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Reactions And Reading Notes To Literacy In American Lives June 2005 Buffy Hamilton

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  • I read your blog article at http://dmlcentral.net/blog/buffy-hamilton/literacies-and-fallacies . Since you did this research in 2005 and so much has changed that enables us to connect, learn, visualize ideas and data, etc. since then, do you have a version of this with graphics to map some of the ideas and connections that you describe?
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Reactions And Reading Notes To Literacy In American Lives June 2005 Buffy Hamilton

  1. 1. B. Hamilton Reactions and Reading Notes Literacy in American Lives, June 2005 page 1 Buffy Hamilton ELAN 8005, Summer 2005 Reactions/Reading Notes Literacy in American Lives, Deborah Brandt Independent Study Overarching Questions What different kinds of literate communities exist, and how are they sponsors of literacy? How do these literate communities and literacy sponsors shape lifelong reading? How do they affect cultural perceptions about reading? How do books and reading define culture? How does culture define books and reading? Introduction: The Pursuit of Literacy “In short, literacy is valuable---and volatile---property” (p. 2) “As a resource, literacy has a potential payoff in gaining power or pleasure, in accruing information, civil rights, education, spirituality, status, money” (p. 5) Key terms: literacy learning, literacy development, literacy opportunity (p. 7) Literacy Learning Literacy Development Literacy Opportunity Specific occasion The accumulating project Refers to people’s when people take on of literacy learning across relationships to new understanding of a lifetime; the social and economic or capacities---not interrelated effects and structures that confined to school or potentials of learning over condition chances formal study time…related to life span for learning and and historical events that development affect literacy as a collective good Concept of “birth cohort” method of analysis---members are entitled to “…participate in only one slice of life---their unique location in the stream of history” (p. 11) All work property of Buffy J. Hamilton, ©2005. No work may be used or reproduced without the express written consent of Buffy J. Hamilton.
  2. 2. B. Hamilton Reactions and Reading Notes Literacy in American Lives, June 2005 page 2 Analytical approach to literacy learning called “sponsors of literacy”; Brandt defines sponsors as “…any agents, local or distant, concrete or abstracts, who enable, support, teach, and model, as well as recruit, regulate, suppress, or withhold literacy---and gain advantage by it in some way” (p. 19) “…sponsors nevertheless set the terms for access to literacy and wield powerful incentives for compliance and loyalty. Sponsors are delivery systems for the economies of literacy, the means by which these forces present themselves to---and through---individual learners. They also represent the causes into which people’s literacy usually gets required” (p. 19). “The competition to harness literacy, to manage, measure, teach, and exploit it, intensified throughout the twentieth century. It is vital to pay attention to this development because it largely sets the terms for individuals’ encounters with literacy. This competition shapes the incentives and barriers (including uneven distributions of opportunity) that greet literacy learners in any particular time and place” (p. 21) Reactions: I had never thought of literacy as property---this is an intriguing premise! The notion of concrete sponsors of literacy is fairly easy to conceptualize, but the notion of abstract sponsors of literacy is a little more difficult to envision---I am eager to expand my concept of the possibilities and powers of literacy sponsors. Thinking about my overarching questions and my role as an educator, I have to wonder how I am a sponsor of literacy? What possibilities and barriers do I present in my role as a secondary English teacher or high school librarian? How can I use my role to create more even “distributions of opportunity” for the learners I encounter? On a larger scale, how does the institution of public school create and deny opportunity for students from all walks of life? This also makes me think of my days in American Literature way back as a junior in high school in 1987---I distinctly remember sitting an English class and a discussion/debate we have on free will vs. fate--- the idea that your environment shapes you and you are a product of the environment you are born into (we were studying Realism and Naturalism). Putting into this context, are our literacies determined by the literacy sponsors in our lives, or do humans have any free will in determining their literacy growth over a lifetime? All work property of Buffy J. Hamilton, ©2005. No work may be used or reproduced without the express written consent of Buffy J. Hamilton.
  3. 3. B. Hamilton Reactions and Reading Notes Literacy in American Lives, June 2005 page 3 Chapter 1: Literacy, Opportunity, and Economic Change Literacy was originally “regarded as a duty to God or democracy; it is now, according to the government, a duty to productivity, and one with increasingly sharp consequences for those not in compliance” (p. 26)/ “…aim of universal literacy began as in imperative of the Christian mission…” (p. 27) Aims of literacy shifted to nation building, social conformity, civil responsibility (p. 28) Literacy sponsors---those who support or discourage literacy learning and development as ulterior motives in their own struggles for economic or political gain----literacy sponsors are an “illuminating lens for tracking the presence of economic forces at the scenes of literacy learning, for tracing connections between the ways that money gets made and the way that literacy gets made” (p. 26) Two significant dimensions of literacy development: 1. Cultural and social organization of a particular economy creates reservoirs of opportunity and contrast from which individual stake their literacy 2. How these backgrounds can later become exploitable by agents of change (p. 34) “Literacy learning is conditioned by economic changes and the implications they bring to regions and communities in which students live. Economic changes devalue once-accepted standards of literacy achievement, but more seriously, destabilize the social and cultural trade routes over which families and communities once learned to preserve and pass on literate know-how. As new and powerful forms of literacy emerge, they diminish the reach and possibilities of receding ones” (p. 42). “The school’s responsibility should not be merely---and perhaps not mainly---to keep raising standards, revising curricular, and multiplying skills to satisfy the relentless pursuers of human capital”(43). “Downsizing, migrations, welfare cutbacks, commercial development, transposition, consolidation, or technological innovations….can wipe out as well as open up access to supports for literacy learning. They also can inflate or deflate the value of existing forms of literacy in the lives of students. Any of these changes can have implications for the status of literacy practices in school and for the ways students might interact with literacy lessons” (p. 44). All work property of Buffy J. Hamilton, ©2005. No work may be used or reproduced without the express written consent of Buffy J. Hamilton.
  4. 4. B. Hamilton Reactions and Reading Notes Literacy in American Lives, June 2005 page 4 “How do rapid changes in the means and materials of literacy affect the ways that people acquire it or pass it on to others?” (p. 44) “These standards…almost always deliver, in unquestioned ways, the prevailing interest of dominant economies” (p. 45) Reactions This chapter was somewhat unsettling---it is like hearing an idea for the first time and at first, you do not want to even consider the idea could be true because it is so unsettling to your mindset of the world. But as time goes on, a secret fear gnaws at you---what if the idea is true? The idea of literacy as an economic commodity used to perpetuate some big machine of economics and culture definitely disrupts my rosy concept of literacy as something that can help anyone overcome any circumstance. Are concepts of literacy organic rather than static? Is our definition of literacy and what counts as literacy truly subject to the economic forces at work in our country? Is this true for all countries? How do teachers and parents anticipate what literacies may evolve and what will count so that our children will be prepared to face the rigors of lifelong literacy learning? Is literacy only about economic capital rather than something that can help one live a richer personal life? Or is the idea of literacy as something to enrich one’s personal life even possible if you don’t have the access in terms of being under the influence of the dominant or most powerful literacy sponsors? How can literacy be the great equalizer in American society if where and when you are in a particular point in history determines your literacy learning, literacy development, and literacy opportunities? Can public schools ever escape the overwhelming pressure to produce “human capital”? This line of thought strikes at a central question that seems simple but is really quite complicated: “What is the purpose of public school?” It seems that in my studies of literacy and learning the last few years at UGA, I always circle back to this question, and the responses from different “sponsors of literacy” are very different. How do we reconcile these differences in philosophy of the purpose of public schools? Is it even possible for these entrenched practices to be completely disrupted and a new ideal/vision to be implemented? In looking back at this chapter, what are the implications for the United States if the current system of literacy development, learning, and All work property of Buffy J. Hamilton, ©2005. No work may be used or reproduced without the express written consent of Buffy J. Hamilton.
  5. 5. B. Hamilton Reactions and Reading Notes Literacy in American Lives, June 2005 page 5 opportunities are perpetuated? It sure doesn’t seem like the “system” is working too well to me. Is this because of the paradigm of our schools? Or are we a mere reflection of larger cultural and societal issues in the United States where personal responsibility is no longer a source of pride but a thorn to be pressed into the side of anyone who might try to hold someone responsible for their actions? I have a hard time trying to reconcile the differences in the mindset I grew up with and the ideas that disrupt this mindset…. Chapter 2: Literacy and Illiteracy in Documentary America “Although in principle literacy is a foundation of American democracy, it is in practice a trouble some source of inequity and disequilibrium in the administration of justice” (p. 47) “…documents in all modern organizations---control the way that decisions are made, justice is rendered, and resources are distributed. The dominion of documents in very real ways constructs who we are and to what we are and are not entitled” (p. 49). “…histories of competition among the sponsors of literacy also provide the resources on which people depend as they cope with escalating demand and shifting definition of literacy” (p. 51). “…individual literacy development takes place in synchrony with economic and political developments. The cases also illustrate how struggles among sponsors of literacy create opportunities and barriers for individual literacy learners…the dynamics of these contests affect not only people’s economic chances but often their ability to exercise basic rights” (p. 51). Concept of history of unionism, industrial relations, changing nature of work, as literacy sponsors, specifically history of unionism, attorneys, college-educated union coworkers (case study of Dwayne Lowery) (p. 55) “Yet there is more to be seen in this inventory of literacy sponsors. It exposes the deeply textured history that lies within the literacy practices of institutions and within any individuals’ literacy experiences. Accumulated layers of sponsoring influences---in families, workplaces, schools, memory----carry forms of literacy that have been shaped out of ideological and economic struggles of the past” (p. 56) All work property of Buffy J. Hamilton, ©2005. No work may be used or reproduced without the express written consent of Buffy J. Hamilton.
  6. 6. B. Hamilton Reactions and Reading Notes Literacy in American Lives, June 2005 page 6 “These histories enable one generation to pass its literacy resources onto another…this history also helps to create infrastructures of opportunity” (p. 57). “…however, this layered history of sponsorship is also deeply conservative and can be maladaptive because it teaches forms of literacy that oftentimes are in the process of being overtaken by new political realities and by ascendant forms of literacy” (p. 57). “It is actually this lag or gap in sponsoring forms that we call the rising standard of literacy. The pace of change and the lace of literacy in economic competitions have both intensified enormously in the recent past…where once the same sponsoring arrangement could maintain value across a generation or more, forms of literacy and their sponsors can now rise and recede many times within a single life span…this phenomenon is what makes today’s literacy feel so advanced, and at the same time, so destabilized” (p. 57). Penitentiary system, philosophies of prison management, law, judicial decisions, social pressures influencing prison management and rehabilitation---these created structures of opportunities and barriers for literacy (pp. 64-65). Prison libraries: “Nowhere can the ideological vicissitudes of institutional social beliefs about literacy itself” (p. 67). “But as reading took on other purposes in the large society, shifting from a focus on the religions and didactic functions to leisure and entertainment, rationales for prison libraries became more tenuous” (p. 67). “Sponsors subsidize (or don’t) the development of people’s literate resources as a way to recruit or coerce those resources to their cause; they also can reject or discard the literate resources of people that no longer serve their interest” (p. 70). “It is these characteristics of the sponsors that give contemporary literacy its demanding qualities of complexity, multiplicity, and stratification, its sense of surplus and its volatility” (p. 70). “This synchronization among literacy learning, histories of economic and political struggle, and sponsorship suggests a need for definitions of literacy that better incorporate the ways that literacy actually gets made in the lives of people” (pp. 70-71). “The farther away one is to start with the more it takes to become and stay literate” (p. 72). All work property of Buffy J. Hamilton, ©2005. No work may be used or reproduced without the express written consent of Buffy J. Hamilton.
  7. 7. B. Hamilton Reactions and Reading Notes Literacy in American Lives, June 2005 page 7 Reactions The concept to “layers of literacy” and how a person’s history of literacy “piles up” made me think of Bakhtin and his notion of dialogism as well as his concept of heterglossia or many- voicedness. This chapter definitely ventures into a sociolinguistic perspective. This chapter seems to contradict the American concept and pride in individualism and free will----it seems that a person’s literacy and who counts in society are at the whims of fate and economic privilege. In some ways, I buy into this precept, but in other ways, I do not because for every example I can think of where this is true, I can think of exceptions to this as well. It is truly startling to think that forms of literacy and literacy sponsors can “rise and recede” many times in one’s lifetime. How do we prepare students to deal with this new reality? How will technology and our information age continue to shape these rapidly shifting literacies? The reading on the prison libraries and how the purpose and contents of the prison libraries were shaped out by outside forces was truly fascinating to me as a librarian. The concept of our society as one that is based on documents was thought provoking---in our to fully participate in our society, one has to be able to possess the right literacies to exercise his/her rights and freedoms to the fullest extent. The power and clout of literacy sponsors hold both promise and peril----who are the most important literacy sponsors in today’s society in general? “The farther away one is to start with the more it takes to become and stay literate” (p. 72).----“No Child Left Behind” promises to equal the playing field, but how does this legislation really address this assertion by Brandt? How do we as a society help accelerate the distance between illiteracy and literacy? All work property of Buffy J. Hamilton, ©2005. No work may be used or reproduced without the express written consent of Buffy J. Hamilton.
  8. 8. B. Hamilton Reactions and Reading Notes Literacy in American Lives, June 2005 page 8 Chapter 3: Accumulating Literacy: How Four Generations of One American Family Learned to Write “Contemporary literacy learners---across positions of age, gender, race, class, and language heritage---find themselves having to piece together reading and writing experiences from more and more spheres, creating new and hybrid forms of literacy where once that might have been fewer and more circumscribed forms” (p. 75). Concept of the military as a literacy sponsor during World War II and the “literacy crisis”(p. 86 and 89). “Literacy spread last and always less well to remote rural areas and newer, poorer industrial areas---a geographic and political legacy that, even today, in the United States, helped to exacerbate inequalities by race, regions, and occupation” (p. 88). Moral overtones of handwriting (pp. 94-95) and its influence on children’s feelings about writing into adulthood “This accumulation of literacy---shaped out of economic struggles, victories, and losses of the past---provides an increasingly intricate set of incentives, sources, and barriers for learning to read and writing. The contexts of contemporary literacy learning grow ideologically dense, rife with latent forms of older literacy at play alongside emerging forms…rapid changes in literacy and education may not so much bring rupture from the past as they bring an accumulation of different and proliferating pasts, a piling up of literate artifacts and signifying practices that can haunt the sites of literacy learning” (p. 104) “Literacy is always in flux” (p. 104) Reactions I think it is both interesting and frightening that elementary school children’s intelligence and status are often sized up/assessed by their handwriting. While I think handwriting is a lost art, I don’t think it is vital to academic success, yet I see teachers labeling students in the primary grades with this somewhat archaic form of literacy. Even to this day, my mom states that she still stings with shame at the thought of her third grade teacher reprimanding her poor handwriting and how stupid it made her feel. How is it that even today, geography and politics still reinforce the gaps in equity and access to literacy? How do we prepare today’s learners to deal with the rapidly changing “hybrid forms” of literacy? All work property of Buffy J. Hamilton, ©2005. No work may be used or reproduced without the express written consent of Buffy J. Hamilton.
  9. 9. B. Hamilton Reactions and Reading Notes Literacy in American Lives, June 2005 page 9 What are the implications of the “accumulation of literacy” for classroom practices at all levels? How do children thrive or survive in spite of practices that are increasingly test-driven? Do test taking literacies match up with those needed for today’s economy or society? Chapter 4: “The Power of It”: Sponsors of Literacy in African American Lives African Americans’ literacy have for the most part been excluded from the “needs of the nation----except in periods of temporary crisis” (p. 105) “The full worth of their literacy was usually was honored only within the African American community itself” (p. 106). “The Church”---major sponsor; teachers and educators also major sponsors (pp. 110-132) “Communal nature of learning”---sharing of resource of literacy and education resources among family and community (p. 129); “literacy instruction couched in hope” Role of apprenticeship----a powerful medium in the African American community (pp. 129-130) “…sponsors of literacy leave their marks on the literacy of the sponsored. For many historical reasons, the ideological context of African American-sponsored literacy retains a strongly spiritual component” (p. 143). Church continues to be a key sponsor of “literacy use and development” (p. 143). “However, African American sponsored-literacy has stayed more consciously connected to the original traditions of American literacy emphasizing collective faith, democracy, and citizenship” (p. 144). “Because of the economic and professional constrictions imposed by racial discrimination, African American sponsoring agents for literacy were fewer in number yet denser in power, and again, more likely to be connected than directly to founding forces of mass literacy” (p. 144). “Traditional sponsors of African American literacy ask their sponsored to reach deeply into the original sources of American literacy---into human spirituality, solidarity, and citizenship rights. If these ideological contexts for literacy were to be embraced more regularly by schools, workplaces, and other sponsors of literacy, racial equity in access, achievement, and reward for literacy might become more possible” (p. 145). All work property of Buffy J. Hamilton, ©2005. No work may be used or reproduced without the express written consent of Buffy J. Hamilton.
  10. 10. B. Hamilton Reactions and Reading Notes Literacy in American Lives, June 2005 page 10 Reactions: I really was fascinated that the same institutions and “sponsors” who in general helped the African American weather the storms of racism, oppression, and injustice are the same ones who shaped literacy, which was seen as the key to overcoming those withering societal storms. Are these institutions still key today, or are these sponsors losing their power in the African American community? If they still wield power, how could they work with schools to help improve school achievement for more African American students? Are churches sponsors of literacy for any other specific groups in today’s society? Should we as sponsors of literacy in education make a more explicit link between literacy and “democracy and citizenship”? It seems that throughout the history of the world, knowing how to read and write was a skill that was considered vital and essential to improving one’s lot in life. Why is it that reading and writing do not seem important on a personal or intrinsic level to so many students today? What about other ethnic groups in America? In particular, I wonder who and what are the sponsors of literacy for our growing Hispanic community? If these ideological contexts for literacy were to be embraced more regularly by schools, workplaces, and other sponsors of literacy, racial equity in access, achievement, and reward for literacy might become more possible? Are there sponsors of literacy who do not want equity in access, achievement, and reward for literacy? I remember in one graduate class a discussion that centered around the notion that existing practices stay as they are to privilege the dominant class and to disenfranchise those outside that dominant class. At first blush, this sounds like a far-out conspiracy theory, but when you look at what is happening in public schools, you really have to wonder if there are grains of truth to this idea. All work property of Buffy J. Hamilton, ©2005. No work may be used or reproduced without the express written consent of Buffy J. Hamilton.
  11. 11. B. Hamilton Reactions and Reading Notes Literacy in American Lives, June 2005 page 11 Chapter 5: The Sacred and the Profane: Reading versus Writing in Popular Memory “Reading…has always been a more clearly defined curricular activity, whereas definitions of writing in school have continued to shift…reading...fits more easily than writing with traditional roles of student and teacher, one as receptor of knowledge and the other as conduit”(p. 147) “People typically remembered their first reading experiences as pleasurable occasions, endorsed if not organized by adults. On the other hand, many early writing experiences, particularly those set outside of school, were remembered as occurring out of the eye of adult supervision, and often, involving feelings of loneliness, secrecy, and resistance (pp. 149-150). “The vividness of early reading memories suggests their importance and their association with pleasure and family intimacy” (p. 150). Reading for religious purposes as part of family routine/holiday ritual; other homes---storybooks and comic books (p. 150). “Reading to preschool children cut across class, race, generation, and sometimes language (p. 151). “Nevertheless, reading and the teaching of reading were widely considered as a normal part of responsible care of young children in many households. The heavy hand of mothers in organizing book-based activities especially indicates the close association between reading and child rearing” (p. 151). “Beyond the home, public libraries also signaled the cultural value of reading” (p. 151). Public libraries used more by urban dwellers, especially if accessible by foot or public transportation (p. 151). Concept of traveling libraries and bookmobiles in rural schools/neighborhoods (p. 151). Library as means of self- education; library as sponsor of literacy (p. 152). “Buying books, particularly children’s books, was another indication of the value of reading that was communicated to children. Buying books and magazines was, in fact, more common in families than use the public library” (p. 152). Encyclopedia sets, garage sales/secondhand shops/library sales/books kept in prominent places (p. 152). “Privately owned books tended to be preserved across generations”(p.152). “Books were given as gifts” (p. 153). All work property of Buffy J. Hamilton, ©2005. No work may be used or reproduced without the express written consent of Buffy J. Hamilton.
  12. 12. B. Hamilton Reactions and Reading Notes Literacy in American Lives, June 2005 page 12 “In general, reading was remembered as an activity, indeed a ritual, that was knitted into holiday celebrations as well as in to the ordinary routines of daily life. There was a reverence expressed for books and their value and sometimes a connection between reading and refinement or good breeding” (p. 153). “….reading was most typically remembered and described as a deeply sanctioned activity in the culture at large” (p. 153). “Although the ability to write was widely---almost unanimously--- regarded a precious, memories of writing and learning to write diverged significantly from those of reading. Writing appeared to develop in situation and out of psychological motivations that were saliently, jarringly different from those surrounding reading”(p. 154). “Writing was more often recalled in the context of humiliation and anxiety” (p. 154). “…the feelings surrounding early self-initiated writing were described as lonely”(p. 154). “…it is noteworthy that the motivations for the writing in these cases were not book and the motivators were not adults. Rather, the occasions and impulses to write emerged from the children’s immediate circumstances and feelings. Whereas people tended to remember reading for the sensual and emotional pleasure it gave, they tended to remember writing for the pain or isolation it was meant to assuage”(pp. 154-55). “The ambiguity that surrounded memories of writing actually began at a more fundamental level: the definition of writing itself” (p. 156). “…reading was usually recalled as a clearly demarcated activity: t he names of first books, even in some cases, the first lines of first primers, surfaced in people’s descriptions. Memories of writing were decidedly more vague”(p. 156). “On the whole, it must be said that the status of writing in everyday literacy practices appeared decidedly m ore ambiguous and conflicted in comparison to reading” (p. 160). “Writing did not seem to be broadly sponsored or endorsed by parents, nor did the identity of “writer” seem as easily available as the identity of “reader” (p. 160). “…across the generations, school based writing was widely associated with pain, belittlement, and perplexity” (p. 164). “Messages about the prestige of reading are sent to children early and often” (p. 167). All work property of Buffy J. Hamilton, ©2005. No work may be used or reproduced without the express written consent of Buffy J. Hamilton.
  13. 13. B. Hamilton Reactions and Reading Notes Literacy in American Lives, June 2005 page 13 Reactions This was probably the chapter I found to be most relevant and meaningful to me. It is truly fascinating that reading bears such a revered status in our society. For me personally, I remember my parents encouraging the reading and writing that I started at an early age. I frequently received books as gifts, and as a child, spending time alone in my room with a book was one of my preferred activities. One of my favorite memories is going to Kessler’s Department Store in Canton and going down this flight of stairs to the toy department---I always bought either a Trixie Belden book or a “Meg” mystery book. Everyone referred to me as a “bookworm”, and of course, I was always in the highest reading group in elementary school. I honestly think 80% of everything I know is from reading----I was a voracious reader of fiction as well as nonfiction as a child----a book was my constant companion. I even loved encyclopedias! My favorites were an old set of Childcraft books someone gave to me and a partial set of Encyclopedia Britannica for Children---I thought those were very cool as well as all the volumes of the Charlie Brown Book of Questions and Answers. I certainly didn’t something stupid like Accelerated Reader to motivate me to read---I enjoyed it for the sheer intrinsic thrill! I frequently wrote stories as a child as well----in fact, I declared I wanted to be an author in 4th grade after reading Gone with the Wind and Little Women. My parents even gave me a typewriter! I used it to write both stories as well as newspaper articles (I was also into being a broadcaster and reporter). At the same time, I did enjoy making my own books with pictures and words from magazine cutouts, especially those from Reader’s Digest. I also had a story published in the Christmas edition of the Forsyth County News---I remember being very proud when my 4th grade teacher read it to the entire class. Even in high school, I wanted to be a journalist---even as a teenager, I enjoyed writing essays although I got away from creative writing as a high school student. I also won a few essay contests in junior high and high school. Ironically, neither of my parents finished high school, and the only college graduates in my life were my teachers. I grew up in what was then VERY rural Forsyth County. I think I was highly literate from the time I was small to even now, yet I managed to thrive in what should have been an environment that according to Brandt, should have limited my access to literacy. How did I thrive in spite of that? All work property of Buffy J. Hamilton, ©2005. No work may be used or reproduced without the express written consent of Buffy J. Hamilton.
  14. 14. B. Hamilton Reactions and Reading Notes Literacy in American Lives, June 2005 page 14 The discussion of libraries as literacy sponsors as was also of great interest to me. I do not recall ever going to a public library as a child except to go to a 4-H meeting; I did go the one in Canton as a teenager, but I mainly went to do these torturous assignments I had as an 11th grader that involved looking up and writing weekly assignments involving literary criticisms! However, in elementary and junior high (all in Forsyth County), I was always in the SCHOOL library. I was constantly checking out books and reading---I loved both of those libraries, and I think they were important literacy sponsors for me. However, I never used the high school library (where ironically, I worked this past year!) unless I had a specific academic assignment, and even that was a rarity for me to go there. I don’t really recall much about that library other than it was small, cramped, unwelcoming, dark, and had few books. The librarians were also unfriendly and not helpful at all. Thankfully, the library changed a lot from that this past year! I do wonder why Brandt did not include the public school library as a literacy sponsor in this chapter? Did the interviewees not have access to one in their school, or did she simply overlook this sponsor? I find it fascinating that reading is held as such as revered activity for people as children, yet adult reading has been steadily declining for the last 50 years. Why do people emphasize its importance to children when they do not engage in this activity regularly as adults? I am also intrigued by the notion of books as sacred objects and being preserved across generations----why is this? I know I still have almost all my books from my childhood, and I can’t bear the thought of letting them go even though they are not really all that valuable. As a librarian, I know that many people (and even some librarians) can’t bear the thought of throwing a book when a collection is weeded, even if that book contains outdated or erroneous information. Where does this reverence of books come from in American society? Is this true in all segments of American society? In terms of thinking about reading and writing as an economic commodity, I do not remember my parents ever telling me I needed to learn how to read and write to be successful, but I do always remember their expectation that I would go to college, period. However, that seemed to me the natural order of things in spite of the fact we knew no one (other than my teachers) who had actually done that! All work property of Buffy J. Hamilton, ©2005. No work may be used or reproduced without the express written consent of Buffy J. Hamilton.
  15. 15. B. Hamilton Reactions and Reading Notes Literacy in American Lives, June 2005 page 15 Chapter 6: The Means of Production: Literacy and Stratification in the Twenty-First Century “Despite expanding democracy in educational chances, access and reward for literacy still travel along dividing lines by region, wealth, and prerogative”(p. 169). “….literacy clusters with material and political privilege” (p. 169). “These disparities have always existed in the history literacy, but they took on new conations at the start of the twenty-first century as the status of literacy itself grew so high, so central to economic and political viability”(p. 169). “…this intensifying worth of literacy brings renewed possibility to the democratic hope in public education that more equal distribution of literate skill can moderate the effects of inequality in wealth and civil rights. But as a matter of fact, the advantage of literate skill is helping to aggravate social inequity. Just, as it seems, the rich get richer, the literate get more literate”(p. 169). “Literacy learning, in school and out, takes place within systems of unequal subsidy and unequal reward---systems that range beyond the influence of any individual family’s assets, beyond any one pile of cultural capital that a student or a home might accumulate” (p. 170). “Literacy is the energy supply of the Information Age. This unusual status also illuminates why highly developed literacy skills---or I should say, skills of a certain sort---can be a source of economic and social advantage, just as it also confirms why illiteracy has become such a thorough liability from the standpoint of economic productivity (because it cuts a person off as supplier, producer, and consumer)”(pp. 171-172). “How are the means of production by which individuals become literate related to the means of production in a nations’ economic system, and particularly to structural changes and developments within that system?” (p. 172). “…people who labor equally to acquire literacy do so under systems of unequal subsidy and unequal compensation. Economic values circulate along with systems of literacy sponsorship, affecting, among other things, the relative rarity and power of literacy opportunities”(p. 181). “….the status of literacy as not merely an individual skill or a cultural practice but as an economic resource, as an object of development, investment, and exploitation around which both value and competition intensify”(p. 183). All work property of Buffy J. Hamilton, ©2005. No work may be used or reproduced without the express written consent of Buffy J. Hamilton.
  16. 16. B. Hamilton Reactions and Reading Notes Literacy in American Lives, June 2005 page 16 “The more schools find themselves replicating market interest within their institutional practices, the more they may disadvantage the already economically disadvantaged” (p. 186). “Although there is understandable pressure for schools to march in step with productive forces, equity asks that we march in step with the needs of all students, to be responsive to their past histories and current aspirations”(p. 186). Reactions In many ways, this chapter was really repetitive of some of the ideas and themes that emerged in earlier chapters. I would say the central theme of the book is that literacy in America is inextricably linked with economic and political power. Literacy is not the great equalizer in our society as we envision as Americans, but instead, it is actually what stratifies and widens the gap between classes in society. Is this concept true not just in America, but also true in other countries around the world? All work property of Buffy J. Hamilton, ©2005. No work may be used or reproduced without the express written consent of Buffy J. Hamilton.
  17. 17. B. Hamilton Reactions and Reading Notes Literacy in American Lives, June 2005 page 17 Conclusion Implications 1. Literacy is being sponsored in different ways than the past… Education, religion, and local commerce with their cultural agents. Today’s literacy sponsors are more prolific, diffused and heterogeneous (p. 197). 2. The diversification of work, especially parental work, brings various kinds of materials, instruments, and other resources into o homes where they can be appropriated into teaching and learning (p. 198). 3. Patterns of literacy sponsorship in a parent’s lifetime may bear little resemblance to the patterns in his or her child’s lifetime, and the same with teacher and student. In a society inured to change, the significance of this phenomenon should not be overlooked (p. 200). 4. The insinuation of market forces into the meaning and methods by which literacy is learned pose crucial ethical and policy questions for public education. Especially dangers are the ways that education is now being cast as a privatized and individualized commodity---something that families obtain singly for their children”(p. 202). “The more that private interests take over the education development of our young citizens, the less of a democracy we will have. The more that the school organizes literacy teaching and learning to serve the needs of the economic system, the more I betrays its democratic possibilities”(p. 205). “That is, how might we begin to talk about the responsibility that this economy has to teacher sand students instead of only the responsibility that teacher sand students have to this economy?” (p. 206). “How would the democratic mission be strengthened if students learned to read and write as forms of civil rights? My hunch is that literacy achievement would rise”(p. 206). All work property of Buffy J. Hamilton, ©2005. No work may be used or reproduced without the express written consent of Buffy J. Hamilton.
  18. 18. B. Hamilton Reactions and Reading Notes Literacy in American Lives, June 2005 page 18 Reactions I think this final chapter really speaks to Brandt’s vision for literacy in America: literacy as a means for cultivated democracy and equity for ALL Americans rather than literacy only as an economic commodity to be exploited by “big government” and other literacy sponsors. Again, in many ways, this goes back to that central question of “What is the purpose of public schools?” I guess I am wondering still if it is possible at this point in American society for private and/or economic interests to be removed from the process of creating literacy. It seems so deeply ingrained that unless you are home-schooling your children (and even then, I’m not sure you can completely escape this influence), there is no way that a child would not be influenced by these kinds of literacy sponsors. All work property of Buffy J. Hamilton, ©2005. No work may be used or reproduced without the express written consent of Buffy J. Hamilton.

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