks in a rote manner. From a social perspective, this is that measure of literacy we might expect to ?nd applied in a cultural setting in which tradition prevails and customs are securely in place, and where opportunities for freedom, choice, and innovation are limited. To speak of literacy as “liberating,” however, assumes a much more challenging standard by which individuals command both the enabling skills needed to search out information and the power of mind necessary to critique it, re?ect upon it, and apply it in making decisions. It is only this more expansive and demanding meaning of literacy, or what Dewey calls “popular enlightenment,” that can inform and animate a vital democracy. Indeed, Dewey reminds us, a successful democracy is conceivable only when and where individuals are able to “think for themselves,” “judge independently,” and discriminate between good and bad information.”

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