Literacy Myth and the History of
Sociolinguistics – Dr.Azamat Akbarov
What is expected from students in the classroom?
What do you remember your own educational experience
whether in primary, secondary, or college classrooms?
What does “education as the practice of freedom” mean
Did education help you become more self-reliant and
language makes us human and it distinguishes us from
other creatures on earth. Literate people are more
intelligent, more modern, more moral.
Countries with high literacy rates are better developed,
more modern, better behaved.
Literacy freed some of humanity from a “primitive” state.
language makes us human, literacy makes us “civilized.”
Literacy leads to
critical, and rational thinking,
a recognition of the importance of time and
complex and modern governments
(with separation of church and state),
political democracy and greater social equity,
a lower crime rate,
wealth and productivity,
political stability, urbanization.
This is quite a list.
On the other hand,
there are those who have objections to the myth of
literacy. The role of literacy is always much more
complex. This chapter questions about the literacy
myth in terms of a just, equitable, and humane world.
300 years ago Greeks
invented the basis of Western
literacy, and Plato was one of
the first great writers in
Western culture. Plato
thought writing led to the
deterioration of human
memory and a view of
knowledge that was both
facile and false. Given writing,
knowledge no longer had to
be internalized, made “part
Plato recommended play method at elementary level;
student should learn by doing. And when he/she reaches
the higher level of education, his reason would be trained in
the processes of thinking and abstracting.
He was against the use of force in education.
"Knowledge which is acquired under compulsion obtains
no hold on the mind."
"Do not then train youths by force and harshness, but
direct them to it by what amuses their minds.
In a nutshell, Plato’s polis (state) is essentially
an educational community.
It is created by education. It can survive only on condition
that all its citizens receive an education that enables them
to make rational political decisions.
Education must be compulsory for all.
Plato’s perfect state is authoritarian, hierarchical ( at
the top philosopher king like him) Ruler knows how
to rule the best regardless of the little people’s ideas
who have no actual say in government. The
philosopher-king knows their interest better than
they do. ( S. Demirel governed Turkiye for years as
elites’ puppet treating citizens as illiterate villagers)
Plato was the first to combat writing in writing
Plato argues that writing is detrimental to memory,
supports a false kind of/concept of knowledge that is
external to the self, and is mostly incapable of the
dialogic method to which he is so committed for its
pursuit of pure, beautiful knowledge
Writing was just a “reminder.” For Plato, one knew
only what one could reflectively defend in face-to-face
dialogue with someone else. The written text
tempted one to take its words as authoritative and
final, because of its illusory quality of seeming to be
explicit, clear, complete, closed, and self-sufficient.
By its very nature writing can travel in time and space
away from its “author” to be read by just anyone,
interpreted however they will, regardless of the
reader’s training, effort or ignorance (witness what
happened to Nietzsche in the hands of the Nazis; to
the Bible in the hands of those who have used it to
justify wealth, racism, imperialism, war and
exploitation, Quran in the hand of extremist killers
who misuse). The voice behind the text cannot
respond or defend itself.
In Plato we see two sides of literacy: literacy as
liberator and literacy as weapon. Plato wants to
ensure that there is always a voice behind the spoken
or written text that can dialogically respond, but
people are careless, ignorant, lazy, self-interested,
they never appreciate the value.
He talks about Sweden as symbol which achieved
near-universal literacy at the eighteenth century. It is
underlined that women had equality with men in
literacy, an equality that still does not exist in most of
the world today. By the tenets of the literacy myth,
Sweden should have been an international example
of modernization, social equality, economic
development, and cognitive growth. In fact it was no
Sweden’s remarkable achievement took place in a
land of widespread poverty, for the most part
without formal institutional schooling, and it neither
followed from nor stimulated economic
development. Sweden achieved its impressive level of
reading diffusion without writing, which did not
become a part of popular literacy until the mid-nineteenth
So how did Sweden manage the feat of universal
literacy? The Swedish literacy campaign, one of the
most successful in the Western world, was stimulated
by the Reformation and Lutheran Protestantism.
Teaching was done at home (hence the emphasis on
the literacy of women. Religious, social, and political
ideologies were transmitted to virtually everyone
through literacy learning.
What good does (could?) literacy do?
The history of literacy stressed behaviors and attitudes
appropriate to good citizenship and moral behavior,
largely as these are perceived by the elites of the
docility, (ORIGIN late 15th cent. (in the sense ‘apt or willing to
learn’): from Latin docilis, from docere ‘teach’.)
honesty, and respect for the lower
suiting them for industrial or service
verbal and analytical skills,
“critical thinking,” discursive thought
writing for the higher classes,
suiting them for management jobs.
Low-track English junior high says “ In this class, I
have learned manners.”
Our new global capitalism may well change the sorts
of skills and values the society wishes to distribute to
“lower” and “higher” “kinds” of people. They will
become more “moral” and “better citizens”
Up to this point, the chapter concentrated on the
authoritarian side of Plato’s dilemma.
But there is another side, the liberating side of the
dilemma, that is, the use of an emancipatory literacy
for religious, political, and cultural resistance to
domination. Like Plato, Freire believes that literacy
empowers people only when it renders them active
questioners of the social reality around them.
Freire (1921-1997) lived in Brazil and worked in adult
literacy in rural areas. In 1946, he began working with
a social service agency responsible for educational
programs for rural poor and industrial workers. His
personal story may give you a grounding for how he
became very critical and radical about his thoughts.
“To study is not easy, because to study is to create
and re-create and not to repeat what others say”
“When we learn to read and write, it is also important
to learn to think correctly. To think correctly we
should think about our practice in work. We should
think about our daily lives.”
“Our principal objective in writing the texts of this
Notebook is to challenge you, comrades, to think
Freire’s dissatisfaction with traditional pedagogy
1. “banking model” of learning does not “work.”
Freire thinks that the predominant model of teaching
should not be like the teacher is the “subject” and the
students are the “listening objects.” The teacher,
who use traditional pedagogy, just fill students with
content, but content that is “detached from reality”.
It is that filling image that leads Freire to refer to this
kind of teaching as similar to banking transactions.
“Education thus becomes an act of depositing, in
which the students are the depositories and the
teacher is the depositor. This is the ‘banking’ concept
of education, in which the scope of action allowed to
the students extends only as far as receiving, filing
and storing the deposits”
2. “Reading word is reading the world. This dynamic
movement is at the core of Freire’s understanding of
how literacy process should be.
3. Dialogue. Freire recognizes that such a change in
teaching methods requires a radical redefinition of the
relationship between the teacher and the student.
According to traditional education, teacher “knows
everything” and the students “know nothing,” Freire
claims this is “teacher-student contradiction”. Students
and teachers are not partners but they have hierarchical
relationships. Freire insists on a new kind of pedagogy —
dialogical teaching — Teachers are revolutionary figures to
lead students to transform the society against capitalistic
The teaching method :
Freire says both students and teachers
should be subjects who can
communicate in dialogue and the
dialogue should stimulate creativity and
requires critical thinking.
4. Politics. Plato, Sweden, Freire all have a perspective,
and a strong one. They all highlight the fact that politics
can be separated from literacy.
All in all we can say that literacy has direct relationship with
religious ideas, institutions, decision-makers, attitudes,
social values, norms, policy-makers. According to Freire,
one should oppose colonial powers in order to keep their
integrity and identity. Education is like a weapon. The one
who has the bullets (decision-making, policy-making) can
shape the consequences. Literacy education requires
The writer, in that chapter, points out that our
cultural models determine what and how words will
mean and in ways that are consequential for us and
the others in the world.