When one embarks on an undertaking as vast and complex as tracing the trail of literacy in US education, one must set a few parameters. For the first, I choose a somewhat cowardly one: a review of dictionary pronouncements. One old standby, the American Collegiate Dictionary (1970) (published by Random House) offers the following:

literacy - the state of being literate; possession of an education; literate - ability to read and write; having an education; educated; one who can read and write

For a more recent definition, what better place to turn than the offerings of that concerned, venerable colonist Noah Webster? In the Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary (1987) (published by Miriam-Webster) Webster's descendants provide this:

literacy - the quality or state of being literate; literate - educated, cultured; able to read and write; versed in literature or creative writing ... an educated person

While some may regard the above as sprawling and unhelpful, it is my feeling that, for my argument, some useful seeds are sewn in the objective multiple definitions.