Sunday, October 12, 2008

Demanding Literacy in the White House?

Should Presidential and Vice-Presidential candidates be tested for information literacy skills? It is not in the Constitution. However, Michelle Dover in Demanding Literacy in the White House is suggesting such a test. The article was published in Steamboat Local in Colorado.

Dover wrote:

I strongly suggest, as a nation, we stipulate that anyone who is going to hold a public office should take a literacy test appropriate to his or her responsibility level. Closer to my point, vice presidential candidates and presidential candidates must read from a broad range of sources in order to be informed about the world. We must hold them responsible to achieve this expectation! Some refer to this specific literacy skill as Information Literacy. Thus, public officials should be tested in order to make sure American Intellectual and Informational standards are at the highest level among our elected officials.

ACRL (Association of College & Research Libraries) defines information literacy as "the set of skills needed to find, retrieve, analyze, and use information."

I obviously believe that everyone (including political candidates) should be information literate. However, I also realize that many equate information literacy with personal beliefs. People think "I am well read, I know how to use and evaluate sources, this is what I believe about X, those who do not believe this must be information illiterate as if they were better information literacy educated they would think like I do."

The ability to recognize the need to seek out valid information, to be able to evaluate it and use it is separate from personal beliefs. You can be a liberal, conservative, moderate, libertarian, communist, vegetarian, omnivore, religious believer, atheist, etc. and be information literate. People often reach different conclusions after rational thought and careful evaluation of the same sources. The information literate often do that.

Of course, all people (including political candidates) should be information literate. How do we test it? There are several tests being piloted and used out there including project SAILS and the Research Readiness Self-Assessment from Central Michigan University. Neither of these test intentionally for personal beliefs. Instead, they look at how the person seeks out, evaluates, and uses information.

Even these tests are open to interpretation. Are they biased in some ways to western cultural norms? Could the selection of questions in some way unintentionally grade people higher or lower based on what the test authors believed were universal truths that not all informationally literate people agree with?

I agree with Dover that political candidates should be fluent with information literacy skills. However, I am not sure if any test can detect this for certain. I do know that I reject any argument that individuals are not informationally literate based on their personal beliefs. The information literate represent all spectrum's of political debate. Unfortunately, so do the information literacy impaired.

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