Formally Learned Literacy vs. Lirico (Farr)

In her article, Marcia Farr, uses the experiences of a handful of Mexican men to discuss the phenomenon of lirico or the informal learning of literacy. On page 474, Farr discusses a specific case in which one man picked up a pamphlet and began reading much to the dismay of his peers who were unaware that he could read. Farr, in regards to this moment, questions the belief, “if one doesn’t learn to read ‘officially’ in school, what one does when decoding print isn’t ‘really’ reading”.

This belief (which is not Farr’s), in my opinion, opens up a huge can of worms. My question then is simply what are your feelings on this? If one can read the words on the page, but does not necessarily comprehend every word are they still reading? In other words, how much comprehension is necessary to make reading “count”? Also, what are your thoughts on informal vs. formal literacy acquirement? Do you believe self-taught literacy is to be less valued than literacy taught in school?

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72 Responses to Formally Learned Literacy vs. Lirico (Farr)

  1. mwishee says:

    Firstly, I would disagree that if one is not decoding in a school-type situation then that person is not truly reading, or performing an act of literacy. However, I can see where this belief may stem. In our society, those who do not receive a formal education are much stigmatized and not credited as highly as someone, say, who finishes high school. If I had read the above statement before reading the rest of this article, I might have agreed with it. After reading Farr’s examples, though, I can see what she means by saying that schooling is not necessary for every person.

    This then brings me to the next question: how much comprehension is needed to make reading “count?” I would first say that in order to comprehend something, you have to make a conscious effort to understand it. Farr summed up this theory very well on page 475: when the men had to travel to Chicago to work they felt “an increased desire for literacy skills in order to write letters to family and friends back home.” For these men there was that motivation and that desire to be literate and because they were driven, they went through the necessary steps to learn to read and write. This motivation was what pushed the community members to learn. So in order to comprehend something, or to make literacy “count,” you have to feel motivated and push yourself to learn. I would assert that simply reading a product label is not valuable literacy. When the individual feels a desire to read or a desire to write is when literacy really “counts.”

    Farr also notes a debate between informal and formal literacy and once again, the controversial word “value” is discussed. “Value” is so provocative because it can mean something different for every single person. For example, I value formal education because I have been through the system and that system worked for me. I think it is safe to assume, however, that someone else could have gone (and probably did go) through the same exact system and came out on the other side with a completely different result. That person might not value the formal education system as much as I did. I think something similar can be said of the community in Farr’s article.

    I very much like when Farr says that “learning literacy lirico, then, is remarkably effective. Although formal schooling is the route to literacy for most people, schooling is clearly not essential” (474). The key words are “most people.” Schooling may work for most, but Farr does a more than adequate job of showing that formal education is not necessary for everyone. Lirico is perfectly acceptable for certain communities.

  2. rad75 says:

    If one can read the words on the page, but does not actually understand what is written, than there for one cannot comprehend what’s meant. I think that when a person can decode the words on anything, than they can read. Reading has to have some sort of understanding to know what is actually written on the page. However, does this mean a child who reads a book to themselves, but does not decode the words mean that he or she is not reading? Or if the reader actually reads the words, but understand only some if the words than is the ok? I would have to say that it would depend on the words that the reader does not comprehend. However, if it a small word like, ” a, the, of … Etc.” then I believe it is okay to miss those words.

    The amount of comprehension necessary to make reading count would be what I was explaining before. If the reader has a sense of the purpose of what is read then that is how much is needed.

    As for lfrico expression of teaching oneself to read, I personally think that it is not proper, but possible. I do not think it should be less valued, because if a person is only able to receive that type of learning then they cannot receive a “proper “school reading education.

  3. alp89 says:

    I think that there is a difference between reading and true, comprehensive literacy. When a child first learns to read, he/she might not know what every single word is or what every word’s individual meaning is, but that does not mean that they do not understand that the letters d-o-g make dog, the word for man’s best friend. Just because they stumble upon a few words that they do not understand does not mean that their ability to read is questioned. Because they don’t comprehend every word does not take away from the fact that they are reading, but it does change their level of literacy. Because they don’t totally comprehend everything they read, their literacy level is obviously lower than a college students. But, since when do we all always know exactly what every single word in a college-level reading means? I know that I have looked up my fair share of words in a dictionary. So, does mean that the articles that I read where I do not understand every single word is less of a literacy event than when I can quickly read an article in which I know every single word? I think that when you don’t understand a word, the literacy event is actually more valuable. When you stumble upon unfamiliar words is when you have the ability to develop your literacy, to learn new words. And, to me, the ability to keep advancing your litearcy is more important and more of a literacy event than reading through something in which you comprehend absolutely everything.

  4. gap23 says:

    I think that people can read something and not know what they just read. In my experience, I have read texts that don’t really make sense, but I still know what every word on the page is. There is definitely a thin line between reading and comprehension. For instance, I can read a page and comprehend it even when it is simple English and has an easy message. However, if someone were to say that they could read and not understand what exactly they are reading, then they might not be reading. I realize that this is very confusing and it is something that is very hard to convey in writing. When we learn to read be are taught that each word has meaning behind it and different morphemes of words can give different meaning and connotations. If someone were to learn to read without this reinforcement, they wouldn’t know how sentences make sense, or what meaning they convey. There is an element of comprehension that is necessary to read, but only because of the nature of reading. The reason why we read is so that we can know more, learn more, and be able to navigate the modern world.

    In regards to formal vs. informal schooling, I think it depends on how well the person was taught literacy. I think that these things vary from case to case, but there are definitely some people who aren’t as literate because they were taught out side of school. I think that schools, in general, provide a great environment to learn because students who are doing the same thing as you surround you. Self-taught literacy can be productive, but it is easier if you have some one helping you.

  5. katie says:

    True “reading”, I feel, is comprehension. Reading is the connection of letters into words, words into phrases. If it is a simple recognition of letters there is no “reading” involved—it is the mere decoding of single words. However, there are so many levels of reading that it is impossible to distinguish where this decoding ends and comprehension begins. I always think of Dick-and-Jane type sentences as the beginnings of comprehension; these simple phrases begin to connect the words into some construction of meaning. There is a subject, a verb, some punctuation—things that one lirico anecdote noted were not of importance for how he reads.
    Self-taught literacy is to be admired. Informal learning of literacy does carry a stigma (that is mentioned in a comment above). However, when you think of the self-motivation it takes and the determination needed to teach yourself anything, especially such daunting tasks as reading and writing, it is much more impressive than formal education. Formal instruction is forced learning; there is no strong desire, little connection to what is being taught. In the lirico situations, there is motive. There are definite, personal reasons for wanting to learn—and that is what makes it more valuable. Formal instruction doesn’t need to work for everyone.

  6. annettevee says:

    This is an interesting discussion! First, JennReed1220, thanks for noting that it is *not* Farr’s belief that reading learned outside of school isn’t *really* reading.

    Mwishee gets at this idea in her response, but I’m curious about the shifting nature of literacy requirements to succeed in the world and how that might affect what we think about “lirico” learners. What kinds of literacies do people generally learn outside of school? Mwishee indicates that people are often looked down upon if they don’t finish their formal education. I think she’s right. But we valorize people like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg and find it fascinating that they dropped out of Harvard.

    Those are extreme examples. But are there things we’d consider literacies that are *best* learned outside of school?