Friday, January 7, 2011


Part 2 of what appears to be a three-part series.

READING IS THE FOUNDATION of literacy, along with comprehension. Reading and reading comprehension are, in a sense, tangible. A yes-no answer indicates whether the passage was read. However, when we read simply to find out how to answer a question, the act of reading becomes a mere utility, much like plugging in the iron prior to pressing some shirts.

However, a pressed shirt does not a gentleman make. Literacy is not quite so tangible. Literacy involves many more facets than supplying the correct response to a two-dimensional comprehension question on a fill-in-the-bubble test. Literacy requires what Benjamin Bloom would identify as “Higher Level Thinking” skills. Revised by Anderson and Krathwohl (2001), the hierarchy includes:
  • Remembering - Recognizing, listing, describing, identifying, retrieving, naming, locating, finding
  • Understanding - Interpreting, summarizing, inferring, paraphrasing, classifying, comparing, explaining, exemplifying
  • Applying - Implementing, carrying out, using, executing
  • Analyzing - Comparing, organizing, deconstructing, attributing, outlining, finding, structuring, integrating
  • Evaluating - Checking, hypothesizing, critiquing, experimenting, judging, testing, detecting, monitoring
  • Creating - designing, constructing, planning, producing, inventing, devising, making

IN OUR DAILY LIVES, we are constantly asked to make decisions based upon that which we can remember and move up and down through the taxonomy as required by circumstance: How to get to the store, what to buy once we get there, how to choose from the wide variety of products available, why a product might be more beneficial (either in terms of cost or nutritive quality) than a rival, and what to do with the product or how to prepare the product once we arrive home. In real-world experiences, we climb through Bloom’s hierarchy on a regular basis.

In our academic or work lives, we are not as readily challenged to think or act beyond the “remembering” or “understanding” levels. We remember how to brew coffee and do so. We may read the morning paper but rarely will converse with it. (Truth be told, my wife would prefer it if I “conversed” with the paper just a little bit less each morning.) We follow the same route to work each day. We arrive at our jobs and function within the defined parameters afforded to us. We may plan a long weekend or a vacation now and then. We may or may not write a will or a living trust depending on how ready we are to examine some hard truths attached thereto.

Those who choose to spend at least a little of their time in the realm of literature may find themselves:
  • Understanding the text through conversation with the author, another reader or through introspection;
  • Applying what is revealed to their daily lives and thought, or simply further the arc of the story;
  • Analyzing what has been revealed through the lens of other written works or their own experiences;
  • Evaluating the match between the author’s tenets and the reader’s perception of the truth; and
  • Creating something or acting in a particular manner based upon a new universe of reason or possibility.

All of which may seem like glorified academia until life presents a circumstance that is new, unexpected, particularly joyous or particularly tragic. Take this sad national example:

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After years of relatively stable domestic circumstance, in 1995, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated. This unthinkable event plunged the 46-year-old democracy into a crisis unlike any it had ever faced. While the average citizen may have wondered, “What’s next?” the government was catapulted onto Bloom’s highest rung. It had to do more than simply follow the succession process outlined in their constitution; it had to create stability in the minds of the citizenry where stability had crumbled.

SO WHAT? As citizens – in roles that transcend our academic or vocational lives – we are frequently presented with questions that require higher levels of thinking than how to brew that coffee or what to prepare for dinner. While thankfully not as cataclysmic as the loss of a popularly elected leader, they include:
  • Who shall represent me? How are the candidate’s values and ethics similar or different from my own?
  • What government services are essential to me? What services are essential to others?
  • Is the initiative upon which I am to decide a good thing or a bad thing?
  • And what about taxes? How much is too much and what am I willing to give up in order to pay less?

When these questions arise, our responses can come from sound bites and 30-second impressions and the last thing someone said to us on the topic. Or those bits of information and opinion can be sieved through questions of our own, discussions with others and reason requiring application of the higher-level cognitive skills that the true answers demand.

Literate folks do the latter.  Our country deserves nothing less from its citizenry.

© 2011
Church of the Open Road Press

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