"The whole movement of life is learning" (Krishnamurti). "To be an act of knowing, then, the adult literacy process must engage the learners in the constant problematizing of their existential situations" (Freire). "Once you learn to read, you will be forever free" (Douglass). "I can learn anything I have the desire to learn" (White, S.G.).

Friday, February 21, 2014

Literacy campaigns and power implications

The Arnove/Graff article makes the point that almost every historical literacy campaign has had an agenda, such as “…the spread of religious doctrine, the growth of market economies, the rise of bureaucratic  and legal organizations, and the emergence of national political communities” (Arnove/Graff, p.593).  This made me think about compulsory education at a federal or state level, and how current standardized testing fits into that larger model of literacy as power and literacy as having an agenda.  I believe that the largest cheerleaders of No Child Left Behind were textbook and test makers, who likely were also behind the lobbying push towards national standardized testing: they had a lot of money to make if lawmakers chose that path.  This just goes to reinforce that wealth equals power, and power and wealth together collude to control literacy.

We all know that public education in the US has gone down a standardized testing rabbit hole.  Many teachers no longer enjoy teaching, many students no longer enjoy school, and there is tremendous economic and social pressure to “succeed,” which leaves under-performing students and schools in the lurch.   We've talked a bit in class about the intersection of class, poverty, and literacy.  From my perspective, it’s clear that they’re all linked—and the Arnove & Graff text convinces me that they always have been.

Arnove and Graff write,
 “The power of dominant groups to shape language policy and educational content is similarly reflected in what skills are developed in what populations as part of the literacy process.  Historically and comparatively, rural populations, the working class, ethnic and racial minorities, and women have been the last to receive literacy instruction and to gain access to advanced levels of schooling.  As various Unesco publications reiterate, “The world map of illiteracy is the map of poverty.”  (p.607.)
Will this change in our lifetimes?  I guess probably not.  But it's worth thinking about, talking about, and thinking about ways the we might influence change.

1 comment:

  1. I agree, Caitlin, and appreciate your non-despairing stance. Being able to name the world, as Freire says, is a step toward change. And reading critiques that are credible and inspiring (like, in my opinion, Diane Ravitch's new book Reign of Error). And then networking (like the Richmond Teacher's for Social Justice, which is not just k-12 oriented). And then helping others look up....Call me silly, but something has to give. Privatization of schooling will never be the ultimate solution, because it always ultimately leads to wider gasps between the have nots and the have a lots (with some notable exceptions). :)B


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