“Oracy” was a word new to me during teacher training, the verbal equivalent of literacy, oracy is defined as “the ability to express oneself fluently and grammatically in speech.” Eleven weeks into a teaching career, there is a realisation that oracy and literacy may have little in common.
In thirty years of ministry in the church, there were frequent encounters with people who might possess a wonderful level of literacy, be brilliantly fluent on paper, be capable of articulating thoughts both profound and moving, but when the moment came to give voice to such thoughts, found themselves unable to express orally what they had written. It might be hard to reconcile the words read with the words spoken, the skills of literacy were not matched by those of oracy.
In school, there seems often to be a situation that is the reverse of that experienced in the church, there are students with gifts of oracy whose level of literacy might be, at best, basic and, at worst, almost non-existent.
The concepts of absolute and relative morality were the subject matter of the Year 7 religious education lesson. Thought was given to the idea that there were actions that were always right or were always wrong, regardless of the circumstances, and to the idea that there were ideas and actions where considerations of right and wrong were relative to the circumstances. Students were introduced to the idea of absolute morality developed by the philosopher Immanuel Kant, the idea that morality did not depend on context, but was something that was consistent and unchanging.
The students in the lesson were members of the weakest set, they were students whose handwriting or spelling or grammar left much to be desired, the skills of literacy were very limited.
The class was asked to imagine that they accepted the absolute moralist idea that one should always be consistent, and to imagine, in this situation, consistency meant never telling a lie. They were presented with a scenario to consider where a crazed axe murderer came to the door of their house demanding to know the whereabouts of one of the class’s friends who was in the house hiding under the bed. Could they both tell the truth and protect the friend from harm?
One student articulated a clear and perceptive outline of the problem, employing skills of oracy which far surpassed the literacy ability.
Inevitably, no matter how fluent their oracy may be, students will be judged on their literacy. Yet if one returned to the early days of the universities, when paper was not readily available and writing materials were expensive, students were examined and judged on their capacity to speak their thoughts. Why might oracy not regain a parity of esteem with written work?