Old Literacies and the “New” Literacy Studies: Revisiting Reading and Writing
Keywords:literacy, multiliteracies, writing, ethnography
As media coverage of standardized test results shows, student reading, writing and math scores are a matter of keen national and international concern. It is therefore astonishing that dominant theories of “literacies” do not systematically differentiate between these “tested” abilities and much more vernacular forms. This paper addresses this gulf between theory and practice beginning with a brief précis of the now-dominant “new” or “multimodal” literacy studies, and of the development of these approaches from work in comparative cultural anthropology. It then highlights findings from recent archeological research that suggests quite different conclusions about the development and reproduction of sophisticated inscriptive and interpretive practices in human societies. The paper concludes by considering the broad implications of these findings, and of the concomitant normative investment of education to established textual forms and standards.
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