Illiteracy is a state of mind whereby the afflicted cannot interface with their immediate and extended environment in a meaningful way. It is definitely not just lacking in the ability to read, write and comprehend. It also means not being able to interpret ideas, thus hindering the ability to act on them.
Our society is not perfect, so it is not possible for everyone to be one hundred percent literate. There are therefore levels of literacy ranging from the unintelligent to the erudite.
Our planet is home to hundreds of languages and thousands of variations of dialects of the main languages. No one single person can claim to be able to read, write and comprehend all these languages. Because most of the people who speak the more exotic and obscure languages cannot read or write them does not necessarily mean that those people are not literate either.
To be illiterate means not being able to:
Follow developments in a variety of activities as they occur.
Participate actively in events both local, national or international.
Behave appropriately in a group according to their norms.
Read and understand all kinds of publications.
Communicate effectively with others.
Recognize and apply native intelligence when occasion demands.
In order to be able to follow developments in a variety of activities, one needs to be able to understand the language of such an activity. Baseball, for example, is a variation of cricket. Yet baseball has its own rules and regulations that makes it distinct from cricket. In order to play or watch and enjoy either game, both active and passive participants need to be well versed in the rules of the game. As closely knit as these two games are however, an American baseball addict may for all intents and purposes be a functional illiterate when it comes to cricket.
To participate actively in any kind of event at local, national or international levels, one should be constantly able to interact with the medium of exchange to get updates on a regular basis. To properly interact requires a certain level of literacy in the usage of a variety of media. The inability to interact with media such as radio, television, computers and newspapers can have very deleterious effects especially when important news like the spread of the swine flu virus was recently upgraded to a world pandemic level by the WHO. There are millions out there who are unaware of this tidbit of information and are therefore not prepared for any eventuality should the virus evolve and become much more destructive.
We as human beings are by nature group oriented. We live on the same planet yet have so many boundaries that separate nations. Within those nations are several subdivisions based on languages and culture. The norms and behaviours vary and are more numerous than the number of signals on the electromagnetic spectrum. A general saying tells us to act like Romans when in Rome. What this means is that a new visitor to Rome is a cultural and probably language illiterate until she learns to act like a Roman. On a basic level, becoming a member of a new group has its ramifications, and fitting in requires a period of education to make one literate in the activities of the group.
The basic idea behind being literate is that one should be able to read and write. The question is what does one need to learn to read and write and in what language. The English Language seems to have evolved over time and has gradually wound its way into the domain of many nationalities. The ability to read, write and comprehend English Language does not necessarily make one the perfect literate, but it gives one access to several publications that are originally written in English and so many others that have been translated from their original languages. There are a variety of other publications like music notes, Pitman’s shorthand and other exotic writing that may stump many of us even though they are just another version of English Language.
Understanding many languages and being able to converse in them sure puts some people on the high literacy scale. What may constitute a stumbling block to becoming absolutely literate is the ability to effectively convey an idea to others in any of these languages. Lots of people can speak, read, write a language, but when it becomes necessary to convey specifics, that is when they realize that they are lacking. Most Hollywood movies and cartoon characters like the Simpsons highlight this idea by trying to show how most of us act under a variety of situations. A lot of people just wing it and assume that others know what they are trying to say. To communicate effectively requires an absolute grasp of the grammar and structure of the languages plus an absolute grasp of the idea to be communicated. It is very rare to find anyone that fits these criteria anywhere. One of the problems that keeps the space shuttle grounded for days after scheduled flights may be that of miscommunication rather than the story of leaking hydrogen that is consistently fed to the public.
Reading and writing may be the mainstay of literacy, but not being able to read and write does not necessarily make some people illiterates. People who live off the land have often saved the lives of city dwellers from such things as snake bites, minor cuts and bruises that could have become serious and even diseases that appear serious in nature. Most farmers do not care about reading, writing and arithmetic, but they run their farms with modern equipment and produce a lot of good food for many. The native intelligence these variety of people have cultivated over time is passed on from one generation to the other without formal schooling and it serves their purposes.
Literacy is a way of life. It is good to be able to appreciate art, read music, play sports, learn many foreign languages, read and enjoy a classic and properly manage one’s life. Being literate however is not limited to reading and writing only. It also includes being able to act appropriately when occasion demands under several circumstances.