In the early years of schooling, children are constantly encouraged to produce images and to illustrate their written work. Teachers comment on these illustrations as much as they do on the written part of the text, though perhaps not quite in the same vein. Unlike writing, illustrations are not “corrected” or subjected to detailed criticism like “this needs more work,” “not clear,” “poor expressions,” and so on. They are seen as self-expression, rather than as communication, and as something the children can do already, spontaneously, rather than as something they have to be taught. By the time children are beyond their first two years of secondary schooling, illustrations have largely disappeared from the children’s own texts as well as from the texts produced for them. Whereas texts produced for the early years of schooling are richly illustrated, later on visual images give way to a greater and greater proportion of verbal, written texts. In as much as visual images continue, they have become maps, diagrams, or representations with a technical function, such as photographs illustrating a particular landform or estuary or settlement type in a geography textbook. Outside school, however, images continue to play a very important role, and not just in texts for children. Newspapers, magazines, public relations materials, advertisements, and many kinds of books today involve a complex interplay of written texts, images, and other graphic elements. These elements combine together into visual designs, by means of layout. The skill of producing texts of this kind, however important their role in contemporary society, is not taught in schools. In terms of this new visual literacy, education produces illiterates. Writing itself is of course also a form of visual communication. Indeed, and paradoxically, the sign of the fully literate social person is the ability to treat writing completely as a visual medium—for instance, not moving one’s lips and not vocalizing when one is reading, not even “subvocalizing”—a silent “speaking aloud in the head.” Readers who move their lips when reading, who subvocalize, are regarded as still tainted with the culturally less advanced mode of spoken language. This kind of visual literacy, i.e., the old visual literacy, has been one of the most essential achievements and values of Western cultures. It is also one of the most essential goals for education, and it has been used by Western cultures to distinguish between literate (advanced) and non-literate (oral and primitive) cultures. No wonder that the move towards a new literacy, based on images and visual designs, can come to be seen as a threat and a sign of the decline of culture. The fading out of illustrations in texts by and for children, then, is not a straightforward disvaluation of visual communication. It is, instead, a valuation which gives particular prestige to one kind of visual communication—writing, which is the “old” visual literacy. Other visual communication is either treated as the domain of a very small elite of specialists or disvalued as possible form of expression for articulate, reasoned communication, seen as a “childish” stage one grows out of. To sum up, the opposition to the emergence of a new visual literacy is not based on an opposition to the visual media as such. It is, rather, on an opposition to the visual images which form an alternative to writing and can therefore be seen as a potential threat to the present dominance of verbal literacy among elite groups.
What does the word prestige mean in the fifth paragraph?