A Is for Ox: The Collapse of Literacy and the Rise of Violence in an Electronic Age

Overview

We are so used to platitudes intoning the value of reading and writing that we may have forgotten to ask what literacy really is. In A Is for Ox, Barry Sanders brilliantly shows how the answer to this question takes us to the heart of the twin crises of youth violence and illiteracy. By reminding us to understand reading and writing as cognitive and social acts, Sanders places the issue of literacy squarely where it belongs: at the center of contemporary social and cultural debate. A Is for Ox links reading and ...
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Overview

We are so used to platitudes intoning the value of reading and writing that we may have forgotten to ask what literacy really is. In A Is for Ox, Barry Sanders brilliantly shows how the answer to this question takes us to the heart of the twin crises of youth violence and illiteracy. By reminding us to understand reading and writing as cognitive and social acts, Sanders places the issue of literacy squarely where it belongs: at the center of contemporary social and cultural debate. A Is for Ox links reading and writing to the most fundamental aspects of our being: the construction of the self, personal identity, and society's capacity to elicit uncoerced consent to the social contract. A Is for Ox is an important and impassioned work that demonstrates why the failure of increasing numbers of young people to attain even minimum levels of literacy signals a catastrophe at the deepest levels of our culture. Illiteracy and the growing epidemic of youth violence are not finally problems of schooling and social deviance, Sanders argues, but signals of a lost connection between the human voice and a richly articulated social experience both within the family and outside it. This profoundly disturbing break, he shows, has been brought about by post-modern society's addiction to electronic images and sounds as a way of mediating experience and administering satisfaction. By tracing the long history of literacy in the West, Sanders demonstrates how the culture of electronic media is drastically and dangerously reshaping both cognitive development and social interaction. In the best tradition of humanist controversy - from Jean-Jacques Rousseau and John Dewey to George Steiner and Ivan Illich - this deeply learned and humane work offers its readers essential intellectual and moral engagement with the technologies by which we choose to know one another and ourselves.

The failure of increasing numbers of young people to attain even minimum levels of literacy signals a catastrophe at the deepest levels of our culture. A Is for Ox is an important and impassioned work that both proves this conclusion and suggests what can be done to change it.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A brilliant, disturbing reflection on the collapsing moral order of post-modern America. If literacy is the wellspring of selfhood, as Sanders makes clear, our aggressive, image-addicted society is unwittingly committing cultural suicide."—Mike Davis
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The electronic media have made many young people prisoners, barred from reading and writing, asserts Sanders, coauthor of ABC: The Alphabetization of the Popular Mind with Ivan Illich. To begin this quirky essay, he explores the foundation of what he calls ``orality.'' Speaking demands human interaction, but most children now rely on ``electronic wizardry'' which renders them unable to interrupt and join in. (But what about the Internet?) Thus he roundly condemns television, as clichd and without nuance, contributing to a ``post-illiterate'' generation, and he criticizes absent parents and a paternalistic education model that ignores vernacular language. Only books, not the computer, can provide ``inner space'' for the self; literacy, he suggests cogently, can provide the ``internalized constraints'' sadly lacking in gang members, whom he takes as emblematic of society. Though the author's indictment is overwrought-``word processors have turned everyone into ghostwriters''-he has worthy advice: train children's ears before their eyes, and let them develop their imagination outside technology. (Oct.)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780679742852
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 9/28/1995
  • Series: Vintage Series
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 5.19 (w) x 7.99 (h) x 0.62 (d)

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