Book Reviews/Language, Literacy, and Power in Schooling
In her introduction to the anthology, Teresa L. McCarty positions the research presented in the book in a historic and political perspective. Starting with a quotation from Paulo Freire she builds up an understanding of literacy as a question of social and political power rather than individual technical skills. Looking at statistics of which groups are underachieving in today’s schools, issues of class, race and ethnicity are hard to ignore. The texts focus on:
|“||language, literacy, and schooling as interrelated axes of power in struggles over access to key intellectual, social, economic, and political resources and rights.||”|
The most dominant view of literacy has for a long time been as a technical skill, in most part taught and learned in formal education. Moreover, literacy has been seen as distinct from orality and in many cases given higher status than orality. McCarty argues that an autonomous or universalist view of literacy implies:
- Literacy and orality are unitary bounded and distinct.
- Literacy is something one either possesses or lacks.
- Literacy empowers; orality limits.
- Literacy is associated with modernity and progress, its absence with “simplicity”.
- “Standard” (read Western) language forms are distinct from and more resourceful than (nonstandard, non-Western) “dialects”.
As a consequence of this understanding of literacy people are either literate or not – skills that are the same for everyone. Moreover, the strong boundary between one form of literacy and modernization has resulted in a strong Western (colonial) influence over education policies in many parts of the world, often at the cost of many local languages. The research presented in the book, oppose this unitary view of literacy and aim to develop understandings of literacy as socially and historically situated, fluid, multiple and power-linked. However, this doesn’t mean that psycholinguistic, cognitive or technical aspects of literacy are not taken into account, but that they are embedded in socio-cultural contexts and the discursive practices and power relations of everyday life. Therefore literacy is to be understood as ideological.
The so-called social turn in literacy studies that began in the 1970’s and 1980’s is an important foundation to which the texts in the book is build upon. From this perspective the question was not whether a person reads or writes or not, but rather the social meaning of languages and literacies and the roles it play in everyday life. Literacy is not understood as something you do with your head but rather as something to do with the social, institutional, and cultural relationships.
Moreover, if we want to focus on language and literacy as social practices, ethnographic studies of people and their everyday life becomes essential to researcher.