A Month of Illiteracy


Of course, I actually can distinguish between my thinking and my ability to express my thinking, but it has helped me become more aware or the challenges my students face when they are trying to express themselves through essays, or my older clients trying to use computers. In both cases, they question their competence because of the limitations they face in simply expressing themselves.

When typing is frustrating, you just don't want to have anything to do with it. I didn't want to answer emails or write blog posts. I can imagine that students who lack mastery of writing just avoid putting their thoughts on paper, and people who find computers tricky avoid them as much as possible.

This just makes it hard for them to get better. Any written assignment becomes burdensome, not even considering the thinking behind the words.

And then there's the issue that most of us judge a person's intelligence based on how well they communicate. Since written communication has always come easily to me, I've never considered how frustrating it would be to have others judge me by my poor writing. I imagine some people might even judge themselves as less intelligent based on the feedback they are getting from others, especially if they have trouble distinguishing between their thinking and their ability to express their thoughts.

Is this something that impacts you?

All of these are cases in which literacy (or lack of it) is defining your relationship to some activity, and even leading to some judgement about yourself.

You might be a very creative person if you simply had the skills to express it, for example. Or be much more excited about writing if you were more confident about grammar and rhetoric.

Or you can just continue to slog through and hope for the best, never going back and improving your capacity.

The big takeaway of my experience has been that the ability to express myself in various mediums is closely tied to my level of confidence and competence. Expression should be fluid, so that the creativity itself can come through without getting scrambled by a poor signal.

If you find something particularly opaque, consider that you simply lack the ability to interface with the language. Maybe math is hard not because you don't "think mathematically" but because you never mastered some basic ideas like order of operations or fraction rules, or even basic vocabulary. Taking the time (frustrating as it may be initially) to learn these basic skills so they become intuitive can open up a new world.