‘L is for rabbit’

By: Ma. Ceres P. Doyo - @inquirerdotnet - Columnist/Philippine Daily Inquirer | October 29,2020 - 08:00 AM

Examiners and exterminators of error-laden textbooks are having a field day spotting glaring errors in textbooks and modules that were custom-made for schoolchildren during this pandemic year that saw both teachers and learners stuck at home. For the first time, the school-bound are going through so-called remote/distance/blended teaching, and learning if not with the aid of electronic gadgets that require internet connection, then with the aid of modules in hard copy for learning. It is “face to face” but via computers, cell phones, tablets, or gadgets with connectivity.

If connectivity is bad enough, what could be worse? The answer would be learning modules with erroneous contents. Those posted on social media elicited LOLs, emojis, and emoticons the way elusive WiFi connections in remote places inspired mini TikTok productions for the “laff-in” department.

“L is for Rabbit” was spotted in one textbook for Reading. Social media had no mercy. But it was obvious that it was a typographical error, because it was on the line meant for the letter R (before S and T). Rabbit was correct, L was wrong.

“L is for Rabbit” reminds me of the book “A is for Ox: The Collapse of Literacy and the Rise of Violence in an Electronic Age’’ by Barry Sanders that I read years ago. The title is not about why Jose can’t spell, can’t read, or can’t write. A is for ox, because according to Sanders, children are likely to spell ox as ax if they go by its phonetic sound. He explains that in the Phoenician writing system, the letter A, called an aleph, stood on its side or its head (like a crossed V) and looked like an ox. Aleph is also the Phoenician word for ox. Images.

Sanders’ point is that in orality there are no spelling mistakes. He tackles orality, that wondrous stage that precedes literacy, and empowering literacy itself which is in danger of collapse in this electronic age. This collapse contributes to the rise of violence.

Sanders’ thesis is not mainly about guns and gore in TV programs and video games, it is about “the death of the word (which) signifies a terrifying break in human nature and portends a cataclysm heralded by our current epidemic of youth violence.’’

In the beginning was the Word. Sanders begins by quoting from writer Nadine Gordimer’s “The Unkillable Word’’: “Conservative, liberal, and left-wing thinkers in contemporary schools of linguistic philosophy agree about one thing: Man became man not by the tool but by the Word. It is not walking upright and using a stick to dig for food or strike a blow that makes a human being, it is speech. And neither intelligent apes nor dolphins whispering in the ocean share with us the ability to transform this direct communication and commune between peoples and generations who will never meet.’’

Humans speak, humans listen, says Sanders. (Including the speech- and hearing-impaired, I’d like to add.) But, he says, very few oral peoples in the world—that vast assembly of speakers and listeners—ever make the radical move into literacy. Literates, he says, make up a very small minority of the world’s population, but they make their force felt out of all proportion to their number. Literacy empowers people to speak their minds in a way that people in the oral stage can never know.

Can you imagine not knowing how to read or write? Can you imagine what your thought process would be like? Literacy is a state-of-no-return. Literacy empowers the consciousness. It is more than just knowing how to read and write.

But before moving into literacy proper, Sanders tackles orality and its relation to literacy. This is the part I enjoy the most. A rich experience of orality—tribal myths and stories told by the fireside, poems recited from memory by village elders, songs your mother taught you—is a great prelude to literacy, a fertile ground for things to take root in, a storehouse of wisdom. It is unlike a computer from where things are simply retrieved verbatim.

You don’t commune with a computer. You don’t cry on or hug a TV set. Sanders says one of the intense cries of contemporary life is “Let’s turn off the TV and talk about this!”

Literacy, Sanders says, cannot be taught with a computer, with the machine that is robbing students of their ability to conceptualize language.

An “A is for Ox” review says it is a “resounding defense of reading and writing (along with storytelling, singing, and joking) and a program for nurturing literacy amid the desert of electronic images.”

How will our young turn out after this pandemic-fueled electronic year?

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