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The New Basic Skills

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The Three Rs

Being able to read, perform arithmetic, and write have never been more important. We are a society, a collection of interlocking cultures that thrive on information. Wealth and prosperity are generated from the creative use of information. It is absolutely essential that all children learn to read; to add, subtract, count, measure, and calculate; and that everyone know how to write. However, our notions of what it means to be a reader, a processor of information, and a communicator must expand to reflect an increasingly technology-rich, information-driven world.

Information has Changed

We still read text, look at pictures, watch video, and listen to audio. However, information has changed dramatically in the last ten years. There are three major characteristics to information that are brand new, and that significantly influence our notions of what it means to be literate. They are that information is increasingly:
  • Networked
  • Digital
  • Overwhelming

The New Rs/Es

The three Rs remain at the core of literacy. However, if they continue to be the exclusive focus of literacy instruction, then the children who leave our schools will not be literate, nor will they be viable contributors of their society.
As information is continuing to become more networked, it is increasingly difficult to determine the source of the content that we find, making it increasingly difficult to determine its accuracy, validity, and reliability. For this reason, reading as a literacy, must expand to a range of skills involved in exposing the truth of the information we encounter, in terms of its appropriateness to our current tasks.
Because information is increasingly digital, new skills are needed. When solving problems with numbers today, we rarely deal with a dozen numbers on a piece of paper. More often, we are processing thousands of numbers and they are digital. This points to new skills involved in solving problems with numbers. Add to this the fact that all information is now made of numbers, ones and zeros, and that all content: text, images, sound, and video can now be processed in ways similar to the ways that we process numbers, and our notions of arithmetic must expand to a range of skills involved in employing Information.
We are certainly overwhelmed by information, and we struggle to manage all of the information that we encounter. But our greatest problem may not be, "How do a manage all of this data?", but "How do I get my message through this storm of information?" This is our supreme challenge in the attention age, constructing messages, information products, that compete for the attention of our audiences, customers, and friends. This is why it is essential that at the same time that we teach our students to write, we must also teach them to communicate with images, sound, animation, and video. We must teach them to express their ideas compellingly.
Finally, this new information-driven society demands a new sense of ethics, the ethics of using information. Wealth and prosperity come from information. Information is property. Information is critical, and protecting it is as crucial to our sense of literacy as being able to decode text. This is why the ethical use of information is now a literacy skill.

Breakdown

  • Reading expands into Exposing Truth
  • Arithmetic expands into Employing Information
  • Writing expands into Expressing Ideas Compellingly
  • Ethics is becomes a crucial part of what it means to be literate.



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