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ALPHABETIZATION, Part II: Hegemonic Language and Arbitrary Order


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Today, of course, she would have gone to university, found an outlet for her intelligence, disciplined her seething imagination and probably ended rich and successful.

—P.D. James

The most trivial pedagogical approaches to literacy are based on the recognition and execution of signs without any consideration for the communication processes that generate those signs. In learning how to write, the first step was always to fill pages with letters. In art, it was to fill pages with horizontal and vertical parallel lines, and even today some children are still doing color by numbers. Academic teaching becomes even more dangerous in art than in literacy. In art, exercises in building academic skills are designed for instant gratification and efficient grading, but also introduce aesthetic dogmas.

Attempts to faithfully copy an external image are undertaken without any examination of the ideological and philosophical implications. Among these implications are: a belief that the perceived image of reality actually is reality; that our senses act as recorders rather than translators; that rendering is art and not just a way of processing information; that reality is an externally created order; that beauty is an external value. Academic realism could be said to attempt restrictive transliteration rather than translation. A discussion of any one of these issues would lead to more interesting and productive exercises than the dull copying of still lifes or nude models On the other hand, many more contemporary formalist assignments are equally restrictive. They favor appearance over deeper problem-solving and, ultimately, are more concerned with packaging theories (for instance, functionalist aesthetics) than creation.

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