Let me say at the outset that I hope this post will not seem too random or wander too far a field of our readings. With that disclaimer, I have found myself thinking about my own "literacy history" and wanted to look at that in light of some of the materials we have read lately. The Arnove & Graff article started me along these lines and even as I try to formulate what I want to say, I am finding that the overarching richness of the article leaves me a bit speechless. But I will blunder ahead :-)
To begin with, I want to address the idea of shaping societies through literacy with propaganda - or campaigns. Propaganda is a harsh word, but real. I was struck by the relationship of literacy to the "political will of national leaders" and how that has been used historically to shape our societies. To my dismay, I have realized how much my own opinions and realities have been shaped by just such campaigns. A couple of years ago I read "Deer-hunting with Jesus" by Joe Bageant. This book is about classism and Bageant can speak authentically as a son of the "white working-class poor." Everything in the book was like going home for me, these were my family and friends (still are) and I saw so clearly how my continual growth in multiple literacies has reprogrammed me. Arnove & Graff talked about Freire's focus on "literacy as a process of individual consciousness raising and social change." Bingo. That hit me between the eyes. As I reflect on these things it also makes me angry. The article goes on to discuss how literacy and adult education efforts are always informed and oriented by particular political world views of social elites and dominant groups. I am working my way through Howard Zinn's "A Peoples History of the United States" now and I shudder at how much history is left out of the texts that populate our schools. Maybe I am locked into what books I learned from, maybe things have changed and there is more diversity, more stories from the perspectives of oppressed groups, more lens through which to view our development as a "just society." Or maybe not.
Back to Arnove & Graff and the purpose of literacy campaigns, particularly those of religion throughout history which focused on control rather than growth and change, which is at odds with the Freirean approach. Reading the "materials and methods" of the Protestant Reformation (and others) devices - basic drill and repetition - makes me question what we are teaching this generation when every classroom minute seems to be focused on getting the correct answers on prescribed tests and little if any attention is given to developing the skills of critical analysis. On a side note, it is the children of the elites in society that flourish under the educational structures that produce the critical thinking skills that will guide the next generation of "leaders." A few persistent and especially skilled young people will overcome their educational poverty and lend voices to the public debate and this may change the conversations, a bit. But not nearly enough for real change, for as the article pointed out "unbridled literacy" is above all to be feared by those who hold societies positions of power.
While we were reading this article, I was receiving updates from colleagues on the discussions on SB701 within the Virginia House of Delegates. (The Senate supported the bill, but the delegates tabled it.) SB701 was a very broad-based nondiscrimination bill for state employees. Regardless of where you stand on this the YouTube video of the testimonies was enlightening.
Here is to new visions, to new ways of perceiving and naming the world... Cheers!