Parallels of Digital Literacy and Illiteracy

My grandpa Daddy Frank with me 1977

My grandpa Daddy Frank with me 1977

Ever wonder where Rafranz comes from? Meet my grandfather, Frank Coleman. This picture is the only one that exist with our grandfather and any of us. I’m selfishly fortunate that the picture is with me.

My grandfather, like many back then, was illiterate. He could not read nor write. He could not even recognize his own name. He lived in a world where written communication was foreign. Without my mother by his side, he was virtually non-communicative in public forums where the written word was required.

Today, I saw a posting asking for input for Alec Couros’ (@courosa) upcoming keynote regarding digital literacy.  What Mr. Couros is requesting, in a brilliant move, is contributions to the question…

“What does it mean to be literate today?”

You can provide feedback here. I cannot fathom this question without comparing it to the world that my grandfather lived in. By all accounts, he was illiterate. The communication skills that he needed to thrive in the world were his greatest weakness. Today, the idea of being illiterate may be different yet still has so many parallels. Ironically, I feel that my parents are digitally illiterate in a strangely direct comparison to my grandpa.

My mother uses a computer and believes 100% that anything on google is for the taking. They do not own smart phones, so as we all have instant access to basic information, they do not. My father does not know how to send an email. As a matter of fact, he just left the room asking me to email a family member from MY account and “act like it came from him”.

I’m writing a blog now that neither of them will ever read because in all honesty, they have no idea how to get here. Like my grandfather, who in 1977 could not read or write, was definitely illiterate…today, so are my parents. The best way that I can provide an answer to what digital literacy means today is to define what digital literacy is not.

Digitally Illiterate – Unable to read, write or communicate via current digital mediums.



Comments 10

  1. Pingback: How to Be Awesome like Beyonce | RnDesigns

  2. A funny thing happened on the way to your post on Being Awesome. I saw the picture of your grandfather and was instantly taken back to Alexandria, LA where I spent many summers with my grandmother on an identical porch. My grandfather’s story was similar and as a child my grandparents would make a public display of me being able to read the newspaper. It wasn’t until much later in life that I realized that my generation was the first to attend integrated schools. I also realized why my mother put my sisters and me in a private school as she watched black children struggle to learn and drop out of school whereas the generation before everyone graduated High School and then went to college or technical training schools. Something had gone terribly wrong in a system supposedly changed to offer equality through education. Looking at the odds all around me, it appears that I was very fortunate and went on to receive my Masters Diploma in Education. On my first day as principal, with my staff, I wore a slim brown and grey tie with a monogrammed letter “B” . This tie belonged to my grandfather.
    Thank you for sharing.

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      That brought me to tears because you went into the depths of the story and there were so many more like this. My mother went to technical school and that is where she met my father. My grandfather could not read to us. I had to read the coffee can to him at 4 years old. However, he pushed my mother to get her education. He used to tell her, with tears in his eyes, that she would have a life better than he because she could read. He never learned but we didn’t care. My mother went on to push us as well. I have two other siblings but I am the only one that went on to college and I too have my Masters in Education. I worked on the same campus as my mother, who was a non-certified study skills teacher….but was more brilliant than those around her. We are fortunate. Thank YOU for taking the time to share such an amazing story. Kudos to your mother and to you.

    2. (Then I’m going to assume you went to Bolton. I too am from central LA. I just read your post on your blog and now I find you here too. Rafranz is one of my nearest and dearest friends.)

      Listening/reading both of your stories that flirt with race, I have to share a thought. Just recently I wondered if the power of social media is helping to eracism. Obviously, I’m not blind. Rafranz’s avatar plainly shows me that we do not share the same skin color. As you can attest, growing up in central LA, there was a very strict color line that one very rarely dared to cross. Yet that never mattered to me.It seems that on social media in particular, we read text. With or without ebonics, colloquialisms, and sometimes tone, we just read. We insert our own biases, assumptions, and tone on those words having maybe never met the person f2f. Does this then push down the color, cultural, language barriers we have faced for generations? I think so. Especially in twitter where the limit of a 140 characters is so very short. We concisely share and move on. We read with the voice in our head and make connections based on content and not biases.

      Does this change then when a f2f meeting does occur? Yes, I think it does. Case in point. For the short time I was at ISTE, I heard George Couros (@gcouros) speak and I was stunned that it was completely devoid of accent. Reading George’s published words, I now put a voice with it. For other near and dear friends such as Rafranz, Miguel Guhlin (@mguhlin), and Paul Wood (@PaulrWood), I feel like I hear them more than I am actually reading their words. I can feel the candance of their words, their tone, their meaning. This allows the person to be more powerful than the content. A bigoted person could (and maybe sometimes does) choose to end the connection once that f2f has occured. How sad!

      I wonder though…. is social media helping to eracism? I vote yes.

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        NO! I actually unfollowed a few “key” voices AFTER ISTE because of the way that I perceived them to be during iSTE. I have my profile pic up. I am me, but it was unnerving to think that someone can hold a conversation with you on SM and then be so unbelievably rude f2f. I didn’t know whether to attribute it to my “lack of twitter stardom” or my race. This still bothers me.

        There was a moment at ISTE before you left that I almost wanted to crawl into a hole…but I remembered not to let anyone steal my joy.

        A bigoted person is still a bigoted person. Social media may mask it at times, but it doesn’t change who the person is on the other end of the handle.

        As educators, we just expect better.

        I do want to say, that this incident was one isolated incident and I honestly feel that people have been generally amazing…because we choose to follow.

        1. Interesting!
          My personal, unsolicited thought? It has nothing to do with YOUR ‘twitter stardom’ or YOUR ‘race’. Those people…. I think it has to do with THEIR lack of social skills or even personality. Perhaps they are truly a bigot. Let them not rob your joy.

          Specifically, I should have maybe said that I think social media is helping to curb or discourage racism, especially with the young and influential. Growing up in a very racist area, I have very vivid memories of being told who to associate with and “friend” (long before FB) based on the color of their skin, their religion, or sexual orientation. SM provides the arena for getting to know one’s thoughts, processes, ideas, creativity, and passion without any assumptions based on race, ability, gender, physical handicap, speech impairment, etc.

          I have to wonder, does a mute person or one with a severe speaking impediment or accent feel empowered to be able to communicate without being teased or made fun of? That their content is being communicated free of a stumbling block? Does a blind person feel relief when others read their words and not stare at their physical ability? How does a woman or a minority or a Muslim feel to be able to communicate, to share, to interact, to build connections free of any stigma, presumptions, or other biases?

          And how do people feel when they make these connections and then meet them f2f? Does it help to eracism? Does it prove to them that people with different attributes can have powerful ideas? Even if they are initially rude or maybe unfollow/unfriend, they at some point see that this PERSON had an idea, a thought, a feeling. For battling the racism and ignorance that sadly still grips our planet, I accept that as a positive step in the right direction.

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            And this is why I love you Kristy Vincent…Seriously, this was my blog posting…now no longer needed!

      2. Nice too meet you Kristy, my mother was from Alexandria and she went to St. James. I grew up in Kenner , LA. My cousins went to Bolton, Peabody and ASH. What a small world. The racial lines in Alexandria are deeply drawn and rooted in traditions both good and bad. I don’t know anyone in Alexandria who doesn’t share my race even to this day. What is normal usually replaces what is sensible. Thank you for sharing with me.

  3. What a fabulous history. And a perfect definition of digital illiteracy. I grew up in a Jewish family where education was more important than anything else. Even my great grandparents were literate, if not college educated. So I have difficulty understanding true illiteracy but deal with digital all the time. You probably don’t remember, but we did get to meet f2f at ISTE…dinner with friends. I started following you since and love your pov. I would hate to think that someone would be inconsiderate to you because of your race. But I still tend to be very …. Naive….about bigotry. I prefer to think of people as just rude.LOL

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      I definitely remember you from dinner with friends! I saw you again the next day and you probably thought that I didn’t recognize you. I recognized you even earlier from twitter. I was told by a parent once that I was unqualified to teacher her son. She did know me and had never met me until parent night. Needless to day, she did go for the removal but her son “forced” it to NOT happen. He still ended up at DAEP (alternative school) for a very long time but the point is that coming from where I live, this is still my normal.

      I did have an incident and I was taken aback by it. It hurt. I don’t know why it happened but it did and I haven’t felt that low…EVER..

      We’ve made great strides in this country and the people that I am connected to are amazing. We don’t judge. We listen, share and grow together. That’s what it’s all about.

      I will never tell the story of what happened in 5 minutes in that hall, nor will I tell the “who”, but I will say that regardless of what that person thinks of me, I am unbelievably fantastic and nothing will ever change that!

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