The twin crises of illiteracy and youth violence haunt our age; the failure of increasing numbers of young people to attain even minimal levels of literacy signals a catastrophe at the deepest levels of our culture.
A is for Ox is an important and impassioned work that both proves this conclusion and suggests what can be done to change it. Sanders argues that because of the omnipresence of electronically generated images and sounds in contemporary culture, children grow up lacking the oral experience of language crucial to attaining true literacy; without the technologies of reading and writing, the development of self is stunted. By tracing the long history of literacy in the West, Sanders demonstrates how the culture of electronic media is changing both cognitive development and social interaction. Taking the issue of literacy out of the narrow context of schooling and education, Sanders compels us to consider it in relation to the fundamental issues of both personal identity and a person’s unforced consent to the social contract.
“A brilliant, disturbing reflection on the collapsing moral order of post-modern America. If literacy is the wellspring of selfhood, as Sanders makes clear, our aggressive, image-addicted society is unwittingly committing cultural suicide.”–Mike Davis