Multiple Literacies

21st century life requires the mastery of many more literacies than were required as few as ten years ago.  For example, the Internet has grown from less than 90,000 users in the summer of 1993 to over 304 million users in the summer of 2000!  Rapid developments in technology have resulted in a media-saturated society, and citizens today have to have a means for navigating what has been called this "forest of signs and symbols". (Douglas Kellner, UCLA).  

It seems as though everything is digitized, and packed with new special effects.  Television and film are dominant discourses in our world, with access to over 900 television channels and huge multiple-screen theaters.  Email, cell phones and wearable computers have made it possible to connect with almost anyone, anywhere on the globe at any time.  The growing population on our planet, combined with greater mobilization, has created a more diversified society, increasing exposure to multiple cultures.  Globalization and transnational markets have created a need for financial and democratic literacies.  From theme parks to efforts in business to make the workplace fun, our society is spinning into an "infotainment" culture, in which the borders between information and entertainment have become blurred.  Special effects in movies, video games, computer games, television and theme parks as well as the evolution of virtual reality, are also blurring the distinctions between the fantasy and real. 


The evolution of the Internet has brought to us a cyberlife - from a wide spectrum of cybercommunities to cyberdemocracy, we can experience entirely new forms of community and new experiences which have never been available before.  From multi-billion dollar business ventures to ordering a pizza, more and more people are "online".  

There are a variety of forms of literacy.  As an introduction to Literacies we share the following analysis by Cummins and Sayers2, who begin with categorizing literacies into three categories:  functional, cultural and critical literacies.


Functional Literacy implies a level of reading and writing that enables people to function adequately in social and employment situations typical of late twentieth century industrialized countries.  As such, it is defined relative to changing social demands.


Cultural Literacy emphasizes the need for shared experiences, knowledge, and expectations in order to comprehend adequately texts, media, or patterns of social interaction within particular communities.  


Critical Literacy, as expounded in the work of Brazilian educator Paulo Freire, highlights the potential of written language as a tool that encourages people to analyze the division of power and resources in their society and work to transform discriminatory structures. . . . 


Critical literacy is defined by researcher Ira Shor as follow

"Habits of thought, reading, writing, and speaking which go beneath surface meaning, first impressions, dominant myths, official pronouncements, traditional clichés, received wisdom, and mere opinions, to understand the deep meaning, root causes, social context, ideology, and personal consequences of any action, event, object, process, organization, experience, text, subject matter, policy, mass media, or discourse."

Shor, Ira (1992)  Empowering education:  Critical teaching for social change


21st Century Schools is building a database of information for the teaching and implementation of each of these new literacies required for life in the new millennium.  This is a new project, and is small at this time, but will be added to on a continuing basis.  Please see Multiple Literacies and Critical Pedagogy in a Multicultural Society by Douglas Kellner.

Media Literacies - Analysis, Critique and Production

Emotional Literacy


Financial Literacy

Civic or Social Literacy

Multicultural Literacy

Political Literacy

Computer Literacy

Print Literacies are more important than ever

Information Literacy

Visual Literacy

Aural Literacy

Business Literacy



1.  Kellner, Douglas. 

2.  Cummins, Jim and Dennis Sayers (1999).  Brave New Schools - Challenging Cultural Illiteracy through Global Learning Networks, St. Martin's Press, New York.