Literacy and Orality

In her article, Heath explains that Trackton does not place a high value of print literacy in the home, and that adults “do not buy books for [their children]” and they “do not create reading and writing tasks for the young” either.  She further explains that “to read alone was found upon, and individuals who did so were accused of being antisocial”.  In this way it seems that literacy and orality in Trackton are completely intertwined and linked.  Do you think that this is why in societies that are not saturated with literacy in the home orality is so prevalent and the desire to master print literacy is lacking? Is it in societies such as these that the lines of literacy and orality are almost completely blurred? What would need to occur that would transition a society such as this one into one that values print literacy in the home?

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7 Responses to Literacy and Orality

  1. cof6 says:

    Heath discusses how in this society, they have the ability to read certain things, like sections of the newspapers, but they chose orality over reading. I believe that when there are not many reasons to learn to read and they do not have a sponsor at home to teach them how to read, they have no motivation to learn to read. In this society, orality is the main part of literacy. She talks about how reading is a social event and even then, they rarely discuss the writing but talk about their own feelings about it. She says that one person reads out loud as the other people tell what they think it means by using their experiences. It would take a lot of work to have this society change their ways into valuing print literacy. The adults would need to show a greater intrest in reading so that the children would understand the importance of reading for more than being necessary.It is important to have family members at home that support the learning of reading.

  2. kvb8 says:

    After reading Heath’s article on Literate Traditions, I am unable to share your opinion that the citizens of Trackton lack desire to master print literacy altogether. What I gathered from the article is that while they do put more emphasis on orality and on reading in terms of a context of immediate action, there is still a focus on print; it is just a very different context than you or I, I’m sure, are accustomed to. Brand names and street signs and price tags and mail receipts are all of huge significance to the children of Trackton, and all of these examples are of literacy in print. However, they’re a specific type of print literacy; they all concern modern American society and visuality. The idea that this type of print is stressed, while leisurely, independent reading is so socially frowned, is quite shocking to me. In my own experiences it’s been the other way around. My parents, peers, and teachers have all encouraged me to read alone as a way to learn, whereas the children of Trackton “read to learn before they go to school to learn to read” (299) by identifying fast food chains while driving, or by reading the tee-shirts of older peers.

    It’s hard to make judgments about whether the citizens of Trackton are “lacking” when it comes to literacy because they just exist in a profoundly different way than mainstream Americans. Reading and communicating is a wholly social activity, and meaning is created and interpreted by the collective; the children’s reliance is on each other and their visual environment to become literate. Trackton leads a very collectivist lifestyle, and so orality and communal reading is much more crucial in maintaining their traditions than typical print or reading alone. This does not infer that they are less intelligent or that they need to integrate more mainstream ideas of literacy into their society. Both are effective ways of utilizing literacy that are useful in different contexts, and Trackton’s utilization of literacy is effective in the context of their immediate society. The children are still learning to read, they remember and reassociate the contexts of print, and “they come to use print independently and to be able to model appropriate behaviors for younger children.” (300) Because of this apparent linguistic and communicative competency, I see no real dire need for a transition into one that values print literacy more in the home.

  3. kms186 says:

    I feel like because there is such a strong link between literacy and orality in Trackton, that there is not even a need to master the print literacy. The people of Trackton are still clearly able to function through the speech they use, even if it is without correct grammar, which I think is strongly influenced by literacy in print. I had a difficult time getting past the fact that these people cannot speak that well because I feel like in our society it is so frowned upon to not speak proper English, and that comes as a sign of a lack of intelligence in most cases. I had to kind of step out of that society ‘bubble’ to realize that the people of Trackton are clearly able to function in society probably just as well as those who speak proper English, no matter how their grammar is. I suppose they would have to persuaded by survival in some way to change their literacy values in Trackton because the value they place on social and oral literacy is so high and it works well enough for them, so there would have to be a dire need to change it for the people to actually change their values of literacy to print literacy.

  4. gap23 says:

    I think that there needs to be a balance between literacy and orality. Although orality is how most of us learn language in the first place, I also think that physical written text is of the utmost importance. Orality is a kind of stepping stone to reading and writing because we need to know words before we can use them in writing. After we have a sufficient understanding of orality and writing, we kind of move back and forth when learning new words. We can hear new words in conversation or we can read them in books/articles. In Trackton, I think that we can see the families placing a higher emphasis on orality, but it leads to writing and reading. I think that even without consciously practicing literacy, people in societies do anyway. I was never sat down to practice writing and reading, unless I wanted to or I had homework. We absorb so many ideas simply through living in this world. And I think that people will seek literacy as a part of curiosity for life. Do we need to consciously promote print literacy?

  5. pigtaily biker says:

    I don’t feel that it is so much the lack of print in the home that makes orality so prevalent, but instead the use or lack of use of what print does exist in and around the home. It is clear that these children as well as adults seemed to merely learn what was needed to function, not much beyond. Since their literacy practices are so clearly interlaced with orality, it’s easy to see how this is perpetuated in their children. As per your question regarding what would need to happen in order transition this into a society that values print, I think it already is. Though they don’t fully understand all they read, nor can they all read it, they seem to base much of their opinions, entertainment, and ability to function on the reading of basic texts. That being said, if you’re asking how to transition this society into one that values print in the traditional sense, I think that their entire way of life would need to be changed, how they use print would need to change drastically. I don’t think there’s anyway to add value to print in this society unless you’re able to change its functionality.

  6. annettevee says:

    I value literacy a lot, obviously. But I find it interesting that in many ways, I end up arguing *against* valuing print literacy in this class. Sometimes I’m not sure if I’m just being devil’s advocate, or if I really *am* arguing for a deeper appreciation of the many uses (or dis-uses) of literacy.

    Reading this thread, I find myself wondering: why do you feel the need to change Trackton into a society that values print literacy like many of us do? That’s a genuine question, by the way, not an accusation. What would the children of Trackton stand to gain from that transition? And equally important, what would they stand to lose?

    I think kvb8′s comment helps us to think about what Trackton children might lose from well-meaning educators seeking to change their community’s value of literacy:

    It’s hard to make judgments about whether the citizens of Trackton are “lacking” when it comes to literacy because they just exist in a profoundly different way than mainstream Americans. Reading and communicating is a wholly social activity, and meaning is created and interpreted by the collective; the children’s reliance is on each other and their visual environment to become literate. Trackton leads a very collectivist lifestyle, and so orality and communal reading is much more crucial in maintaining their traditions than typical print or reading alone.

    This is a topic we have wrestled with since the beginning of the semester: How do we teach children what *we* value while still valuing their home cultures? Is teaching “our values” even a thing we can agree that we should do?

  7. rad75 says:

    Sometimes I feel it is hard to explain how to teach children what to value rather to just show the children how to value their culture. And yet, that can be difficult to teach a child if they are uninterested in it. I am interested to see how other people can explain how to teach this to children.