This piece really hit home for me on several levels. Williams begins by defining the “literacy crisis” that is present in every generation, though its focus is always a little different. One thing that’s argued to be a problem is instructors, but the actual cause varies from generation to generation, starting with “sensationalist newspapers” all the way to texting and video games: “Others may point to standardized test scores as evidence of decline while ignoring the fact that the tests are poorly constructed instruments for literacy assessment and that they only assess a limited range of reading and writing activities.” This quote really hit home for me. I remember when I was a kid that instructors were constantly trying to drill information into our heads for standardized testing and the instructors acted as if it would poorly reflect on them if the children did poorly. They didn’t seem to realize that they were giving tests to five year olds, who had difficulty sitting down for longer than three minutes, or to high school students, who were so exhausted from being unable to get a good night’s sleep that they could hardly keep their eyes open. Furthermore, the questions they asked were always attempting to trick us, so we’d doubt our answer even if we were sure that they were correct.
Also, since they only test within a limited range, the education system is setting these children up for failure. Students who don’t read in a very specific way are doomed to fail, where the students who approach the reading in a very cookie-cutter manner get high scores. I, personally, think that this can be extremely psychologically damaging to both the student and the instructors, and should be approached in a much different manner. For example, one can assess students in sample writing of their choice. A student who has a choice will be more likely to produce something that actually shows their writing level.
One of the main ideas in Williams’ work is the idea of literacy as cultural capital. This idea was a bit hard for me to wrap my head around at first, but the more I worked with the idea, the more it made sense. The idea is that the “literacy crisis” is actually an anxiety the middle class faces in regards to professional literacy. It’s a fear that each generation, students get farther for being able to participate in the professional discourse that is indicative of the middle class. As Williams argues, “While the affluent worry little about losing their class standing because they have abundant economic capital, the middle class understands that the key to a professional or white-collar job and the attendant economic security it entails rests largely on how one displays cultural capital.” This is where it started making sense to me. I feel this fear as a lower class citizen, as I have always felt that without going to school to become proficient in this form of literacy, I would be stuck being just as poor as I am now. It’s strange how our society puts so much into a generalized idea of literacy, when there are so many different forms of literacy. A doctor, for instance, would be upper-middle class, and would have a completely different kind of literacy than the mechanical engineer who’s in the same social class. Also, though these professionals are highly literate in their fields, that doesn’t mean that they’re proficient in grammar or punctuation, or have read an extensive list of classics. At some point, does the actual literacy start becoming less important, or is it that we value their places in society enough to overlook their lack of literary literacy?
Author Bio: Lydia Breitenfeldt is a new member of the Chico State community. She has a beautiful daughter, who gives her the strength to pursue her degree. She is in her junior year and plans to graduate with a degree in English Education in the Spring of 2019. She enjoys reading, video games, and doing homework, and will always jump at the opportunity to try something new. The picture above is of her daughter and her best friend, Echo.