A temporary journey into illiteracy

November 12, 1996|By H. H. Morris

I SPENT AN HOUR Sunday morning sharing a condition with roughly a quarter of my fellow citizens.

By forgetting my glasses when I went to church, I became a functional illiterate.

The traditional Lutheran liturgy with its mostly sung responses and recitation of the creed and the Lord's Prayer posed no problem because it's familiar.

Contemporary service

But what if it had been a contemporary service, with a spoken liturgy printed in the bulletin and changed frequently to encourage spontaneity?

I'd have spontaneously opted out because my uncorrected vision put me in the position of the man or woman who's been exposed to reading without being infected by it.

That is, the words weren't totally obscure. By the time I made them out, however, the congregation was way ahead.

Out of three hymns I attempted, I sang one familiar one. As in the case of the liturgy, I'd apparently memorized it without consciously trying.

Bulletin insert

The bulletin insert containing the lessons and the prayers draws on a variety of translations. Unable to see the words, I had to depend on the worship leader and pastor.

By the time we reached the prayers, I came to the conclusion that total illiteracy is preferable to functional illiteracy.

Try it. Find a way to do intentionally what I accomplished by accident. In a familiar situation where participation is based on the assumption all can read well enough to be classed as literate, make yourself functionally illiterate.

The baffled playgoer

You don't have to use church for the experiment. You can accomplish the same end at a play with which you're totally unfamiliar -- that is, you not only haven't read or seen it, but you know nothing about it.

All you need do is not read the playbill. You may guess what the setting is supposed to be, but don't count on keeping track of when the action occurs.

Unanswered questions

Maybe you'll feel baffled by the same questions I can't answer after my hour of illiteracy.

Why do so many young Americans deliberately choose not to master reading?

Why do their parents let them?

Why do school systems promote those who can't read in the name of self-esteem, since nothing batters esteem harder than the awareness that one can't read what others easily do?

H. H. Morris writes from Aberdeen.

Pub Date: 11/12/96

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