Death of the Word: A is for Ox

“Barry Sanders’ book is 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

When I was writing copy for McGraw-Hill Publishing and Random House more than twenty years ago, I wrote the following:

“It is a truism everywhere from the classroom to the Senate floor that neither Johnny nor Julia can read, and that something should be done about it right away. But A is for Ox: The Collapse of Literacy and the Rise of Violence in an Electronic Age — a groundbreaking book by any standards – compels us to reconsider what literacy is, how it evolves from oral culture, and why it is essential not only to what we know but to who we are.”

A is forAn ear to ear smile came across my face in putting together what was intended to be for the jacket cover of the Vintage Book paperback in 1994 because my nickname has always been “Ox”…and I knew that I’d get a kick bringing up the volume in conversation now and then. But the Barry Sanders book is quite a serious matter. It shows why the death of the word (not Ox) signifies a terrifying break in human nature and portends a cataclysm heralded by our current epidemic of youth violence.

The author brilliantly orchestrated a vast range of learning on subjects extending from 12-Step Fellowships to Mayan “echomen” and from the neurophysiology of television-watching to the latest fashions in inner-city weaponry, and blew me away; it wouldn’t matter what the title was, but I can tell you that his explanation of why he chose that title is fascinating and spot on. He produced what was at once a resounding defense of reading and writing (along with storytelling, singing, and joking!) and a program for nurturing literacy amid the proliferating desert of electronic images… a dynamic which has only gotten worse since the tome was first published.

A is for Ox is erudite, poetic, and at times deeply disturbing in a highly instructive way. It’s a book that should be required reading for educators, parents, legislators and concerned citizens worldwide.

Richard Martin Oxman has been an educator for over half a century, working as a journalist, taxi driver, construction laborer and in many other capacities in the so-called real world for longer than that. He believes that a radical spiritual transformation is essential for bringing about the watershed in history which is now necessary, and — on that note — he feels he should get an “A” for advocating the book spotlighted above. He can be reached at [email protected] for other recommendations, for any reason at all.




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