Sunday, January 30, 2011

Isaiah, Dragon's Den, Functional Literacy

Angel Glacier's tears

I watched an episode of Dragon’s Den on TV the other day and the concept appalled me. A group of wealthy entrepreneurs sit on a platform and hear pitches by ordinary people who believe they have an idea for an enterprise that these pharaohs of finance will want to invest in. It appears that the primary draw for viewers is the crude humiliation of the appellants. But that’s not uncommon in what qualifies as entertainment these days.
               One woman had a program that she predicted would boost reading skills in children by a number of grade levels in a short time. They shot her down, partly because they didn’t believe that her statistic of 70% of Canadians being functionally illiterate was true and that she was therefore presenting a false premise yada, yada, yada. She left there a shattered person.
               Literacy is not easily defined, and depending on how you finally choose to describe “functional literacy,” the 70% doesn’t seem improbable to me. If you were to judge functional literacy by people’s ability to make sense of James Joyce’s Ulysses or Stephen Hawking’s  A Brief History of Time, I doubt that even 10% of the population would pass the test. The key, I guess, is what is meant by functional. Most people can function in this world, even function effectively with a literacy level that allows them to read the newspaper, bus schedules, pill bottles and grocery lists. But it’s impossible to function in a PhD program if literacy is limited to a day-to-day “functional literacy.”
               This morning, my job is to bring as much meaning as possible to the last of the four servant songs in Isaiah. As far as the prophets go, I feel I’m functionally illiterate, at least marginally functionally illiterate. I can’t claim to understand fully what is being said by Isaiah’s: For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth. Former things shall no more be remembered nor shall they be called to mind (Isaiah 65:17). Was this to be read literally or figuratively? Is this a prediction or a prototype? Was it a description of the recent past using a foretelling convention? Was it written for the far distant future or very specifically for the Judean faithful in Babylonian exile? If I were functionally literate, one would suppose I would know the answers to these questions, or else, how could I qualify—let alone function—as a teacher?
               I guess we are all “in development” as regards literacy. The world is full of interpretations of every piece of writing that can be found, everything from the astute to the bizarre. Isaiah is no exception. I lean toward Ivan D.Friesen in his interpretation of the servant songs: they present prototypes, not predictions. (At least, if I understand him, which is a whole ‘nother conundrum) They are not to be read fatalistically, but educationally. They teach the mind of God and the way the world works—good instruction for anyone with the level of literacy to read them with understanding. A stumbling block for those of us who can’t . . . yet.

No comments:

Post a Comment