Running with the Literacy Stampede

Today I will be writing about Kelly Gallagher’s “Running with the Literacy Stampede” and comparing it to Upworthy’s “5 Myths about Our Schools That Fall Apart When You Look Closer.” Gallagher talks about the literacy stampede that is approaching. Furthermore, the stampede of knowledge is also a key theme in the chapter. Gallagher notes that “more information was produced in the last thirty years than in the previous 5,000 years combined” (2006, p. 2). Furthermore, “the blogsphere is now doubling in size every six months” and “a weekday edition of The New York Times contains more information that the average person was likely to come across in a lifetime in seventeenth-century England” (Gallagher, 2006, p. 2). These stats are overwhelming, much like the stampede of knowledge we encounter every day. In a society where information is at the tip of our fingers, how do we teach our students to decipher the credible material from the invalid? How do we get students to think critically about what they are hearing and reading?

As these thoughts were going through my mind I found myself scrolling through my newsfeed on Facebook instead of completing my reading. However, this time my procrastination was beneficial; I found myself engaging with Upworthy’s video, which challenged everything I just read in the chapter about the NAEP study rates on student’s writing skills. The NAEP results in 2002 were that “two-thirds of middle school students and more than three-fourths of high school students [lacked] proficient writing skills” (Gallagher, 2006, p. 6). Upworthy’s video discussed the OECD’s ranking of countries. This study occurs every three years by assessing fifteen year old students. Usually, the States is not ranked as highly and politicians use these results to justify privatization, standardized testing, incentivizing, union busts, closing schools and firing teachers. What this video highlights is that when you just consider a ranking, you do not learn what other countries are doing right or really get to the bottom of the problem. I compare this to evaluative feedback (number at bottom of the page) rather than descriptive feedback (verbal or oral instructions about what is going well and what is not). Upworthy notes that “one myth that [these rankings] perpetuate is that student performance in the US is dropping like a rock… the United States performance has been relatively consistent” with average scores of 500 in reading (which is an above average rate). “US schools with less than 10% poverty rate lead most top performing countries” making me believe that the problem has deeper roots than students just not writing enough. The video notes that US materials/money and student-teacher ratio actually gets worse for lower achieving or disadvantaged students. This is similar to what Gallagher suggested about below-grade-level writers being asked to write less, rather than more. Although I thoroughly agree with Gallagher’s 10 suggestions, juxtaposing these two pieces of information together complicated things. There is more to the story than presented in both of these pieces.

In the end, what source do you choose to believe? Or, do you take pieces from each and construct your own idea? With an endless supply of information and opinions, do we just end up hearing what we want to hear? I think critical thinking and categorizing information is a relevant 21st century skill that we need to explicitly teach to our students. If I read one story with my students, finding a contrasting piece or a piece that complicates some of what we just read is important. If we do not help our students think critically or sift through the information, I believe we are sending ‘robots’ into society who will take everything they hear at face value. The information stampede is definitely one of the challenges of the 21st century!

Link to video: