Despite our different concentrations or subject areas, we, as teachers, all teach the same basic concept. Literacy is not just words or sentences or novels. Literacy is understanding the world around us. It is learning to speak the languages that each of our perspective subjects use. I am very literate in English Composition, but when it comes to Earth Sciences, my literacy suffers. We are all teachers of language, teachers of culture and perspective. We hold the power of understanding in our hands and it is up to us how we use that power.
I never considered this idea before now. In college, there is a distinct rivalry between the science and engineering students and the liberal arts students. It is as if knowing more numbers and equations and theories makes them greater than those who have chosen words, art, music, and politics instead. I have friends who are engineering students who are fantastic people, but I spend half our conversations constantly asking them to explain what they are saying. I often tune them out. And they do the same to me. If I start going on about Oscar Wilde or T.S. Eliot, you can bet they will either ask questions until we both are lost, or they will ignore me completely.
It is not out of cruelty that this happens. It is not out of spite or hatred. It is simply because we speak different languages.
This rivalry goes all the way into our pedagogy. We may bicker, but we just teach different languages. It is not our job as educators to further this rivalry. It is our job to bridge the gap. Literacy is not just reading and writing-it is understanding something that others may not. Understanding that is the key to becoming a stronger teacher.
Students in my future English classes may not be very strong in the literature-related skills. That is perfectly fine! They are there to learn the language I know very well, but I am also there to learn from them. Literacy goes both ways in the classroom, and it is essential for a successful classroom to understand that.
Once we understand that literacy takes many forms. we can finally begin to understand our students, our teachers, and ourselves on a level that we would not have considered before then.