Graff, Brandt, Trimbur, and Farr

“The Nineteenth-Century Origins of Our Times”—Harvey Graff

The literacy myth is multifaceted in the American subconscious—Literacy leads to liberation; literacy leads to a better human being; literacy leads to upward mobility. Graff writes, however, that literacy in the US has not always had the transformative influence we think it does. In fact, literacy has also been used for order, cultural hegemony, work preparation, assimilation and adaption, and instillation of a pan-Protestant morality; work and wealth also made use of literacy, but upward mobility was less determined by literacy than it is by race and class.

In late 18th century, purpose of education was: development of scholar-gentleman; mastering environment for human betterment; moral, ethical, and religious development; training of citizens for civic, social, and intellectual duties. Latter two were most important (211).

In early 19th century, education was means of assimilation, sociocultural cohesion. Religious and moral education to the masses would ensure stability, order, property, and productivity (213).

Inequalities greatly existed between whites and non-whites. Examination of American seamen and army enlistment files showed place of birth, ethnicity, place of residence and occupational level all influenced literacy levels (213). North more literate than South, where literacy was attained more informally through friends, church, family, printed materials, etc.

Even though literacy was valued at this time and often when coupled with school acquainted with economic survival, data did not show literacy was guarantee of economic gain or sold well being. Discrimination was huge obstacle for upward mobility rather than lack of literacy (215).

Literacy did help bring social and cultural advantages, but not requirement for life and learning ways of society. American education systems was embedded with pan-Protestant, American norms, values, and attitudes. “Training in literacy advanced the inculcation of morality and values, the process of nation-building, and the transmission of the code of conduct for work and social life, and contributed to the moral bases of the emerging, “modern” capitalistic order” (216). Schools helped establish cultural homogeneity and hegemony (217).

Literacy, a means to be productive in new world economy, thought to help others overcome their upbringing, but literacy did nothing to erase social stratification (218).

Reading promoted cultural values and dominant ideology—did not liberate (230). Reading different between rural and urban areas. Middle and lower class read cheap newspapers and novels—not exactly liberating material.

New paradigm is haunted by older paradigm. Productive imperative is haunted moral imperative.

Cultural impacts of reading fiction included socialization, expectations, indentification, roles, models of thought and behavior, and escape and fantasy (221).

Graff claims popular fiction, in its potential for salving the strains of womens’ roles in the culture, may have contributed more directly and satisfyingly to adaptation, adjustment, psychological maintenance, and emotional release—in a safe, non-threatening way” (221).

With increase in print, libraries increased and reading materials became more accessible, but still ethnic, class, racial and regional disparities effected access.

By 1830s and 1840s, newspapers and literacy became associated with knowledge (222). Yet only upper class could attain knowledge that lead to upward mobility.

Schools provided literacy but problems of physical conditions, attendance, teacher ability, and instructional method in working class neighborhood schools made literacy acquisition unequal (222).

What is interesting is that everyone acknowledged children were not able to absorb what they read, but education still deemed successful because education was teaching respectability, manners, taste, morality and speech habits deemed appropriate by governing elite (224).

Despite the fact that literacy did not bring actual upward mobility and/or liberation, education was still very highly regarded by African Americans. Graff is careful to point out that slave owners prevented their slaves from attaining literacy and even cruelly punished efforts to learn to read and write, but still African Americans strived to become literate because they embraced the “literacy myth” (226).

Once slavery ended, literacy was thought to be exact opposite of how it was traditionally conceived. Now it was deemed as civilizing force; its function was collective, stabilizing, and assimilating (228).

Graff says ironically, lack of social and economic advancement was cause of unequal access to schooling rather than the other way around (229).

New immigration of late 19th and early 20th century shed new light on role of literacy. “Economic needs, a desire to maintain cultural identity in face of alien values and challenges to tradition, acceptance of dominant society’s educational ideology, and group strivings for success combined in the desire to maintain or secure high levels of literacy” among immigrants even though certainly not all immigrants embrace literacy myth (230).

Graff shows that for many immigrants education followed occupational and economic gain (233) rather than the other way around. With immigration, nonetheless, dominant ideology of education was not contradicted and even reinforced (233).

Class Notes:

Literacy as tool of assimilation.

How is literacy used to create a national imagined community?

Brandt: “Sponsors of Literacy”

“Literacy looms as one of the great engines of profit and competitive advantage in the 20th century: a lubricant for consumer desire; a means for integrating corporate markets; a foundation for the deployment of weapons and other technology; a raw material in the mass production of information” (556).

Main question: how are we to understand the vicissitudes of individual literacy development in relationship to the large-scale economic forces that set the routes and determine he worldly worth of that literacy? (556)

Sponsors of literacy—any agents, local or distant, concrete or abstract, who enable support, teach, model, as well as recruit, regulate, suppress or withhold literacy—and gain advantage of it some way -556.

Sponsors set the terms of access to literacy and wield powerful incentives for compliance and loyalty. Sponsors are tangible reminders that literacy learning throughout history has always required permission, sanction, assistance, coercion, or at minimum, contact with existing trade routes. Sponsors are delivery systems for the economies of literacy, the means by which these forces present themselves to and through individual learners (556).

Patterns of sponsorship became an illuminating site through which to track the different cultural attitudes people developed toward writing versus reading as well as the ideological congestion faced by late-century literacy learners as their sponsors proliferated and diversified. –557

Sponsors nevertheless enter a reciprocal relationship with those they underwrite. They lend their resources or credibility to the sponsored but also stand to gain benefits from their success, whether by direct repayment, or indirectly, by credit of association (557).

In whatever form, sponsors deliver the ideological freight that must be borne for access to what they have (557).

Literacy, like land, is a valued commodity in this economy, a key resource in gaining profit and edge (558).

Stratification of opportunity continues to organize access and reward in literacy learning (559).

Sponsors contribute to what is called “literacy crisis,” that is, the perceived gap between rising standards for achievement and people’s ability to meet them (559).

Tracking patterns of literacy sponsorship, then ….exposes[s] more fully how unequal literacy chances relate to systems of unequal subsidy and reward for literacy. These are the systems that deliver large-scale economic, historical, and political conditions to the scenes of small-scale literacy use and development (561).

An analysis of sponsorship systems of literacy would help educators everywhere to think through the effects that economic and political changes in their regions are having on various people’s ability to write and read, their chances to sustain that ability, and their capacities to pass it along to others (562).

Forms of literacy our created out of competitions between institutions (562).

Transformations in the history of literacy are wielded as part of economic and political conflict (565).

The course of an ordinary person’s literacy learning—its occasions, material, applications, potentials—follows the transformations going on within sponsoring institutions as those institutions fight for economic and ideological position (566).

Accumulated layers of sponsoring influences—in families, workplaces, schools, memory—carry forms of literacy that have been shaped out of ideaological and economic struggles of the past (566).

It is as if literacy is in fast forward. Where once the same sponsoring arrangements could maintain value across a generation or more, forms of literacy and their sponsors can now rise and recede many times within a single lifespan (567).

Literacy sponsors help to organize and administer stratified systems of opportunity and access, and hey raise the literacy stakes in struggles for competitve advantage. Sponsors enable and hinder literacy activity, often forcing the formation of new literacy requirements while decertifying older ones (567).

“Drafting U.S. Literacy” Brandt

WWII changed the rationale for mass literacy. Literacy was irrevocably transformed fro a nineteenth-century moreal imperative into a twentieth-century production imperative—transformed from an attribute of a “good” individual into an individual “good,” a resource or raw material vital to national security and global competition. In the process literacy was turned into something extractable, something measurable, something rentable, and thereby something worthy of rationale investment (485).

When George W. Bush, reading is the “new civil right,” he arouses positive Jeffersonian associations between literacy and citizenship, while suggesting that literacy is the ticket to racial inclusion and equal opportunity (487).

Literacy is now for productivity—a production asset upon which a healthy economy and American world dominance increasingly rely. Illiteracy is unacceptable today because you are seen as not making a contribution to economic productivity (487-88).

By mid-nineteenth century, literacy was reborn as a civic religion (488).

Under moral imperative, the level of literacy rose much higher than was actually needed economically or militarily (489).

1911-Cora Wilson Stewart—literacy was a patriotic duty that a God-fearing nation owed its troops. Depicted illiteracy as an infliction, linking it with dwarfed development and susceptibility to subversive forces; in her view, literacy was a birthright linked with redemption and emancipation (492).

Illiteracy, Stewart argued, was a plight on the national character, an undesirable moral weakness for a nation with designs on world leadership (493).

Literacy was savior from evil ways.

In 1917, literacy was associated with moral and spiritual needs of troops than with effective warfare and thereby more rightly belonged under the tent of ymca than us military (494).

With WWII, technology rather than morality began to organize meaning of literacy. WWII rationalize the manufacturing of literacy as a needed raw material in the production of war—a collateral investment needed to get the most out of investments in technology (495).

US army in 1940s, mass literacy could be seen as ends of competitive advantage and world power (496).

Production imperative democratized opportunity for literacy because production imperative cross boundaries of race and class in search of usable mental skills and human resource potential (497).

But after war, when civil rights became prevalent, things switched. Efficiency and rationality took over. Those of low literacy were no longer morally less deserving of opportunity, but rather, objectively, less cost-effective, their skills too time consuming to develop, their worth too small to the overall effort (497).

Maintenance learning—learning geared to mastering stable bodies of knowledge and methods that prepare members to take over expected roles in a largely predictable world. For most of history, literacy has been closely affiliated with maintenance learning. Literacy and schooling were main mechanisms for preserving wisdom of ages and inculcating people with shared traditions, bodies of knowledge, modes of thinking and behavior. But under production imperative, innovative learning takes over (498-99).

Eerie connections between selective service system of mid-twentieth century and public educational system of early 21st century (499): high anxiety around literacy, rapidly changing standards, search for reliable testing, quick technological advancement, heightened concern for world dominance, linking literacy with national security, productivity, and total quality control.

Blueprint for knowledge economy: strip mining of literacy, ranking of skill, expendability of human potential, production of just in time literacy.

Leave no child behind rings with rhetoric of moral imperative but really its motivated by production imperative. Government wants high literacy to speed up the race (500).

Private industry taking over schools is to create more efficient citizens.

Perhaps for first time in history, the school is running behind if not against the dominant cultural imperative for literacy (501).

Class Notes:

For Brandt, Literacy for participants is a pursuit, a resource. Capitalistic resource. Skills that brings economic stability.

Television is gateway to literacy, rather than literacy sponsor. Gateway is conception outside neo-Marxist ideology. Gateway doesn’t specify who exact agent is; literacy practice is more neutral.

Sponsors always imply power struggles. Literacy gateways are sponsors, but you don’t assume power struggles. Gateways don’t have ideological underpinnings.

Literacy gateways—“Literate Lives in the Information Age” READ!!!

Capitalism perhaps is a bit broad to be considered a sponsor, but actual sites of capitalism might be more

John Duffy—has one idea of literacy, based on what is written. Most researchers have their own idea of literacy, which then they surround the research around. In New Literacy Studies define literacy as cultural and social practices, but written literacy is privileged. Graphocentric view of literacy.

Late 70s–New London Group—New Literacy Studies—Brian Street-Theories of Practice—ideological model of literacy. Street says ideological model is not farther along a continuum than autonomous model (60s and 70s, David Olson, Watt, Goody, Havelock) because autonomous model is ideological too. Ideological debunks autonomous model. Scriber and Cole is perhaps first ideological literacy study—literacy as practice. Barton and Hamilton part of new literacy studies too. James Paul Gee.

Cross-cultural studies of literacy—Street’s edited collection

Marcia Farr—“En Los Dos Idiomas”


Naming is symbolic violence to a certain extent.

Ontological Tourism:

John Trimbur “Linguistic Memory and the Politics of U.S. English”


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