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Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Guest Post: Hugh Howey - The Most Literate Age

I would like to thank Hugh Howey, author of Molly Fyde and the Parsona Rescue for stopping by to share his thoughts about why we're currently living in the most literate age in history.

Please welcome Hugh everyone!


Did you know that we are currently living in the most literate age in all of human history? You sure wouldn’t think so to hear the dire prognostications of many of our elders, who tell us that “nobody reads anymore.” And even those who acknowledge that more and more youth are reading for fun will often retreat to the position that “nobody writes like we used to, that’s for sure!”

Once again, they would be wrong. And if they spent more time in the blogosphere, they might know better! Perhaps they would have heard about the study out of Stanford that found more students reading and writing outside of the classroom than any time in history. Researchers found, on average, that fully forty percent of students’ writing was not for a formal assignment.

Forty percent!

Where did they find this writing, and what was it for, if not the classroom?

They found it in emails, on blogs, in text messages, on forums, throughout Facebook and Myspace. And the content being generated wasn’t the mindless drivel one might have expected. Much of the content was designed to inform peers, to further debates on topical issues, to update friends and family with daily activities, and to engage in sustained, back-and-forth conversations with classmates.

Another surprising finding was that the quality of grammar was much higher than anticipated. Students were found to engage in localized dialect. That is, the language used for a text message did not spill over into formal emails or blog entries. In each case, the writer understood the context of their medium, and adjusted their style to suit. Not only has writing quantity increased, the quality hasn’t deteriorated as many might expect.

What I love about the Stanford Literacy study is that it helps overturn pessimistic pronouncements of literacy’s demise. It also allows us to reframe our view of youth culture. There’s a ton of amazing content being produced by young writers, we just need to learn to appreciate it for what it is.

More than appreciate it, we need to learn how to foster it in our schools, help students recognize their artistic output and hone it. I would love to see what sort of poetry or stories students could create 140 characters at a time. Or watch an English class build their own blog, with each student rotating to put something up on the front page. What about a forum for students to debate topics from history class, with the teacher grading everyone based on participation and content?

Maybe some of these things are being done by forward-thinking professors, but I think they need to be integral to a good English education. These are the methods used for communicating in the real world. The world students will face upon graduation and in the workforce. Instead of viewing these outlets as newfangled or faddish, we should be celebrating them as heralds for an age of literacy like none that has come before.

Perhaps, in the process, we could show students that writing can be enjoyable. Take this new flurry of productivity and channel it into a love for the written word. Well…typed word, I suppose. There probably is something to be said for the sloppiness of modern handwriting, but hey, once we got used to generating words at a rate of sixty per minute, it’s hard to go back!

Read the full study here:

If you would like to know more about Hugh, please visit his website.

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