Sunday, July 31, 2011

Cassandra's Thoughts About Reading and Time | Perspectives on Language and Literacy

A single minute, released from the chronological order of time, creates in the human being a similar release, so that we may sense the minute. -Proust (1906)

With both inspiration and perspicacity, the editors in this special issue of Perspectives on Language and Literacy ask us to think about the future of research on reading and dyslexia.

The very process of asking this question serves to release us, as Proust wrote, from the constraints of time, so that we can see our present more clearly. Let's look backwards to the ancient Greeks for a look at a period that underwent a similarly seismic transition in modes of thought and communication as ours in the 21st century.

We will then move forward, but only to the present moment of time. In doing so, we find ourselves becoming akin to a modern Cassandra, with her unwanted worrying and warnings to the world. This too has its place within the deeply serious purposes of thinking about our work "outside" of time.

Ancient Greeks Impart Modern Lessons
To begin, we have much to learn from the Greek transition from orality to literacy as we make our own transition in the 21st century from a reading brain to a digital one. At the heart of that ancient moment in time, Socrates cautioned youth not to learn to read.

Two generations later, Aristotle, an habitual reader, cautioned his literate society not to lose its capacity to reflect. Socrates worried that the young would be deluded by the semblance of truth in seemingly impermeable text and think that they knew something before they had ever begun to learn how to think.

He cautioned that reading would forever alter our memory, our ability to internalise knowledge, and most importantly, our relationship to knowledge. For Socrates and Plato the lifelong pursuit of knowledge represented the best path to wisdom and virtue.

Aristotle worried about instilling in the young all three of the lives of the "good society." The first life is the life of productivity and knowledge gathering; the second, the life of entertainment; and the third, the life of reflection and contemplation.

Our role as a 21st century Cassandra is to raise some of the same questions as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. The formation of the "good reader" follows a similar course as the three lives of the good society's citizen.

The digital immersion of our children will provide the first two rich lives of productivity, entertainment and information gathering. Our concern is that they will not learn, with their passive modes of digital immersion, the joy and the effort of the third life i.e. developing and thinking one's own thoughts and going beyond what is given.

Read more of this article: Cassandra's Thoughts About Reading and Time | Perspectives on Language and Literacy

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