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The Power of Story
pp. 30-32
by Joan Wink
Published by Libraries Unlimited/ABCLIO
Copyright © 2018 by Joan Wink
Chapter 1 – Loving That Literacy

Junk Literacy

Junk literacy: OK, I just made up that term, but hear me out on this one. Krashen & Ujiie (2005) encourage us to rethink any old ideas we might have about light reading, which they refer to as junk reading—with tongue firmly placed in the cheek. However, light reading has value: You love it sometimes, and so do I. In addition, light reading often is a gateway to more serious reading—even the hallowed classical reading. Perhaps, if we use only classical and quality literature in reading instruction, we might want to consider that light reading does provide background knowledge, linguistic competence, and even the motivation of read more serious literature. When I think of junk reading, I am always reminded of José,a former junior high school student.

When I told him and his class that they could read anything they wanted, as long as I was not uncomfortable, he immediately challenged me, “Even the Tucson phone book?” he asked me in front of the other very interested teenagers.

“Yes,” I replied, “even the Tucson phone book.”

He immediately went to the back of the classroom to grab the huge tome, and he began reading on the first page. I ignored him, and soon the class lost interest. Within a day, he lost interest in the list of names and numbers and immediately moved on to a basal reading book, which had been sitting on a bookshelf in the classroom. I had never been able to get him to read the required stories in this text. However, this time, he had choice,and he flew through the stories, and moved on to other stories in other countries. After high school, he joined the military and went on to visit and live in many of those other countries. It would not surprise me in the least to learn that he is even now reading much more serious literature.

All of these literate processes have one common characteristic: They are derived from social practices. Literacies are socially constructed, often with our friends, in specific contexts, for specific purposes. Literacies do not develop in isolation; rather, literate processes grow from families, from schools, from work, from cultures, from knowledges, from technologies, and so on.

Aliteracy is also an emerging and disturbing new concept, which is used to describe kids, who can read, but who choose not to read in a deep and thoughtful manner; rather, they read in nanoseconds on their devices almost exclusively. Aliteracy is a relatively new phenomenon of the 21st century, but it is one, which can have negative effects. Brody (2015, July 6) warns of the addictive nature of too much “device time” for children.

I should have known that literacy would be more complex than my traditional assumptions. I have watched many students develop (and not develop) their literacies in multiple ways. These kids have forced me to expand my understandings of literacy to be far more inclusive of all types of literacies.

The notion of literacies fascinates me: Oh, the happy memories of my reading and learning during my road warrior literacy development, and oh, what I have learned frolicking in junk literacy (and, it is true that, just like José, I do tire of light reading). However, the notion of critical literacy, and now, equity literacy, offers the most hope for us to maintain a robust democracy with kids and adults to read and who think. Laudacina and Elia (June 2016) offer the idea of libraries as a third or additional language, in that students, who speak multiple languages, often need extra guidance in navigating the library. This makes me wonder if this is a type of library literacy, or at least a special component within information literacy, or perhaps my road warrior literacy is also library literacy and/or information literacy.For sure by the time that this book is actually in the hands of readers, new and exciting dimensions of literacy will be articulated and speculated upon by some group, somewhere.

I marvel that Moffett, even in 1985, understood the power of literacy. Before you read this next quote, please reflect a bit on your own understandings of literacy in 1985.

Literacy is dangerous and has always been so regarded. It naturally breaks down barriers of time, space, and culture. It threatens one’s original identity by broadening it through vicarious experiencing and the incorporation of somebody else’s hearth and ethos, so we feel profoundly ambiguous about literacy. Looking at it as a means of transmitting our culture to our children, we give it priority in education, but recognizing the threat of its backfiring, we make it so tiresome and personally unrewarding that youngsters won’t want to do it on their own, which is, of course, when it becomes dangerous.… The net effect of this ambivalence is to give literacy with one hand and take it back with the other, in keeping with our contradictory wish for youngsters to learn to think but only about what we already have in mind for them (James Moffett, 1989, p. 85).

As this is a book about developing literacy through storytelling in classrooms and libraries, I am not going to fall on my sword on the distinctions between literacy and literacies and different types of literacies. Therefore, in this book, literacy and literacies will be used interchangeably, as I prefer to focus on the multiple paths to literacy; I am confident that readers will understand that the notion of literacy today is deeper and wider, than we ever imagined a generation or two ago.