For many of us, the definition of literacy begins and ends with: literacy means knowing how to read and write texts.
I agree with that, but what if we took a step outside the traditional view of literacy as simply understanding printed text and moved into a more colourful view? Perhaps it would take us to a place where the ‘knowing of texts’ includes the everyday contexts in which we experience, interact, and participate in the world around us in respectful, meaningful, and fulfilling ways.
I know this may sound like a big leap to take, so maybe this will help. Imagine you are looking at a black and white photograph of a forest with a stream running through it. There are some birds perched in the branches of the trees and a child is playing in the leaves next to the stream.
Now, watch what happens when we allow in some colour. Suddenly the browns, oranges, and reds of the leaves which the child is throwing up in the air become apparent. We notice for the first time a brownish-green frog on a rock near the stream. We see the birds are blue with yellow wingtips. In other words, we now see things we couldn’t see before.
Similarly, if a splash of colour is added to the traditional idea of literacy, we might be able to see things differently. Now, literacy might mean being able to pick out the different instruments you hear in a great piece of music or it could mean knowing how to participate in a ceremony or tradition that is important to your family or cultural community.
With colour, what else is possible? Literacy is then perhaps knowing how to create with confidence a monthly budget. Literacy might mean recording yourself telling a story of significance and sharing it with friends and family through social media. Literacy could also mean knowing how to simultaneously move your arms through water and kick with your legs as you swim laps in the pool.
Science tells us that the colours found in a rainbow are actually infinite. In the same way, could we imagine that the colours of literacies (yes, ‘literacies’ as multiple) are also limitless? Think of all the possibilities! It is quite thrilling to imagine the endless realms of ‘literacies’ we have yet to discover and explore throughout our lives.
Angelika Sellick is a Partner Assisted Learning Coordinator with Cariboo Chilcotin Partners for Literacy