Questioning the Value of Literacy: A phenomenology of speaking and reading in children.

In K. Coats (ed.), Handbook of Children’s and Young Adult Literature. Routledge (2010)
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The intent of this chapter is to suspend the belief in the goodness of literacy -- our chirographic bias -- in order to gain a deeper understanding of how the engagement with texts structures human consciousness, and particularly the minds of children. In the following pages literacy (a term which in this chapter refers to the ability to read and produce written text) is discussed as a consciousness altering technology. A phenomenological analysis of the act of reading shows the child’s engagement with texts as a perceptual as well as a symbolic event that builds upon but also alters children’s speech acts. Speaking and reading are both forms of language use, but with different configurations of perceptual and symbolic qualities. Children’s literature uses textual technology and, intentionally or not, participates in structuring children’s pre-literate minds. Some of its forms, such as picture books and early readers, are directly intended to bridge the gap between the pre-literate listener and the literate reader and ease the transition into the literate state. It is my hope that the phenomenological analysis of the experiences of speaking and reading might help us understand more clearly how children’s literature impacts the minds of children. Such an analysis can awaken a critical awareness of the power that letters wield as they shape the reader’s psychological reality, and it can sharpen our sense of wonder about the metamorphosis of language from speaking to writing.

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Eva Maria Simms
Duquesne University


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