What does it mean to be literate?

Brent Werts

Clemson University



Literacy has evolved to include much more that the ability to read and write. It now must include being advanced in reading, writing, speaking, listening and the ability to access and process information and opportunities at a fast pace. It includes being literate in social environments in which one knows the correct way to act and speak in given environments. It includes being literate culturally in that people have an understanding of how large the world is and how many people occupy it. One must be able to understand that people have different values, ideas, languages, religions and social habits. One must understand this in order to communicate and integrate with each other as well as respect and share ideas and values. Finally, literacy must include technology, where one can work alone or with others to access, manage, integrate, evaluate, create and communicate information.

Y’all Vs. You Guys. (n.d.). Retrieved September 05, 2017, from


Traditionally, literacy was the ability to read and write and understand printed formats. For many years this was how people were judged to be literate or illiterate. People from wealthy families usually were the only ones with this privilege. As the world moved forward, it became essential for everyone to be able to read and write, but literacy now is much more than the ability to read and write. “We walk in paths worn down by those who came before us. Each of us arrive midstream. Joining a procession so entrenched as to appear as that’s just how it is. From deep within these grooves. It’s hard to imagine people like us set it all in motion” Sousanis, 2015. Literacy, now includes much more, people now have to be literate in social, culture and technology and this is just the beginning.

In social environments, people must be able to understand how to interact and communicate in an appropriate way with others. They have to understand how to act appropriately in social situations. For example, how one behaves in an important meeting is very different than how one would act at a birthday party. Another example would be the behavior of someone at a funeral compared to someone at a Christmas party. Another example is participating in an activity that you have no knowledge of like snowboarding and gradually learning how to snowboard as well as understand the terminology associated with the sport. People need to be able to read the body language and atmosphere to act accordingly in these situations. Social literacy means being able to understand and speak language in different social contexts. It is through these experiences that one becomes literate. People are social beings and the sharing of experiences promotes this literacy. “The social world furnishes our minds by supplying us well-designed and well-mentored experiences. As long as our experiences have been similar enough because we have been helped to have such experiences then the mind will


take care of itself. The mind will mirror the social world. The mind will be social. Because the mind is based on experience, the real action is, for us humans, out there in the social world and its myriad practices” (Gee, 2015).

It is also important to be literate in culture. This is especially important in the world we live in today. Our country today is made up of immigrants from many different countries that have different cultures, values, ideas, languages, religions, and social habits. People must have some knowledge of these cultures if one is to integrate and communicate with each other. It is by being literate in culture that people are able get along and share in ideas and respect the values and traditions of others. To understand culture and diversity in building communities a great web site to visit is This website explains why it is important to respect and share ideas and values. For example, “an appreciation of cultural diversity goes hand in hand with a just and equitable society” as well as “understanding cultures will help us overcome and prevent racial and ethnic divisions” ( also gives an important look at why one should look at diversity. “With approximately 190 countries and 7 billion people on earth, it is not hard to imagine that many diverse cultures exist” ( This is a lot of people and with computers, airplanes and cell phones, that is a lot of travel and communication going on and people have to be able to figure out how we all fit together. In order to figure this out we have to be literate by studying different cultures.

College of Education Sites. (n.d.). Retrieved September 05, 2017, from
Cultural competence education for health professionals. (2015, June 10). Retrieved September 05, 2017, from

Now, it is especially important to be literate in technology. This type of literacy includes a wide range of platforms, tools and media. This is a field that will continue to advance and people will need to be able to have knowledge and experiences to move forward in advancement also. Technology literacy in this era of technology is being able to work by yourself and with


others to effectively use technology to access, manage, integrate, evaluate, create and communicate information. This technology includes multimedia sources like pictures, clip art,

images, videos, movies, online libraries just to name a few. People today also use facebook, twitter and Instagram to communicate. There is so much available to people today that they may not be literate in all the various types of technology but they have the ability to learn. By learning the use of these tools it allows people to express themselves and communicate. Ben McNeely talks about how “my grandfather who never had much formal technical education, built not one, but two, computers from parts-motherboard, disk drives, hard drives, and so forth” (McNeely, 2017). People not only use technology to keep in touch with each other and entertain themselves with games, but use it solve some problems of the world. The human genome project is working to solve genetic diseases. There is so much this field has to offer the world and the people who live in it.



Gee, J. P. (2015). Literacy and education. New York: Routledge.

McNeely, B. (n.d.). Using Technology as a Learning Tool, Not Just the Cool New Thing. Retrieved September 04, 2017, from

Shah, A. (2017, February 01). Cultural diversity: Why we should respect other cultures. Retrieved September 04, 2017, from

Sousanis, N. (2015). Unflattening. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Section 1. Understanding Culture and Diversity in Building Communities. (n.d.). Retrieved September 04, 2017, from

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