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Was F.D.R's "We have nothing to fear but fear itself" about 21st Century literacy?

Written by Sheila Cooperman
February 11, 2012

When FDR stated,”There is nothing to fear but fear itself” I think he was referring to the terror that many teachers have when faced with educating students to be proficient in 21st Century literacy skills. All too often, we as teachers stay within our comfort level in the classroom, paying only lip-service to the need to become digtially literate.

There is no doubt that teachers are aware of cell-phone technology, social-networking, textese language and how it is seeping into the more formal registers of academic writing. There is no doubt that teachers are aware of e-readers, and computers and the influx of all of these tools into the lives of students. What seems to be missing is the connection between awareness and use. There is a need for good educators to make sure that we deliver instruction and methods of knowing that is consistent with the lived-lives of our students.

Shirley Brice Heath spoke of the need to integrate the lives of students into classroom practice to mediate the discourse disparities that were evident in classrooms in the Appalachian communities she studied. Can’t the same be said today as it relates to digital literacy? I see teachers who feel that educating students (or feeling that they are responsible) for teaching digital literacies is just something else that they have to do, something else on a long line of requirements that take up time and take them away from their real job of teaching–whatever that is. And I think what that is, is teaching to a comfort level.

Yes, digital literacy is changing the way students read and altering the ways students comprehend text. Yes, digital literacy and digital writing is changing the ways students approach composition. Yes, digital writing and digital platforms are going to require fresh looks at assessment practices. Yes, digital platforms are going to be stacked up against the types of writing required for standardized testing. Yes, digital tools are going to force educators to re-look at what they do, why they do it and who they are. And it can be, and is very uncomfortable. But what makes me more uncomfortable is seeing the looks of distress (and shall I say disgust?) on the faces of many educators when they are present in any number of professional development days focused on technology and education.

That is not to say that there aren’t many who are embracing these new trends and thinking about them, but many who are skeptical or ambivalent may be so simply because they are afraid. They may not even know what they are afraid of. And it is important for educational institutions to do do more than install computers and Smartboards. Institutions must pay attention to the teachers on the front line of instruction delivery. Institutions must ensure that the fears of these teachers are eliminated. Teachers, for the most part, want to teach and want to impact the lives of their students. The gap needs to be closed though between what they want and what they need to do and then do. Technology is an important construct in today’s educational setting and an facility with the technology is crucial for today’s teachers if a sound educational foundation is going to be built for today’s 21st Century students.

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