Acquiring Skills

      A spate of recent books struggle to update our language about language, as we are challenged by the threats and opportunities of the emerging electronic communication tools. Seymour Papert [Papert 1993] suggests that we use "letteracy" to describe what is traditionally called literacy, reserving "literacy" as a broader term to embrace both print and electronic media. Jay David Bolter [Bolter 1991] suggests "writing space" as a broader term which embraces memory as the writing space for speech, paper as the writing space for print, and the screen as the writing space for video and computer technologies. Gregory Ulmer [Ulmer 1985, Ulmer 1989] explores the application to education of "grammatology". This term was proposed by Jacques Derrida to refer to all marks with meaning to distinguish it from the limited subset of such marks called "writing". However, each of those new terms - "letteracy", "writing space", "grammatology" - are associated with the second generation of print. Creative analogies from the familiar (print technology) to the unfamiliar (electronic technology) is a good intellectual strategy. However, preservation of print-based language helps perpetuate the hegemony of print established over centuries of unchallenged dominance.

      It would be better, perhaps, to talk simply of the acquisition of communication skills as one gains competence with our various communication tools, with the tools of the second generation simply a subset within the toolkit. This would not only encourage the use of the tools of the third and fourth generations but also of the first generation. Back to the basics would really be back, not to the 3Rs, but to the real basics, the first generation of communication. Speaking and listening have been squeezed out of the curriculum by writing and reading. Listening is least-listed and most-practiced in traditional education. Thus education would be based on the acquisition of the explaining and understanding skills of all four generations of media (see Figure 4).

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