The Cultural Reason for Using LOGO as a Programming Language for Learning, Based on a Proper
Redefinition for the Concept of Modern Literacy

Yehoshafat Shafee Give'on
The Center for Informatics,
Beit Berl college,

1 Introduction

LOGO was introduced into the world of Education with an educational ideology. In this paper I want to establish a different ideology for LOGO, a cultural ideology that is based on a certain definition for modern literacy. Instead of associating LOGO with an educational message, it can be associated with a broader cultural message and trend. Hopefully, this can offer a relatively more successful strategy for introducing LOGO into the educational field.

2 Literacy and data manipulation

Our culture has been a culture of reading and of writing. The scholastic component of our culture is still based on reading and writing as its main tools for knowledge acquisition. A major part of our educational efforts has been invested in getting the general population to learn how to read and how to write. Students of our culture, when they are studying, they are mostly involved with reading and writing. Thus literacy has become an essential part of our culture.

It was the invention of writing, that enabled Man, for the first time in history, to externalize knowledge as information graven in physical tokens of symbols, in a manner that allowed further reflection, study and handling. The written word enables, not just the abstraction of ideas through the complexities of symbols, structures and their meaning, but also the simulation of abstract ideas by means of processes carried out in the external environment of a person. Formal Logic, Mathematics, and their applications are the living proof as to why the power of a string of characters, such as a scientific formula, may be more powerful than thousands pictures. The invention of writing enabled Man to discover the possibility of managing information processes by means of data handling processes that are carried out entirely outside of his mind.

Viewing the technologies of writing and reading from the viewpoint of modern data processing, we can define the two main processes of literacy in terms of data manipulation and usage: Writing is the process of the composition of data. Reading is the process in which the reader creates, associates and supplements data with interpretations.

In the context of data manipulating systems of conventional literacy, "Writing", "editing", and "reading" are the ordinary terms used for the three basic components of data manipulation: input, processing and output.

The basic skills of our scholastic culture are associated with artifacts and especially with instruments. The development of the basic skills of reading and of writing and their applications cannot be separated from the development the reading and writing tools. In fact, the very notion of scholastic reading (i.e., reading for learning), and later, the notion of scholastic writing (i.e., writing for learning) came about only after certain technological developments were accomplished (Illich and Sanders, 1989). Thus, we must realize that our scholastic culture has been a technology based culture for some centuries now. In particular, our culture is based on certain information technologies: the book and the notebook, the pencil, the eraser, the pen and the desk, the press, the library, the index and the catalog, etc.

3 Literacy and knowledge

With the introduction of the alphabet into our culture as the basic information technology, structured domains of academic and of practical knowledge, were designed, molded, developed and channeled through this technology. In particular, the processes of reading and writing became the main procedures for the acquisition of any established and organized knowledge.

Conventional literacy was developed in order to supply the general population with the basic know-how of how to use the data processing systems of our culture, in order to enable most of us, if not all of us, to acquire knowledge in the various academic and professional disciplines. Literacy is a knowledge that has been designed as a pre-condition for the satisfaction of the need of broader knowledge. The idea has been that one has to know how to use data in order be able to manufacture information that is required for one's knowledge. Thus, conventional literacy has become the pre-requisite for all other established knowledge areas within the educational sphere of the our culture.

The processes of reading and of writing were discovered to be quite efficient not only for the transfer of knowledge, but also for the personal reconstruction and construction of knowledge. One may hypothesize as to the cause of these facts, by relating them to multi-media and to the old analog-digital dichotomy. By moving from the fully analog long-range communication systems (namely, pictures), towards the use of digital communication systems (namely alphabetic writing,) Man moved from using mirrors and facsimiles of ideas to the use of abstract and even arbitrary symbolic representations of ideas. The relationship message-to-contents shifted and transformed from the simulation of Reality to the symbolization, of both sound (the spoken word) and ideas (its contents) and thus, of inner reality. With writing and reading, the user has to view ideas in terms of at least two systems of representations, the silent spoken word and a silent visual graphic representation of it. Thus, the technologies of writing and reading are actually the forerunners of multi-media cognitive technologies.

It is quite amazing that almost all cultures that adopted the use of written texts as sources of information adopted also a strong bondage between writing and reading in their education systems. In particular, in the Western cultures, we cannot find formal educational systems that teach how to read separated from teaching how to write. In theory, one can envision cultures in which all their people know how to read, and only a few know how to write. In theory, learning how to write or knowing how to write do not seem to be necessary pre-requisites for learning or knowing how to read. Yet, literacy has been, from its very beginning, a two-way proposition.

I do not know what was the historical reason for the amalgamation of the requirements of the two main skills of literacy: reading and writing. I do not know why the founding fathers of our educational systems decided that one must know how to write. It does not really matter. what matters is why we should continue to uphold this tradition.

4 A proposal for a modern definition of literacy

The term "literacy", has become a free and loose metaphor. Today one can find academic discussions of "Technological Literacy", "Linguistic Literacy", "Scientific Literacy", "Computer Literacy", "Academic Literacy", "Mathematical Literacy" and even about "Cultural Literacy".

It seems therefore, that every area of knowledge that satisfies certain conditions is coined and defined as a specific and separate type of literacy. If the said area of knowledge requires a sophisticated process of training and acculturation, if its contents are deemed to be vital to daily living so that their lack is regarded as shameful ignorance, if the required process of training is long and in fact begins at home and yet society cannot trust all parents to be able to carry its burden successfully, then that area, and its asymptotic learning goal, are called "literacy".

So, conventional literacy has two characteristics. One is associated with its contents and the other with its status in our society. Its contents characteristic is data manipulation as a pre-requisite for learning from certain data systems. Obviously, its status characteristic is the result of its contents. Therefore, in spite of the popular free for all usage of the term "literacy", I think we should stick to its essential contents.

We can define literacy as the training of people in the use of personal and public systems of data manipulation, that enables information production that is necessary for the advancement of their personal knowledge.

5 From literacy to the use of Informatics in education

The first attempts of using software applications in learning environments can be described and characterized as attempts to industrialize education. These attempts were carried out in a non-professional manner by introducing drill and practice programs and other sorts of applications that were designed as if to imitate the standard methods and processes of computerization of industry and business. A professional data process analysis (namely, system analysis) could have proved immediately how futile such an approach to education has been.

Contrary to the procedures of administration, business and industry, no one has discovered, in the learning and teaching environments, any algorithmic processes that are relevant to the processes of teaching and learning. Therefore, all the attempts to design, setup and employ any software so that it automatically performs any teaching procedures (such as drilling, practicing, explaining, testing or evaluating) whatsoever, had no basis in fact.

Viewing literacy as a pre-requisite education centered around the practice of personal data manipulation processes required for the needs of learning and knowledge, can lead to an entirely different approach to the use of computers in education. First of all, we do not have to wrap the message of introducing computers into our schools with visions of improved education. If knowledge is stored in data bases, than we must teach our kids how to intelligently search for it. Enabling our pupils to know how to access data is not a vision of improved education, it is the very definition of the rudiments of education, of literacy. The changes in the technology of stationery do not imply a change in our basic duty - the empowerment of our pupils with proper methods of wholesome access to knowledge.

6 Digital stationery and literacy

The digital stationery systems and tools are the software applications that enable the personal user of such applications to write, to edit and to read, in the broadest meaning of these terms, using computerized systems of data manipulation of various formats and structures. These applications are bundles of algorithms and data structures (Wirth, 1976; Oettinger, 1993) that provide convenient and flexible options for writing, editing and reading.

The word processors provide options for writing, editing and reading patterns of strings of characters organized in frames and pages. Presentation programs provide similar options related to patterns of sequences of transparencies. Data bases are so related to patterns of tables or records, and of certain characteristic functions (in the set-theoretic sense). Hypertext generators are word processors enriched with hyper-links. The electronic spreadsheets are related to patterns of numerical calculations. Concept mapping software are related to labeled graphs (in the graph-theoretic sense). And so forth.

If any of these applications, or their output, are connected to common and significant sources of information, then we must learn how to use them, and we must let our pupils learn how to use them.

Defining the role of the teacher in the new learning environments as the provider of access to sources of data is limiting our concept of learning to the output aspect of the data manipulating systems available in such environments. Such a definition pertains only to the control of transfer of data from the systems to the learner. Thus, it restricts the learner to the reading process, no matter how advanced the technology of the reading materials is.

Let us not forget that conventional literacy is based on the axiom that we teach reading with writing. Therefore, instead of defining the modern teacher as a modern version of the librarian, we should define him or her as a modern version of the conventional literacy teacher, which implies teaching and guiding the learners into the full academic uses of modern stationery. That is, the modern teacher is responsible for the advancement of his or her students level of writing, editing and reading, into, in and from, the modern data manipulating systems.

7 The scope of modern literacy and LOGO

Where does LOGO enter into these arguments? The answer to this question is derived from answers to the question of why literacy must remain a two-way proposition. I can conceive two such answers. One is based on a certain philosophy, and the other is based on an extrapolation from a cognitive phenomenon.

I believe that we teach our pupils how to write, not in order to prepare them for training as professional writers, but in order to put them, as human beings, at least ceremonially, on an equal level with the knowledge they acquire. When they learn how to write, they know at least that textbooks are products of human beings. The more there is to know, the more our pupils should know how the knowledge brought to them was created. By learning how to write they are even invited to participate in the creation of their knowledge as well as of our knowledge.

Thus, by viewing the pupil as a human being, the creator of knowledge, we make sure not to overwhelm him or her, not with the vastness of knowledge, nor with the status of its sources. We teach him to compose data, and not only to consume data.

The second reason for the vitality of the two-way nature of literacy is based on the discovery that one learns by writing. The earliest reference to the discovery that reading helps learning is attributed by Illich and Sanders to Hugh of St. Victor that had said in 1128 "Three are the types of reading: reading to you, your reading to me, and reading, contemplatively, to myself" (Illich and Sanders, 1989; p. 51). Four hundred years later, one of the most prominent commentators and interpreters of the Talmud, said "For the most significant and impressive part of learning, is that which is carried out with handwriting" (Maharsha, ~1550).

The philosophical attitude that provides the first reason for the necessity of conventional writing must be far more accentuated when we discuss the position of our pupils relative to computers. If we want our pupils to maintain their superiority over computers, if we want them to know what are they using when they use software, for whatever purpose, and if we do not want to make the know-how of computer control restricted to an elite class, we must teach our pupils how to write software and not only how to read software. Hence, the outrageous idea that pupils nowadays must learn also how to program, for the same reason pupils learned how to write in the old times of conventional literacy.

The second reason is still open for empirical proof. When programming will be taught as a means of writing (rather than designing), then we may find out whether or not the analogy of writing will carry with it the same consequence - the phenomena of writing for learning.

LOGO is, still, the best candidate for a programming language that is suitable for programming as writing and programming for learning. But if we want to use LOGO for this purpose, we must simply do just this. Let us teach the activity of programming in LOGO as an activity of literacy, as a tool for writing for learning. It is the activity of writing for contemplation during the process that interests us in this context, and not for its end product - may it be a fascinating graphic pattern or an amazing machine designed by the pupil and operated and controlled by the program. It is not that these end-product oriented activities are not important. One may accomplish them with better tools than LOGO. If we understand the phenomena of writing for learning, we can understand the uniqueness of LOGO and then find ways to put forth and teach LOGO as a language for such writing.

The details of proper dealing with these assumptions: the importance of the phenomena of writing for learning, and the features of LOGO that makes it a unique programming language for learning by writing, require additional papers. However, to sum up my arguments, here is a synopsis of the minimal claim for using LOGO as a modern literacy tool:


  1. Illich, I., and Sanders, B., ABC - The Alphabetization of the Popular Mind. New York: Vintage Books, 1989.
  2. Maharsha (Rabi Shmuel Eidelle’s), Comments on Baba Batra. (page 10). ~1550.
  3. Oettinger, A.G., "Building blocks and bursting bundles," in Ernst, M.L., et al, Mastering the Changing Information World. Ablex Publishing Corporation, Norwood, New Jersey. 1993.
  4. Wirth, N., Algorithm s + Data Structures = Programs. Englewoods Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1976.