Literacy and Culture: Are We Rising?

The words in this blog belong to NCTE member Jeff Wilhelm. Jeff Wilhelm

I spent today in Berlin and then took the train to Magdeburg where I had a dinner meeting and where I will be working with English teachers (teaching English to German students) for the next two days.

Some observations about literacy: the Leipzig Buchmesse (book fair) is taking place and every newspaper I saw from around Germany (Berlin, Frankfurt, Munich) had a front page story about it. Then a page two story about a reading or some such related literacy event in that city.

36% of Germans say they have picked up and read more than one book of literature in the last week. Compare that to 3% of Americans. What’s up with that and what could we do about it? Is this a failure of teaching? A lack of social imagination? Our emphasis on immediate functional work?

Check out the stone tablet! Now we have the Kindle! Where to next? Wilhelm stone tablet

I went to the famous Pergamon Museum on the World Heritage Museum-insel (museum island) in Berlin and the exhibits were filled with scribe statues (a very big deal in ancient Assyria and Babylonia since scribes allowed for record keeping and trade and legal documents and many other things that promotes power and culture), stone and clay tablets, and even a “golden hat”, a rare kind of 19-year calendar that could be used to do various calculations and placeheld astronomical knowledge.

The rise of culture always parallels the rise of literacy. What does that say about us?”

Jeff Wilhelm is Distinguished Professor of Boise State University, Director of the Boise State Writing Project, and an internationally-known teacher, author, and presenter, and author and co-author of many books including “You Gotta BE the Book”: Teaching Engaged and Reflective Reading with Adolescents for which he won the NCTE Promising Research Award in 1995,  and Teaching Literacy for Love and Wisdom: Being the Book and Being the Change  Right now Jeff is teaching in Germany as a Fulbright Scholar and you can follow his experiences on Facebook.

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About Millie Davis

Millie Davis is Senior Developer for Affiliates, and Director of the Intellectual Freedom Center at the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). In addition she works on NCTE’s communications efforts, particularly on social media. Millie's passion is working with literacy teachers across the country and beyond whose passion for their students and their students' learning is their reason for going to work each day.

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