Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Reading, Writing, and Communicating

I learned to read at a very young age. I barely remember looking at the newspaper at the kitchen table, puzzling out words. I have a strong memory of being in First Grade, and the class taking turns reading sentences out loud from a book, and being SO incredibly bored that I would read ahead, and then get in trouble when I didn't know what I was supposed to read when it was my turn.

When I was 7 or 8, my mother got me a book intended to increase reading speed and comprehension. I don't remember much about it except it had stories with word counts at the end of each sentence, and you were supposed to time how long you read, then take a short quiz to see what you remembered. I loved it.

I loved everything about words, really. Word search puzzles. MadLibs. Crosswords. Reading. Writing stories with a friend by alternating lines, or paragraphs, or pages. Telling stories. Writing plays. Poems. Puns. Especially puns.

At a young age, I (and my younger sister) had a vocabulary that was far larger and more rich than average.

This was not a universal advantage.

From very young ages, we ran into situations where people with less interest in language, in words, in discussion, simply did not understand what we were saying. It did not sit well, especially with people much older than we were. I lost count of the number of times I was accused of being a "smartypants" or of trying to prove I thought I was "better" than someone with all those big, fancy words. My sister had this experience even more often, and, being seven years younger than I was, found it even more difficult.

What has happened to the world, to the culture, that made it so that knowing MORE, is somehow wrong, or rude, or inappropriate, and especially so for children? How did we end up with a culture where people are proud of not knowing how to spell, or not being able to read well, where ignorance is somehow more "honest," and where anyone who cares about being precise with language is accused of looking down on others, and of trying to confuse people?

Nowhere is this more evident than on the internet.

I admit, I am biased.
I strongly prefer communicating with people who are ABLE to communicate verbally, whether it's orally or in writing.

I don't have a problem with people who, by circumstance or opportunity, have not had the advantage of growing up in a very literacy-positive environment, and who are aware of their difficulties with language and make an ongoing effort to learn and to improve.

My problem is with people who simply don't care, don't make an effort, and who then are somehow "offended" if people have trouble understanding their writing.  

In these days of spellcheck and even the ability to have the computer check your writing for grammatical or punctuation errors, with easy access to online dictionaries, what is someone's excuse for continuing to misspell, use words incorrectly, inappropriately capitalize (always, or never!), write long run-on masses of words with incorrect or no punctuation, and otherwise massacre the language? Then, when what they write is both long and unreadable, get offended if someone suggests they proofread?
It suggests to me that many of these people are not, really, attempting to communicate. They want to hold center stage, but have little of value to offer.

They may argue (or simply insist, lacking the skill to present and defend a position) that their thoughts and opinions have as much value as anyone else's, and they very well might. The problem is that no one knows for sure, since those thoughts and opinions are not communicated in any sort of coherent or understandable way.

What does all this have to do with unschooling?

I find it totally fascinating.

How is it, when people learn what they need to know, when they have a need for it, that we have SO MANY adults who have not learned, and WILL NOT learn, how to communicate effectively in writing, who then spend a lot of time in a primarily written environment such as the internet? Why aren't they improving their reading and writing skills? What is going on there?

It isn't that they are unaware of making errors.
Do they not care?
Do they think their way of writing is "just as good" as anyone else's, even when it isn't readable?
Are they so damaged by earlier experiences of being shamed, that they can't move past them?

At the same time, some of these people make me wonder why they are even interested in unschooling.
It begs the question of whether or not it is possible for anyone, or everyone, to unschool.

There is no set education level, or body of knowledge, that someone needs in order to unschool.
It seems obvious to me, though, that it isn't going to work very well in a family where the adults are not active learners, where they are not striving for better communication, better understanding. If the parent(s) can't communicate effectively, things are going to be very difficult. SO much of unschooling is about communication. Anyone who is set in their ways, who refuses to make multiple attempts to be understood, and who is offended by someone's inability to understand them when they make NO effort, is going to find unschooling uncomfortable, at the least, and perhaps impossible.

It also makes unschooling, as a whole, look like it is not an effective way to learn, when adults who have no ability to communicate effectively are the ones cluttering up online forums with poorly written, poorly argued, rants and attacks on other people. Any new unschooler, or interested person, whose first experience, the first unschooling information they see, looks like an English teacher's nightmare, is not going to be impressed, and may well find it difficult to even consider looking further.

It's not that I think everyone who writes anything about unschooling has any sort of responsibility to unschooling itself, to present it clearly, objectively, and most of all, intelligibly- but I would think they'd have that responsibility to THEMSELVES, not to come across as ill-informed, or, at times, just plain unintelligent. I would think they would be highly driven to learn, to improve, so they could be UNDERSTOOD.

I am quite puzzled that this is often not the case.

People so often point fingers at math, as the thing that "no one would ever want to learn," but in practice, it seems strange that the focus is all anti-math, when so many people are functionally illiterate- but that is ignored, and, in some cases, flaunted.

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