TITLE: The Way Literacy Lives: Rhetorical Dexterity and the “Basic” Writer
AUTHOR: Shannon Carter (Assistant Professor of English, Texas A&M University-Commerce)
The Way Literacy Lives offers a curricular response to the political, material, social, and ideological constraints placed on literacy education—particular basic writing—via the ubiquity of what Brian V. Street calls the “autonomous model of literacy” and instead treats literacy as a social practice. Accepting that a curricular solution to the institutionalized oppression implicit in much literacy learning is necessarily partial and temporary, I argue that fostering in our students an awareness of the ways in which an autonomous model deconstructs itself when applied to real-life literacy contexts empowers them to work against this system in ways critical theorists advocate. Building upon a theoretical framework provided by three, overlapping schools of thought (New Literacy Studies, activity theory, and critical literacies), the primary objective of the current study is to offer a new model for basic writing instruction that is responsive to multiple agents limiting and shaping the means and goals of literacy education, agents with goals that are quite often in opposition with one another. This new model is rooted in what I call a pedagogy of rhetorical dexterity, an approach that trains writers to effectively read, understand, manipulate, and negotiate the cultural and linguistic codes of a new community of practice based on a relatively accurate assessment of another, more familiar one.
ANNOTATED TABLE OF CONTENTS
Chapter 1: “The Way Literacy Tests” (1-36)
The first chapter situates
this new model for basic writing by drawing attention to the local context from
which our program emerged, especially the culture of standardized testing so
much a part of school-based literacy experiences in
Chapter 2: “The Way Literacy Oppresses” (37-54)
Given that much of the current project rests on an assumption that the autonomous model is pervasive and extremely problematic for basic writers in particular, I will spend the next chapter exploring the ways in which the autonomous model of literacy shapes both public discourse about literacy education and the basic writer’s perception of her own needs as a writer. In doing so, Chapter 2 will attempt to illustrate the reasons why this perspective is both politically/ideologically oppressive and pedagogically unsound.
Chapter 3: “The Way Literacy Liberates” (55-87)
Explores the various ways in which basic writing scholars have revised basic writing curricula in response to critical theories, a philosophical perspective that has become quite common among teacher-researchers in basic writing. I conclude Chapter 3 with a description of a basic writing curriculum designed and executed via an explicitly critical framework, where the goal was to develop critical consciousness among those writers I believed to be constructed as “oppressed” and thus in need of liberation through critically-aware literacy education. Student responses to the curriculum are included, especially as represented through the experiences of Ana, a blind student immigrant from Mexico—experiences that have led me to question the viability of critical literacy as a primary framework for basic writing.
Chapter 4: “The Way Literacy Stratifies” (88-137)
Focuses on the unequal value of various literacies as the dominant, autonomous model reconstructs them, as well as the inequity of access to those literate strategies perpetuated by this autonomous model.
Chapter 5: “The Way Literacy (Re)produces” (138-186)
Further establishes the theoretical framework of rhetorical dexterity by articulating the ways in which various communities of practice (re)produce themselves through literate actions.
Chapter 6: “The Way Literacy Lives” (187-217)
Describes a basic writing curriculum shaped by rhetorical dexterity, as well as various student responses to this curriculum.
Examines again our tendency to separate orality from literacy, often privileging the latter over the former, the “literate” over the “illiterate.” Such separations are perpetuated by assumptions that a “Great Divide” exists between the literate and everyone else, and this myth places new literacy learners—like our basic writers—at an unfair disadvantage. When we close that “great divide” between the literate and the non-literate—between the basic writers and everyone else—we can begin to understand how to readjust literacy education in ways that are much more equitable to all learners.
Works Cited (226-233)
Appendix A: Chart comparing what adults with “limited literacy skills” can actually do with what “common wisdom” holds they can do (Merrifield et. al).
Appendix B: Sample writing assignments from sequence described in Chapter 3
Appendix C: Additional assignment described in Chapter 3
Appendix E: “Map” of video game, as drawn by players of a text-based adventure game in mid-1980s.
Appendix F: “What’s a Community of Practice?” (brief essay used in sequence described in Chapter 6)
Appendix G: Group presentation included in sequence described in Chapter 6
Appendix H: Individual presentation included in sequence described in Chapter 6
Appendix I: Field Research Project included in sequence described in Chapter 6
Appendix J: Critical Reflections included in sequence described in Chapter 6