Ellen Cushman

  Ellen Cushman

Literacy: A Critical Sourcebook

Chapter 4: From Pencils to Pixels: The Stages of Literacy Technologies, written by Dennis Baron, has been very informative. He argues that computers are just another evolution of tools that affect literacy. Baron describes the history of literary tools like the pencil, typewriter and eventually the computer. He discusses how we should welcome these new ideas for writing tools and we should embrace them in the literary classroom. He gives Plato’s surprising resistance of writing as an example of how we as a society have progressed and those actions/tools once thought of as negative or too advanced are now common facets we can’t function without. Plato thought that if we wrote our ideas down then we would lose our ability to communicate orally. In summary this was a great look at the connection between past and present technologies that have contributed to today’s literacy.

Chapter twelve, by Harvey J. Graff, did keep me interested and I learned a lot from his perspective. He lists how literacy changes through time and how different groups, i.e. poor, african americans, enlistees etc., were treated concerning literacy and how they themselves embraced it.
Chapter thirteen, written by Jamie Candelaria Greene, was about how literacy is often portrayed by scholars as being limited in the ways it was brought and expanded in America. Greene argues that many forget the Spanish influence on literacy. However, limiting the chapter to Spanish influence excludes the monumental influence of Native Americans. I feel that Greene’s argument seems then almost null and void, because in one case he is saying “what about the spanish,” but in the other, by his own actions, is disregarding other prominent influences on literacy.
Chapter fourteen, written by David Paul Nord, is a overview of the impact, experiences, and teachings of the American Tract Society in Antebellum America. The author does a good job in having a balanced view of what happened and the various ways the tracts were received. I feel though, that the chapter was redundant, and most of what was said was just an echo of an earlier paragraph.

Chapter 17: Gender, Advertising and Mass-Circulation Magazines written by Helen Damon-Moore & Carl F. Kaestle, discusses the development and evolution of gender roles and how they correlated with advertising in magazines and the overall development of various magazines like The Ladies Home Journal and the Saturday Evening Post. The authors discuss how magazines changed according to women’s roles in the home, including becoming the general purchaser regarding household items, groceries and clothing. Due to the overwhelming audience received by The Ladies Home Journal, the authors tried to describe the effects various editors tried to repeat with men’s journals. Overall this essay is a very good break down and history of the development of gender role influenced magazines.

Chapter 23: A World Without Print, by Victoria Purcell-Gates, was my favorite of the three chapters I have read. The author discusses the details of a study she conducted with an illiterate mother and her son. The mother dropped out of school in the 7th grade, as did her husband, the child didn’t attend kindergarten because the mother couldn’t read to comprehend what was required of him regarding his education. She has enrolled in an afterschool literacy program at a local university with her son to educate herself and him (he’s in the second grade and can’t read or write, including his ABC’s). The author explores how children learn literacy, focusing on those that don’t have influences at home regarding literacy; the little boy and his mother.

First, in “Inventing the University” (chapter 29), David Bartholomae describes the writing challenges faced by students entering college. He sums up these challenges quite nicely on page 521, asserting that “to speak with authority student writers have not only to speak in another’s voice but through another’s code…before they know what they are doing, before…they have anything to say.” Throughout the chapter, Bartholomae presents samples of student writing and analyzes those samples to demonstrate his point. While reading Bartholomae’s arguments, I found that, as a college student, I could relate to what he was saying because I’ve experienced the same challenges. I felt that he put forth a convincing argument, although at times his writing seemed a bit convoluted and wordy.
Next, in chapter 30 (“Literacy, Discourse and Linguistics:Introduction” and “What Is Literacy?”), James Paul Gee explains what primary, secondary, and dominant discourses are and how discourses are, in essence, what he calls “identity kits.” He goes on to argue that dominant discourses must, for the most part, be acquired rather than learned through instruction, and that if one is not born into a dominant discourse, then it is near impossible for him or her to fully acquire that discourse because he or she will probably find the use of the discourse oppressive. I disagreed with Gee on this point, and surprisingly, so did the author of the next chapter.
Chapter 31, “The Politics of Teaching Literate Discourse,” is a direct response to Gee’s work. In the chapter, author Lisa Delpit explains that while she agrees with many of Gee’s views, she also disagrees on two main points. First, she argues that individuals who haven’t been born into a dominant discourse can still successfully acquire that discourse; and second, she doesn’t adhere to the view that dominant discourses are always oppressive for those who were born outside of them. On the contrary, she holds that acquiring/learning dominant discourses can be liberating. In addition, Delpit gives multiple examples to support her arguments.

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