Dawn Boeck 11.15.11 response

Deborah Brandt makes the powerful assertion that “Literacy looms as one of the great engines of profit and competitive advantage in the 20th century: a lubricant for consumer desire; a means for integrating corporate markets; a foundation for the deployment of weapons and other technology; a raw material in the mass production of information” (333). If we consider each of these roles of literacy, we begin to understand not only the complexity of literacy, but also its potential power. Literacy – the ability to read, write, communicate, and interact in various social environments – permeates individual lives in various and idiosyncratic ways.

Brandt’s discussion of sponsors of literacy helps to illuminate the complexities of literacy, its access, and its standards. She defines sponsors as “any agents, local or distant, concrete or abstract, who enable support, teach, model, as well as recruit, regulate, suppress, or withhold literacy – and gain advantage by it in some way” (334). These sponsors are not neutral. As we have learned in our previous readings (specifically Shor), education – and literacy by extension – are directly connected to systems of economy and politics. Because of this, educational systems are centers for training and maintaining individuals for participation in the status quo society. Carter (2008) emphasizes this point, explaining that literacy, like education, is treated as a pawn in a game of societal power. Value is placed on literacy, leaving the ‘stigma’ of illiteracy (as discussed by Carter, discussing Brian V. Street, 32).

The most interesting and enlightening section of reading this week for me came in Carter’s discussion on the standards that determine the line between literacy and illiteracy. Individuals who are labeled as illiterate are judged and excluded for their ‘deficit,’ deemed unable to cope (quote by Barbara Bush in Carter, 30). Carter explains that this inability to function within society is far from reality if we begin to take the social and communal aspects of literacy into consideration. This social view of literacy “requires us to understand reading and writing not as a neutral skill set and an inherent good, but as a social practice that grows out of real living circumstances that dictate true need” (33).

Carter points out, drawing on Gemma Moss and Linda Brodkey, even individuals who are deemed literate enough to teach others academic literacy in the composition classroom are not literate in other subject areas. Because of this, literacy is more dependent on the resources and connections an individual has than it is on one’s actual level of literacy within a specific context. I connected Carter’s examples of the mechanic and the accountant to my own experience with MLA and APA citation styles. It is necessary that we, as teachers or Writing Consultants, understand the expectations and rules of MLA and/or APA; however, it is not necessary for us to be perfectly literate in these literacies. In the same way, if not more so, our students need to understand how to use APA and/or MLA, but it is more important that they learn where the resources are.

Brandt suggests that teachers become more aware of not only how or why our students are pursuing literacy, but also “how literacy is in pursuit of them” (348). Some students may not even be aware of the many ways in which society and its literacy sponsors have already shaped and influenced not only their access to literacy, but also their perceptions of it. Carter (2008) discusses the problem of the “master narrative” at the heart of critical literacy pedagogy, explaining that “the master narrative is problematic precisely because it is seductive and because it is seductive it organizes our world without our really thinking about it (a powerful rhetorical/ideological/cultural force” (51). Carter argues that if we want to teach our students true critical literacy, then we cannot separate literacy from its connections to ideology and politics.

Brandt asks the question, “How are we to understand the vicissitudes of individual literacy development in relationship to the large-scale economic forces that set the routes and determine the worldly worth of literacy?” (333). Shannon Carter is asking a similar question in her book The Way Literacy Lives (2008), connecting individual literacy to the multiple literacies and context inherent within society.

Opportunities for Dissensus: Both of the readings this week question the appropriateness and viability of a continued focus on the uncritical acceptance of literacy. Each author offers their own suggestions for how to help students gain a more critical understanding of their own literacies as well as the systems that define, disseminate, and appreciate or depreciate them.

Brandt discusses the potential for misappropriation of literacy skills/resources by the individual which offers “the potential of the sponsored to divert sponsors’ resources toward ulterior projects, often projects of self-interest or self-development” (344). Misappropriation requires the individual take responsibility for attaining and re-directing these skills; however, it offers potential for stepping outside the boundaries defined by the powerful literacy sponsor.

In Basic Writing as a Political Act, Adler-Kassner & Harrington argue that BW instructors need to deliver instruction that “enables students to understand how definitions of literacy are shaped by communities, how literacy, power, and language are linked, and how their myriad experiences with language (in and out of school) are connected to writing” 98). Adler-Kassner & Harrington are seeking a more critical understanding of literacy, one that requires students to learn about the power structures involved in their own literacy experiences.

Carter, building on Brandt, Adler-Kassner & Harrington, and many other scholars, offers her own approach called “a pedagogy of rhetorical dexterity” (14). This approach to teaching students critical literacy encourages them to become aware of their own literacies and find appreciation for them, using them as valuable tools to “negotiate the cultural and linguistic codes of a new community of practice based on a relatively accurate assessment of another, more familiar one” (14). In learning to appreciate and utilize their own literacies, Carter emphasizes the importance of teaching students about the systems their literacies and their educations are a part of.

I think that out of all of the readings I have done on teaching academic literacy (from course readings and the readings for my research), Carter’s pedagogical model makes the most sense. It takes the necessary elements of critical literacy into consideration, while also addressing the negative potentialities that can (and do) arise when teaching students to be critical. She is also working to bring in the student’s own alternative literacies, valuing them as well as analyzing them as a means to better understand their own experiences with literacies within the U.S. educational system and society.