Brandt’s discussion on the effects of “outside forces” on literacy is new insight on an old conversation. I think that for years there has been a obvious connection made between low socioeconomic status and low literacy development. But there has not been discussion on the approaches used to teach reading and writing in these situations. A literacy sponsor is not automatically a positive enforcer of reading and writing; it can either enable or disable the students engagement with reading and writing. The “economics of literacy” is a two way street: “as we assist and study individuals in pursuit of literacy, we also recognize how literacy is in pursuit of them” (348). How is literacy showcased to the student? Is it showcased to them at all?
Literacy is no longer a skill that will get you ahead. It is a prize for the fortunate and the lucky ones who have the resources to out run the less fortunate and luck. “Literacy, like land, is a valued commodity in this economy, a key resource in gaining profit and edge. This value helps to explain, of course, the lengths people will go to to secure literacy for themselves or their children. But it also explains why the powerful work so persistently to conscript and ration the powers of literacy. The competition to harness literacy, to manage, measure, teach, and exploit it, has intensified throughout the century. It is vital to pay attention to this development because it largely sets the terms for individuals' encounters with literacy” (336). A child who isn’t influenced by the drive and motivation from a positive literacy sponsor at a young age may never know the importance it has on the power it has on their future. It is definitely a crazy and tough web to escape, but there is only so much “save the world” work we can do in our teaching. I apologize for the mundane and pessimistic tone this response has. But my bubble of happiness and joy in teaching has shrunk considerably this semester.
The first three chapters of Carter's book take a critical look at the teaching of literacy, what it really means, and how it is often used, purposefully, inadvertently, or for lack of better options, to help or hurt students (sometimes helping them in the short term but hurting them in the long term - as with getting them to focus on passing TAKS). These are issues that we have gone through in this class and discussed many times, and Carter brings them together to illustrate a country in which testing more determining of how we teach literacy than a society in which literacy and its very nature determine how it is taught. Certainly, this is ridiculous, and there is very little theoretical justification for the backwardness of it, but this is how existing power structures have determined to do things. But I can’t see a world without it. Kind of like the discussion we had two weeks ago about the way we are tested in the MA English program. The issue has been argued about, brought to vote, and it always seems to find its place right where we say it doesn’t belong. We are damned if we do, and we are damned if we don’t.
Carter's solution to the problem of testing and labeling "Basic writers" is to "help students develop rhetorical dexterity...[and] explicitly validate the complex systems in which these students are already considered literate by taking them seriously and asking our students to do the same" (22). This concept seems to guide the whole book, working as the framework for what teachers should aim towards for "basic writing" students. I really like this idea of validating multiple literacies, which is something that I went over with my students to make them understand that they are literate because literacy today is not limited to reading and writing in today’s society.