A fellow blogger and teacher of history in the UK, Doug Belshaw, is working on his Ed.D. and his thesis is on digital literacy. I’m sceptical about “digital literacy” being touted as some completely new kind of animal, unrelated to “literacy”, and after groping for the right words, found better ones written by Ayn Rand. Here’s the comments I posted on his website:

I’m still not convinced this hunt for the ultimate definition of “literacy” isn’t a giant red herring. Perhaps “literacy” meant being able to read and write, but even in those pre-digital days, critical thinking and the ability to make connections and understand cultural references were all considered important, even if they weren’t given an umbrella name like “literacy”. Those skills are still important in the digital age; the digital age hasn’t made them any more or less important, I would argue. I’d agree that “writing” means something new with the advent of web-publishing for everyone thanks to Blogger, WordPress, etc.: when you have the option to add media and links, it matters whether you use this or not.

On a slightly different tack, Stokes writes In education’s continuing mission of meeting the needs of learners: Gatto would argue that never was compulsory schooling’s mission. And skills that may have been appropriate for the medieval clerk, are giving way to skills of analysis and innovation that are considered desirable in today’s modern cultures “Considered desirable”… by whom? “Proficiency with words and numbers is insufficient “. Insufficient… for whom? Who decides? Literacy is not a natural phenomenon, but man-made. It’s important to examine the values that underpin literacy, in order to make up our minds whether those values are our own, or did we absorb them uncritically?

My favourite philosopher at the moment, Ayn Rand, has exactly the words I was groping for to express my uneasiness with “digital literacy”: “all human knowledge has a hierarchical structure… [we must] learn to distinguish the fundamental from the derivative.” Is digital literacy a fundamental, or a derivative? And what are the consequences of learning/teaching a derivative while ignoring the fundamental? To whose benefit is it to push a derivative before a fundamental? Or even, to push a derivative AS IF IT WAS a fundamental? The quote comes from Ch 2 “Philosophical Detection” (I think) in her book “Philosophy: Who Needs It?” Here’s a link to Rule of Fundamentality entry in the Ayn Rand Lexicon
Search for the book on Google books, then search for “fundamental” and “derivative” (the excerpts they give you are severely limited. If you can, get the book).