Comparative Studies in Society and History

The Limits of Literacy

Schooling, Language, and Knowledge in Literate and Nonliterate Societies

F. Niyi Akinnasoa1

a1 Temple University

The relationships among schooling, language, and knowledge—especially through the systematic comparison of the organization, form, function, and acquisition of institutionalized knowledge—in literate and nonliterate societies has hardly been examined. This essay attempts such an analysis, focusing on knowledge acquired through the use of language, because language is the major medium for imparting knowledge in schools and for social reproduction in the larger society, because knowledge acquired through the use of language is readily identifiable and testable, and because language is one of the major terms of the present analysis. The proposed elastic concept of schooling views schooling as a cover term for institutionalized learning in any society, literate or nonliterate. It thus questions the analytical adequacy of the received, Euro-American, concept of schooling as a unitary phenomenon based on the dual assumption that the school specializes in the transmission of literate knowledge and that literacy education is coterminous with formal education.

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