Challenging literacy perspectives

Year: 2000

Author: WRIGHT, S

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Inspired by influential thinkers in the early/middle part of the century (eg. Whitehead, Langer, Cassier), there was an increased interest in how people use symbols to express and communicate meanings, and how this capacity distinguishes humans from other creatures. The ability to usesymbols has been identified as central to human evolution and creative achievement (eg. myths, languages, arts, mathematics and science, and other symbol systems). However, in many ways, Western cultures have remained firmly committed to a traditional definition of literacy, which excludes key symbolic forms (ie. signs, sounds, gesture, graphic representation, play, music, mime, dance). Symbolic communication involves: bodily kinaesthetic, aural, visual, spatial, tactile, aesthetic, expressive and imaginative forms of understanding; the integration of thought, emotion, action; thinking through movement; turning action into representation; artistic cognition; communicating via a unique language; representing reality; depicting meaning; integrating ideas non-verbally and metaphorically; and alternating between reality and fantasy.

This paper summarises research results and presents examples of preschool/primary school children's exploration and use of symbols, not just as tools of thought, but as aspects of thought itself. It argues that artistic literacy should be the core of the curriculum.