Kathleen Tyner

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.