Sunday, February 25, 2007

Literacy, Social Justice, and Privilege

Travis commented in the post about Paula Hoffman that literacy, social justice, and privilege may be mutually inclusive or exclusive.

Wikopedia gives a common definition of literacy, though some say that it is not the tools commonly referred to (reading and writing), but it is using these tools to understand oneself and his/her world (which, in a post-modern sense, is not the same as "the world" (which probably is meaningless)). Tomorrow I will sit in the middle of a dispute of two parties, both of whom believe their perception of the situation is correct. Is one more literate (and correct) than the other because they are the teacher and have multiple higher degrees? Or is one more literate because they have not grown up with "privilege" and they understand what it means to be disenfranchised? I would maintain that there are different literacies and that the most we can do is to try to understand each other's.

Social Justice plays into the mix because some believe "it is not fair" that some have privilege and others don't. Social Justice seems to be an effort to reduce or eliminate the gap between the haves and the have nots. One of my friends thinks that it is sinful that CEOs get paid 6000 times more than their workers. Social Justice, for him, would be to figure out a way to not pay these SOBs (his words, not mine) so much.

The concept of privilege seems to have come from the French Revolution where some wanted to abolish privilege, i.e. laws that were applied to one group and not another. We still have many privileges (and privileged people) in our society even though the many laws that legalize the injustices are gone. Some can take a walk around the block at night in safety and others cannot. Some can pay George Washington University $50000 a year for an education, and others cannot. And some say that it is not fair that we have so much discrepancy. And others, like the Nobel Prize winner Gary Becker, says that without these discrepancies there would be no incentives for the have nots to get educated and improve themselves. Is it social justice that the privileged have more opportunity to improve themselves?

One can make the argument that everyone is literate, but that some literacies don't avail the opportunities of the privileged, and that social justice is the idea that we need to equalize the playing field so that all have an opportunity to succeed. Should we pay the CEO less and/or pay the coal miner more? Should we provide health care for everyone? And great housing? And transportation? And incentives, as well?

I don't know.

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