Become a fan of Slashdot on Facebook


Forgot your password?
Social Networks Science

We're In the Midst of a Literacy Revolution 431

Mike Sauter sends in a piece from Wired profiling research by Andrea Lunsford, a professor of writing and rhetoric at Stanford, from which she concludes that we don't need to worry about computers and the Internet causing a decline in general literacy. "[Lunsford] has organized a mammoth project called the Stanford Study of Writing to scrutinize college students' prose. From 2001 to 2006, she collected 14,672 student writing samples — everything from in-class assignments, formal essays, and journal entries to emails, blog posts, and chat sessions. Her conclusions are stirring. 'I think we're in the midst of a literacy revolution the likes of which we haven't seen since Greek civilization,' she says. For Lunsford, technology isn't killing our ability to write. It's reviving it — and pushing our literacy in bold new directions."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

We're In the Midst of a Literacy Revolution

Comments Filter:
  • Re:Liar. (Score:3, Informative)

    by jgtg32a ( 1173373 ) on Friday August 28, 2009 @10:36AM (#29230731)
    What you wrote is just the (de)evolution of the English language
  • by Colonel Korn ( 1258968 ) on Friday August 28, 2009 @10:40AM (#29230793)

    But you don't have to take my word for it!

    "The show will cease airing on PBS on Friday, August 28, 2009 after 26 years on the air." []

    duh duh DUH!

  • by stainless-steel-vash ( 1290528 ) on Friday August 28, 2009 @10:48AM (#29230911)
    I am going to have to call BS on this one. Two things: 1. Just because all your friends speak the same level of garbage doesn't make you more "Literate." It just means everyone you know speaks like an idiot. It's great that you speak to your audiences level, now let's raise the caliber of that general level. 2. While studying editing for my Degree in Writing (Business and Technical) I had to edit a paper from an Honors level student. I couldn't even understand what point he was trying to make. So, what papers, and from what colleges/universities was she reviewing? I've seen some doozies even up to last month. It's hard to edit for grammar and not touch the content when the content is a turd.
  • by LoudMusic ( 199347 ) on Friday August 28, 2009 @10:57AM (#29231017) []

    Just to be sure, you are aware he did both shows at the same time and has always been the host of Reading Rainbow?

  • Re:I agree (Score:4, Informative)

    by Attila Dimedici ( 1036002 ) on Friday August 28, 2009 @10:58AM (#29231039)


    It makes a lot of sense. This idea of their being a golden age of people hand writing letters to each other is bullshit for the vast majority of the populace.


    There was such a golden age. It's just that no one is alive from that time anymore (nor has been in my lifetime). According to several historians, the armies that fought in the Civil War were the most literate armies in history up until sometime right around the year 2000, and possibly since (the show I watched discussing this was produced between 1996 and 2004--I don't remember more accurately than that).

  • Caught in a headline (Score:4, Informative)

    by joeflies ( 529536 ) on Friday August 28, 2009 @11:00AM (#29231063)
    the headline makes an attractive statement - that the computer revolution is improving student's writing.

    The headline failed to mention that the students in the analysis were all Stanford students, and the article buried that information in the middle. At first it states that the research was done at Stanford, and then reveals that the samples were all Stanford students.

    Given that Stanford is a world class college institution, analyzing the progress of their writing is way too narrow of a sample size to say that all young people are improving their skills.

    What about people who don't make in Stanford? What about the kids who don't make it to college? Are they a part of the writing revolution too? Or are they left behind while we make tantalizing headlines about the elite students of America? The article summary would lead you to believe that this revolution is about general literacy.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 28, 2009 @11:03AM (#29231109)

    I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on frivolous youth of today, for certainly all youth are reckless beyond words... When I was young, we were taught to be discreet and respectful of elders, but the present youth are exceedingly disrespectful and impatient of restraint.
    - Hesiod, 700 BC

    Our earth is degenerate in these latter days; there are signs that the world is speedily coming to an end; bribery and corruption are common; children no longer obey their parents; every man wants to write a book and the end of the world is evidently approaching.

    - Assyrian tablet, 2800 BC

    We live in a decaying age. Young people no longer respect
    their parents. They are rude and impatient. They frequently
    inhabit taverns and have no self control.
    - Egyptian tomb, 4000 BC

  • Re:Exposure (Score:3, Informative)

    by MickyTheIdiot ( 1032226 ) on Friday August 28, 2009 @11:25AM (#29231463) Homepage Journal

    The web might be becoming "video heavy" now, but being able to create video isn't such a specialized skill anymore like it was when television was introduced and video creation needed a score of trained engineers and huge equipment to make it work technically. (Didn't writing go through a similar stage as well?) As equipment and needed know decreases video becomes an experience where normal people become producers and not just passive spectators.

    Creating video could become a lot like writing is in schools sometimes and be a way for the creator to learn. The output could be crap with no audience at all outside of a grader, but the person creating the work actually learned something by doing it and furthered his or her knowledge and education.

  • Re:I think... (Score:3, Informative)

    by apoc.famine ( 621563 ) <apoc.famine@gmail . c om> on Friday August 28, 2009 @12:27PM (#29232317) Journal

    I found myself wondering the same a month or two back.
    I am a bit of a fan of Scotch, and was sipping on a decent (I thought) Speyside single malt. I happened to be on a Vent server playing a game, along with a guy from Scotland. So, since I had this magical link to Scotland going, I asked him about the scotch I was drinking. He was surprised that A) I was able to find it in the US, and B) that I had chosen what he'd consider a pretty good scotch.
    So there I was, drinking and playing a video game at home, and learning something about my drink, from the land it was made in, 6,000 miles away. I realized that if this had been twenty years ago, while I might have had the scotch, I wouldn't have the ability to freely talk to someone from Scotland on a whim.
    I remember the first time when I was talking to my parents about one of the games I was playing, and mentioned someone from England. They were amazed that I was just casually chatting with someone thousands of miles away while playing video games. When I pointed out that we had people from the rest of Europe and the Middle East and Asia on the server too, they were astounded.
    Forget a literary revolution - we're in the middle of communications revolution. An ideas revolution. A cross-cultural exchange the likes of which has never been seen before.
    I'm in a small city in the middle of the US now, and can find food and language from dozens and dozens of countries here. If I want to know more about those things, the internet is a click away. I have a Thai coconut curry sauce in my refrigerator. I saw Thai Eggplants, an Oriental Root Radish, and Chinese Kale at a local farmer's market.
    Between the internet and the airplane, we have the ability to mix cultures and ideas like never before. I, like you, really wonder what the world will be like in 50 years, when kids just being born grow up in this sort of world.

  • by Deag ( 250823 ) on Friday August 28, 2009 @12:43PM (#29232533)

    Here is an interesting link for you - USPS historical mail volume [] and population []

    Look at the late 19th century, There was a fair volume, but nothing huge, less than 100 pieces of mail per person per year. And not all that was personal correspondence. Literacy was quite high > 80%

    I still think there is more writing going on now than before.

  • Re:Liar. (Score:2, Informative)

    by Emerssso ( 865009 ) on Friday August 28, 2009 @02:57PM (#29234491)
    Actually, smiley faces (not emoticons, but the symbol from a Wingdings type font) do manifest in serious work. Optimality Theory, a very popular formalism used in phonology (the linguistics branch dealing with the differences between the spoken and underlying forms of words) uses these to indicate "winning" candidates, typically those actually found in the language in question. They also use bombs, flowers, and a goodly collection of other odd symbols.

    For more information, I recommend Rene Kager's book, /Optimality Theory/... or some googling of you don't feel like going to your local college library.
  • Re:Liar. (Score:3, Informative)

    by u38cg ( 607297 ) <> on Friday August 28, 2009 @03:57PM (#29235329) Homepage
    Traditional formal written English has all the hallmarks of a pidgin. We (the supposedly educated types) don't know how to make language live in written form, so we have to do all this extraneous stuff that adds no meaning to something that has the capacity to live for itself. Kids nowadays are building a creole of written language and when it's done well, it's incredibly lively, readable, intelligent stuff. Humanity as a whole has been moaning about the decline of standards since the first Sumerian put chisel to tablet. It's *boring*.
  • Re:Liar. (Score:4, Informative)

    by ColaMan ( 37550 ) on Friday August 28, 2009 @05:41PM (#29236573) Journal

    Words are tools for thought

    Precisely. Text-speak has a stunted vocabulary, simply because it was designed to be easily input and had to work around a 160 character limit. There's nothing wrong with that, there's a clear need for it in that particular context.

    The problem is that once it escapes from the mobile environment it bears a nasty resemblance to Newspeak - extremely limited sentence structure, very few adjectives or adverbs. Once you lose the ability to describe something adequately, you're screwed. You can't easily pass your idea or experience on to someone else - worse, you can't even adequately describe it to yourself. Recall that one of the goals of the government in 1984 was to shift the language in a direction that made it impossible for people to think rebellious thoughts.

    But I'm sure there won't be any problem with dealing with a bunch of frustrated people who lack the language skills to be able to share their point of view adequately. I'm sure riots and wars were started for completely different reasons.

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from a rigged demo.