From Telemedium, The Journal of Media Literacy
Vol 47, No 1. Published Winter 2001
Kathleen Tyner Receives the Jessie McCanse Award
Kathleen Tyner, pioneering media educator and respected world leader in the field of media literacy, was honored with the year 2000 Jessie McCanse Award for Individual Contribution to Media Literacy. Presented at the Opening Session of the Summit 2(XX) Conference, the event was both festive and appropriate, as the first Jessie McCanse award of the new millennium was given to one of today's leading visionaries in the field of media education. The international setting of the Toronto Conference brought together some 1400 participants from across the globe, and most of them knew Kathleen Tyner whether as author, speaker, teacher, mentor; a visionary yet practical leader, an international participant, and most of all, friend. Mrs. McCanse, herself an educator and future thinker, would have approved. As the daughter of a Canadian-born leading U.S. educator, she would have liked both the setting and the recipient. To honor Kathleen's work and the award which it has brought her. Telemedium is pleased to present her personal Vision on Literacy and the future in a global society.
Literacy and Literacies: A Personal Vision
by Kathleen Tyner
In the current digital environment, people feel inundated with new and unfamiliar ways to receive information and so there is a lot of talk about the need for various literacies: media literacy, information literacy, scientific literacy, and so on. These literacies are proposed as "coping mechanisms," as often as they are positioned as strategies to enrich societies and individuals. The pressure to prepare for these literacies sheds light on our assumptions about literacy and reveals much of the popular wisdom about the nature of literacy to be a myth. First and foremost, the thought that literacy is easy to acquire, so easy that it is the purview of elementary school children, does not necessarily apply to the mastery of new and emerging digital communication tools and records. Secondly, the idea that print literacy is superior to electronic, digital or oral forms of literacy is rapidly eroding as pictures, sounds and moving images collide with text. Finally, literacy is acquired over a lifetime in various contexts, not only in school. New forms of literacy are both changing and changed by schooling.
But many of the purposes for literacy remain the same and there will come a day when we say the word "literacy," that most people will assume that we mean a broad bridge between thought and action that includes diverse ways to read, write and participate in the world. Literacy is still a form of social currency that allows individuals and societies to participate fully in daily life. Literacy is still a technology of the intellect and, like any technology, its power has been used throughout history for both beneficial and detrimental purposes. Literacy is still a source of great pleasure as people use it in creative ways for informal, as well as formal purposes. As experts prepare to expand the concept of literacy beyond the printed word, they propose many standards and nuances. Frankly, I don't see a lot of difference between the definitions and strategies for media literacy, information literacy, visual literacy, etc. I do see some differences when proponents articulate the purposes of various literacies. These purposes differ in their proposed degree of information gate-keeping, applied education, political and social control, reflective and critical skill attainment, information acquisition, and personal media production and dissemination.
It is clear to me that literacy has the potential to address and redress social inequity. If literacy isn't used for purposes of social justice and individual benefit, then what, indeed is the point? My vision for media education, which is an arbitrary and provisional label for an extremely complex idea, is to surmount some barriers that keep people from attaining the wide kinds of literacy that they need for personal and social enrichment. These hurdles include unequal access to literacy tools, processes and content. My vision of literacy foresees a time when people are able to shift between discourses, including languages, in order to understand others and to make themselves widely understood. I envision a world where ordinary people, not just the rich and powerful, have many literacies available to them and are able to use them strategically for maximum benefit.