Literacy LO30190

From: AM de Lange (
Date: 05/20/03

Replying to LO30177 --

Dear Organlearners,

Vana Prewitt <> writes:

>Dear At:
>Thank you for the note. It made me smile. The educators I
>know do not have a problem embracing my vision of education
>and would gladly blaze that trail.

Greetings dear Vana,

Then you are very fortunate or else here in South Africa we are so
unfortunate since education has become such a terrible cloning business.
Anyway, it has been a pleasure to let you smile ;-)

>There is much to be had in influencing the mental models of
>those who will shape the future and those who have power
>want to assure that they never lose it. The surest way to do
>so is to control the curriculum, including what is taught and
>how it is taught.
>My 2 cynical cents.

You might be cynical, but what you wrote above, although short, is an
accurate description of education in many countries of the world.

It does not only happen in soft subjects like language, sociology and
history, but also in the hard subjects like mathematics, science and
biology. Here in South Africa the national science curriculum for
secondary schools was pirated during the sixties by some university
professors. They wanted first year students who would fit closer in with
their own theoretical outlook on chemistry, driven by the
publish-or-perish race. So, although the school leavers knew much more
about the professors' topics, their chemical literacy dropped sharply.

What would chemical literacy involve? Definitely not the chemistry which
students will have to pursue at university to become cutting-edge
researchers in chemistry. Those students make up less than one percent of
pupils who study chemistry at school. However, there is much chemistry in
the garden, the pet corner, the workshed, the kitchen, the bathroom and
the bedroom. It is this chemistry which has to be explored at school.

Every day hundreds of students walk past my office. I will dare to say
that should i question any hundred of them, asking what are the three main
elements in a soil acting as nutrients for plant growth, perhaps at most
one of them would give the correct answer. Or should i show them a can of
dog food, asking them how much cereal/carbohydrates it contains, based on
the contents supplied on the wrapping of the can? Poor dogs, suffering
through the illiteracy of their owners.

And what about soap? It has become an almost unobtainable commodity in the
countries north of our border. The traditional art of soap making has died
out and nobody knows any more how to make it from raw materials (ash and
fat) readily available. If such stuff is not available, there are always
species of plants of which the leaves or tubers produce a rich lather when
rubbed or crushed in water. I have surprised many a rural village by
showing them these plants.

I think we have to contemplate literacy holistically. Chemical literacy is
but one of dozens of other kinds of literacies. Just as chemical literacy
has hit the dust, health literacy, for example, has also hit the dust. Its
consequences in Southern Africa has reached disastrous proportions. Even
South Africa itself has now grave health problems to solve.

Our shools will have to guide our pupils in becoming literate for life in
general and not for some or other professional career. Sadly, the motive
in education has become:
   train yourself for a profitable career so that
   upon completion you can buy a better life
in stead of
   learn how to create constructively so that
   you can improve the lives of all around you.

I have a hunch that the lack of LOs (Learning Organisations) in our
education systems is a major reason why more people is becoming illiterate
in a consumer driven market. This market needs to a large extend suckers
as buyers. However, once these illiterate people cannot sustain any more
their participation in the consumer market, their illiteracy becomes their
very downfall.

There is a question which i want to lay in the midst of you fellow
   Can a consumer driven market coexist with
   people holistically literate for life?
I must warn that i have found it a complex question to answer because
it involves so many vicious circles overlapping each other. But it is a
question which we will have to answer because once die-off (because
of the increasing mismatch between supply and demand of fossil fuel)
has set in, i believe that consumerism will die-off too. (I have written
in the past on die-off as well as consumerism driven by the consumption
of fossil fuel.) All people illiterate in a holistic sense, whether they have
had a profitable carreer before die-off or not, will suffer horribly.

Vana, it may seem that i have a bleak outlook on the future. However, the
outlook is only bleak when we wish to continue living as in the 20th
century. Life of the 20th century is like a sunami (one single wave crest)
which is hitting humankind. Once it has passed over, we will have to
collect the pieces and put them together again as one whole or else our
suffering will become horrible. Holistic literacy will become a key
feature in this healing. Another key feature is reflected in your email
address "PraxisLearning", i.e. learning from practice and the experience
it affords.

With care and best wishes


At de Lange <> Snailmail: A M de Lange Gold Fields Computer Centre Faculty of Science - University of Pretoria Pretoria 0001 - Rep of South Africa

Learning-org -- Hosted by Rick Karash <> Public Dialog on Learning Organizations -- <>

"Learning-org" and the format of our message identifiers (LO1234, etc.) are trademarks of Richard Karash.