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WHAT DO WE KNOW? (II)

10. Media Illiteracy: We rely on a variety of media to provide us with useful information about the wider world. Unfortunately, in order to maximize profits, or to simply stay in business, many media companies sensationalize situations to attract a larger audience. As a result, much of what we hear has been skewed a certain amount. A specific type of critical illiteracy, media illiteracy causes people to interpret everything heard in the media as fact. Statements like “I heard it on TV, it must be true!” and “the news would never lie” are signs of media illiteracy.

9. Mental Health Illiteracy: Mental health illiteracy is a type of health illiteracy. It is an unawareness or misunderstanding of mental disorders, making problems difficult to recognize or treat. This is the husband who interprets his wife’s talk of suicide as meaningless, or the mother who thinks her son’s eating disorder is merely a phase. Negative and incorrect media portrayals of mental disorders and psychiatric care make this illiteracy common. A widespread but much milder expression of mental health illiteracy is the belief that “shyness isn’t a normal mental state, and if you overcome it you’ll be happier.”

8. Numerical Illiteracy: Numerical illiteracy, or a lack of numeracy, is a lack of the basic arithmetic skills that are required in day-to-day life. Simple tasks, like calculating 50% off a price, are very difficult for numerically illiterate people. Although related to statistical illiteracy, numerical illiteracy includes not noticing anything amiss when a person merely buying a liter of juice is charged at over one hundred dollars due to a machine error, and many find themselves the victims of extortion without ever realizing it. Although this extreme version of the illiteracy is rare, over half of all adults suffer from mild numerical illiteracy.

7. Racial Illiteracy: Racial illiteracy is the inability to understand issues connected with race and racism. A student claiming that a teacher failed him purposely “because he’s black” may be suffering from racial illiteracy. Similarly, people who hold incorrect or generalizing beliefs about races also suffer from racial illiteracy. The damaging stereotypical views that “all Asians are smart” or “all white people are rich” are both expressions of not only prejudice and ignorance, but of racial illiteracy.

6. Reading and Writing Illiteracy: This is what most people think of when they hear the word “illiteracy.” This is the basic inability to understand or produce written information. There are several degrees of illiteracy, such as understanding individual letters but not whole words, understanding some words but not enough to understand a sentence, and not recognizing letters or words at all. Through more widely-available education, world illiteracy has more than halved in the last fifty years. This means that even people living in the poorest countries enjoy better lives as they are able to read medicine instructions or avoid drinking water signposted as “poisonous.”

5. Scientific Illiteracy: Science is a carefully built framework of all known truths to humanity. If a scientific hypothesis is disproved, it is either altered or discarded, and thus up-to-date science is never wrong. Science is self-correcting and reflects the culmination of all knowledge at any point in time. Sadly, 75% of adults are scientifically illiterate. These people make statements like “people who drive expensive cars live longer, so if I buy a nice car I’ll live longer too,” even though the car does not cause a long life span but rather both are probably caused by a higher socioeconomic status. Other illiterate statements include “science has proven it to be good for you” and “it’s only a scientific theory, it might not be true.”

4. Statistical Illiteracy: People who are statistically illiterate fail to grasp that statistics can be presented in ways to mislead. These people feel that if numbers or data support a particular idea, then it must have merit. Closely linked to critical and numerical illiteracy, a person who is statistically illiterate will interpret the statements “10% of people are allergic to peanuts” and “90% of people are not allergic to peanuts” differently, despite the fact that they say the same thing. Believing that gambling is financially beneficial in the long term is unfortunately common for those with statistical illiteracy.

3. Technological Illiteracy: A person who is technologically illiterate has trouble learning to use new technologies as they become available. Learning new things, especially as an adult, can be slow, but these people find themselves baffled by relatively simple items like binoculars despite being patiently taught to use them hundreds of times. Not understanding a technology because of a lack of contact with it is normal, but not understanding it when exposed to it and when taught several times is illiteracy. These people can experience great trouble in keeping up with modern society.

2. Trans-Illiteracy: A trans-illiterate person is unable to transfer information from one form of media to another. For example, they may be able to understand a picture, but have trouble describing it or writing about it. Trans-illiterate people have trouble applying the information they gather from various sources to their daily lives, such as a person who reads that junk food is bad but never thinks to limit their own consumption of junk food. In a society where we are constantly fed information from all kinds of sources, the ability to apply what we know easily and smoothly is becoming increasingly useful.

1. Visual Illiteracy: Visual illiteracy is the inability to understand or process information in visual form. These people struggle to read graphs and info graphics. Specific types of brain damage can cause an innate inability to understand and recognize faces or vision entirely, but most people with visual illiteracy have no such underlying cause. A form of visual illiteracy that all people have at one point but most grow out of is seen in young toddlers. They will tend to think that when a single biscuit is broken in half, the two pieces represent more food than the original biscuit. Similarly, four grapes close together are seen as “more grapes” than the same four grapes spaced far apart.

During formal education, what is often forgotten is that there is more than one type of illiteracy, and not all are addressed. Many of these can be just as debilitating as an inability to read, but go unnoticed because the wider community is unaware of their existence. Each one of us may be deficient in one or more of these illiteracies. A few, such as scientific and functional illiteracy, have even resulted in death for some unfortunate people. These are a global problem because adults generally express some degree of at least one. Have you worked out how many you might have?


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