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Literacy Then and Now

A Study of Modern and Contemporary Literacy Practices


Alice S. Horning

In Contemporary times, the fundamental nature of literacy remains unchanged; it is for this reason that the lessons of 1880 to 1930 are still quite relevant. The opening chapter sets the parameters by defining the key terms, Modernism, Literacy and Transition. The second chapter offers a selective look at some religious organizations’ support for literacy, focusing on the main religious groups in the United States in the Modern period: Christianity, Judaism and Islam, presenting focused literacy case studies, including Chautauqua among Protestants, the Reform movement among Jews, and the leadership of key writers and journalists among the Muslims, and demonstrating their sponsorship of literacy. NGOs’ contributions to literacy, discussed in the third chapter, show the importance of reading groups, literary societies, settlement houses, unions and corporations to literacy development. The government, too, supported literacy activities, through various programs like the Moonlight Schools in Kentucky and admittedly with mixed results, the boarding schools for Native Americans, as well as in libraries. Finally, there are the formal educational programs for literacy in K-12 schools as well as colleges and universities. The lessons arising from this review suggest, first, that the psycholinguistic character of reading remains consistent over time, place and delivery system; while sponsors play a key role, self-motivation is a driving force in literacy development; finally, although literacy is in an on-going state of transition, the need for critical literacy continues to be an urgent, widespread and essential goal.

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