On literacy

Tilly The Laughing Housewife made me laugh yesterday. She wrote, “Do you ever read fiction?” The answer is Yes and No.  No, I don’t buy books categorized as fiction by the book sellers and libraries. Yes, I read books labled as non-fiction. But what is fiction?  This is a weighty philosophical issue.

As an older student, I came through the universities after the student uprisings of the 1960s. In the 1970s many of the badly shaken universities taught that everything was relative. By the 1980s, leftist theory dominated thinking.  The public university sociology department where I was schooled in the 1980s sold tee shirts that read, “Sociologists get good Marx.” 

So, Marx replaced postmodernism, which replaced the “traditional” views that put women and some race groups in “minor” categories. Minor as in “like children.” 

In the 1990s things changed a bit, and conservatism began to slowly creep back into the mix, but many of the professors I studied with while working on my history MA at another public university were decidedly leftist baby-boomers, many having either trained at Berkeley or in Europe.  However, a very few of them were beginning to break out of the leftist thinking of their youth and see that the world was much more complicated than they thought.  Generally, these were the professors who had experience outside academe. As a group, however, I would say all my professors ranged from the center leftwards.

Most of my classes included a good array of text books that reflected the work of historians with different points of view.  My favorite books and professors where the ones that actually understood economics and business history which pseudo-Marxists never do. Real Marxists appreciate Capitalism. One of the best professors I had was a fellow who had lived and studied in Moscow.  He knew where all the warts were located in leftist or socialist thinking.

I enjoyed reading most of the assigned text books and liked most of my professors.  However, not all.  One woman named Claire,  a visiting scholar recently arrived from somewhere in Europe (she never revealed where), taught a summer class I took on European history from 1800 forward. We had a conflict. I don’t like propaganda in the classroom, and she had nothing good to say about the English or Americans.  I got a B in her class..a crap grade in graduate school and the only B I had received in my last 30 years of doing graduate work (1982-2012). (I had a few Bs before that.)   

Claire thought The Economist, an English publication, and the most bland business journal you can read, was a right-wing bit of propaganda. She told us her room-mate read the magazine and one day she peeked inside one issue. Wow, that told me something about her narrow outlook on life. 

Of course, these days, many people don’t read at all.  Our literacy rates are appalling. 

But what if people read?  Are they any more enlightened?  Yesterday, one of the newspapers David and I read (The Washington Times) published a list of what people are reading in the Blue states and the Red states.  The top five books were completely different in the two sets of states.  Now, I’m not going to list the books here, but will say that I have read none of the books on either list.  I must be really dumb or really clever?  None of the books were what you might call fiction, unless you disagree with them.  A number of the books from both lists are NYTimes best sellers.

This post is long enough, but I will add this.  I am reading Chapter 7 of the new Bob Woodward book, The Price of Politics, and so far, I do not have the same impression of the book I have heard offered by correspondents of various media networks.

Call it selective reading, but I think these reporters have not read the book which is nothing more than good old factual reporting.  At least that is my impression, and as I said, I am on Chapter 7.  Solid book reviews are yet to be published.  Perhaps, this week’s Economist magazine will have one.

One problem we have today….even many so-called literate people don’t really read.  So, what does it matter if it is fiction or not?  


Update – check out this link: http://www.amazon.com/gp/election-heatmap        

13 thoughts on “On literacy

  1. I always have difficulty with the labeling terms i.e. liberal, conservative and so many more, because people define them differently. Also, there’s a tendency to want to dump people into one group or another and I resent that for myself. The view I hold may defy such categorization and often does not have any bearing on a position I may take on another unrelated issue.

    So many academics I discovered argue from extremely opposite positions completely disregarding all the “in betweens” and known positive facts about their extreme opposites. For example, I saw that in the study of how to teach reading. It was so ridiculous, I couldn’t believe educated adults could be so obtuse.

    As for the significance of “red” “blue” designations — is there anything left that hasn’t been grouped in those categories this political year that some desperate writer/graphic artist hasn’t devised while trying to come up with a different idea that hasn’t yet been analyzed to death, so he/she can be published or make a buck? Maybe it means something. Maybe it doesn’t.


  2. Your post reminded me of a pet peeve. I have for years now often been dismayed by the so-called writing of some supposedly literate people who cannot seem to choose the correct homophones. I know this irritation is minor compared to the level of literacy you were discussing, but come on, shouldn’t a newspaper columnist know , for example, that a “steward” of resources is not a “stewart” and that the cliche is to “pique” someone’s interest, not “peek” or “peak” it? I am picky and grumpy.


  3. Could you give us a list of those books? Fascinating stuff. You say you are looking forward to conversation? LOL I can talk color? Did I say that. Oh, I am looking forward to seeing you.


  4. Well, last weekend I read the No. 1 bestseller, “Fifty Shades of Grey,” which was loaned to me by a friend. Got nothing to say about it, except it is definitely fiction.

    But in matters political, I couldn’t disagree with gigihawaii more. Well, actually, I do agree most political discourse is wordy, verbose and tedious. And I agree it’s difficult to straddle the fence — but that’s because most people want you to “take sides.” Are you on my team, or theirs? For us, or against us? But I don’t see much that’s black and white in this world. Almost everything involves trade-offs, where some people benefit at other’s expense. So I agree with the Republicans about 20% of the time; the Dems. about 30% of the time. And I disagree with both of them about half the time. Because I can’t help but see all those shades of gray.


    • It drives me crazy sometimes, but I can see many shades of grey. That’s the direct effect of a postmodern education I suppose. I don’t agree with anyone all the time. But I do agree with you much of the time of course.


  5. Do you read word by word, or do you skim through a book? Lately, I have been skimming, because so much of it is wordy, verbose and tedious. As for political leanings, I tend to lean toward the left, because it’s difficult to straddle the fence as a moderate. You are either for something or against it. How can one be both? Sorry, I am a liberal, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be friends…


    • From where I sit its difficult to straddle the fence as you say, but that’s what I do to the consternation of some. I don’t think there is one Liberal or one Conservative voice. Thus I am never in total agreement with anyone.


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