Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Way of Literacy

GLIT 6727
Foundations of Literacy Learning I
Julia Blushak

Workshop 3
Week 4 – Synthesis Paper

The Way of Literacy

There is a way revealed through our on-going and current discussion of literacy—its

nature is misunderstood yet charged by those who cherish education as a potent

social panacea. ‘Literacy with an Attitude’ by Patrick Finn presents a great lesson on

social-political structures that conspire to undermine fair and equitable educational

opportunities in the USA and similarly developed countries. Finn owes much to

Paulo Friere for his notions, as do many of the authors whose writings complement

the previous workshop. I am inspired by the notion of ‘synthesis’ in responding to

these thoughtful presentations and will discuss several themes evident throughout.

I shall try to reframe these themes, which often appear in metaphors that denote

power politics and sociological class structures, with my own categories that allude

simply to process, by using the words ‘currency’, ‘fluency’ and ‘knowledge’. I hope to

capture the essence of literacy as it shifts with each author’s considerations.

There is a distinct pitch to the many arguments for critical literacy in Finn’s book,

as well as the articles by Colin Lankshear, Adrienne Rich, and F. Christie, that

associate education with employability. It is caught in this phrase by Lankshear,

‘If we want to understand education in relation to the world of work (and

unemployment)…” (1989, p. 179) The frame is set to discuss the potency of

education as a training ground for the young. The various authors consider how this

training from family towards society performs within yet another frame of social

and politically defined strata of economy within community. All are in agreement

that education must do a better job to right the many wrongs that occur in societies

where some learn to lead while others follow either reluctantly or by default. And so

the various understandings are developed with hopes to loosen false perceptions

around the tools and expectations used in the education process. All these

arguments embrace ‘reading and writing practice’ as the essential tool that proffers

the greatest efficacy to establish better balances in the process. The end result may

be more creative, thoughtful and self-directed individuals but for the most part,

there is a more realistic goal to generate more useful, and far-reaching self-

regulated or at least self-sustaining citizens capable of making a living. The

economic frame of reference persists as the touchstone in Finn’s book as well as the

other authors.

In order to identify the theme of ‘reading and writing practice’ that serves the

cause of social and economic viability, I prefer to introduce the term ‘currency.’ For

the purposes of this discussion, ‘currency’ refers to the most essential unit of value

for those engaged in the educational process. In the context of Finn’s societies of

learners, the underclass knows and values the practices of reading and writing very

differently from those in the elite classes. In simpler terms, it could be said that each

practice belongs to a specific time and place. In fact, the continuation of each fixed

currency in each distinct classroom, often depends on a particular kind of teacher,

introducing and investing his/her expertise into a particular practice of reading and

writing. And so, Finn shares his discovery that “the problem at Freeway was that

the teachers were working-class themselves and were giving their students the only

kind of schooling they knew - the kind they received themselves.” (1999, p. 74)

Similarly, Adrienne Rich’s article, ‘Teaching language in open admission ‘

refers to the vanguard effort to connect with students with a familiar currency.

That is, ‘reading and writing practice’ for black students involved ‘black classics…

black novelists, poets, polemicists’ and ‘black teachers were, of course, a path.’

(1979, p. 57) Ten years later in ‘Reading and Writing Wrongs: Literacy and the

underclass’ Colin Lankshear insists that there are many and various literacies

(currencies) and the dominant is usually fashioned by the well intended:

“How people read and write, what they read and write, why they read and write—

in short, how they conceive and practice literacy—is vitally dependent on what

literacy is ‘made into’ within formal education. (1989, p. 177) If so, economic as

well as racial differences continue to animate the discussion that favours

equitable value across differing practices.

This sense of needed equitable value across practices of literacy brings forward

the theme of ‘fluency’, which represents tendencies that either encourage or

discourage the possibility of equitable literacy benefits. In ‘Literacy with an Attitude’

Finn documents studies that reveal dysfunction and hostility towards change. He

describes the very real conflict at classroom level as ‘oppositional identity’, where

learners of the underclass stay true to their own kind in fear that betrayal would

leave them being abandoned by their own and not fully acknowledged by the ‘other’

kind. Finn presents other oppositional forces that complicate the possibility of

change. He explores the contrast of implicit vs. explicit language that distinguishes

the schooled and underschooled learners. This conflict is similar to Lankshear’s

report on the inclusion and exclusion dynamics pervasive within education as

extensions of social class barriers. Finn argues forcibly to provide needed leverage

by developing critical literacy. And for those who must grapple with the downside

of inequitable social forces, they can use what he calls ‘powerful literacy’. As Finn

says, “It takes energy to make changes and energy must come from people who will

benefit from the change.” (1999, p. xi).

A space that is vital, yet created and affected through the dynamics of literacy

currencies and fluencies of possibility is the realm I will refer to as ‘knowledge’. This

is the theme of vast personal, social and historical understandings. It is here,

that we can be most grateful to Paolo Friere for his articulation of this realm and

the kinds of consciousness that can thwart or enrich an individual learner’s sense of

being. Lankshear also refers to the wisdom of Friere to explain the differences in

naïve and critical literacy as aspects of consciousness. Therefore the theme of

knowledge includes knowing oneself as an active participant in the pursuit of

knowledge-making. It is the consciousness of the knowledge-maker in search of

knowledge that distinguishes the classes of learners presented by Finn as well as the

previously cited journal authors. But it is Friere who first introduced, practiced and

preached the need to revolutionize literacy practices so that people could move

from naïve to critical consciousness. In other words, to get out from under one

needs to first recognize that the under is relative to the over, and not a fixed

place of reference.

Finn and Friere’s concerns for the underclass and the excluded sound complex

and undeniably political but they also seem to have resonance with the concerns of

the early childhood educator who sees education as happening all around the child

everyday. In F. Christie’s article, ‘Language, access and success’ we read: “values are

associated, for example, with the ways people relate to each other, the roles they

assume, the kinds of authority they recognize, the beliefs and moral positions they

uphold, and so on. All these are constantly found in the ways people use language in

interaction with each other.” (1988, p.3) In other words, language, including script,

may take a ‘specific form’ (Lankshear, p. 169) but is determined within a wider

context of activity, experience and values. Or even simpler, “Children are born into

societies that have language.” (Finn, p. 96). This would suggest that there is always

the possibility that the dominant language, discourse, or point view is not the

only conversation in town given today’s demographics.

And so, the making of knowledge is a process that is grounded in time and place,

as much as it is evidence of human interactions within times and places. This theme

of knowledge as contextual and rooted must be acknowledged in the educational

process that seeks to nurture learners with the critical consciousness capacity that

Friere advanced. Finn gives a vivid example of this progressive attitude when he

describes new approaches taken in a working-class school. The class is asked to

study food in their own community as if they were anthropologists. Throughout this

science unit, the students determine their path toward new knowledge and act out

their own discovery/thinking process: “…they discussed… they decided… they

examined… they interviewed… they gathered… and explained” and “learned to take

the implicit, context-dependent knowledge of home and community and translate it

into explicit, context-independent categories and abstractions valued in schools.”

(1999, p.151) And, as an added bonus, for the system that must gather together

figures and chart successes through tests, Finn adds, “None failed. None of these

children had ever passed one of these tests before.” (1999, p. 152) Whatever

initiative, sense of purpose, intellectual and emotional growth became exercised

through this kind of knowledge-making, it may have also stimulated a love for

learning that could surpass social and economic expectations.

I have attempted to bring together several themes regarding literacy

by reframing efforts as dynamic agencies. Knowledge-making is no longer static or

disengaged when learners are active participants, regardless of their specific time or

place. Likewise, currencies of reading and writing practice are most potent when

their fluency allows for change, and equitable value for the learner. And within this

realm of growth, discovery and exploration, each learner is never truly alone, ever,

with his/her striving. Shared and invested knowledge through critical literacies is

a way to a brighter future for more learners, and perhaps, just perhaps, a better job.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Reading Response Wkshp2.rtf

GLIT 6727
Julia Blushak

October. 24. 2008
Response to Reading – Workshop 2

First, tacit knowledge. And then comes literacy. And somewhere in this progression, the

fortunate reach a level of consciousness that includes self-knowledge, critical thinking,

and social efficacy. The discussions throughout the assigned articles in Workshop 2

piece together arguments for engaged learning for every child/person regardless of class,

sex or colour. But these readings, though informing, presume a level of political and

historical reference on the part of the reader. So, I am compelled to read original sources

to satisfy my own curiousity – for instance, which theory begat which approach, or who

smelled something rotten first and hit the alarm, or at least drew attention to the rot?

As a Canadian I am frustrated again to read texts and socio/economic profiles that

seem remote from the Canadian experience and demographic. Yet the emergence of

global concerns, new waves of immigration, and changing economic markets have

brought the lessons of Paolo Friere and his transnational disciples closer to home.

For me, there is a single theme connecting all the readings, and a line from Friere’s

‘Education for Critical Consciousness’ says it tidily: “for committed behaviour has its

roots in critical consciousness and capacity for genuine choice.” (1973, p. 20)

When teachers, pedagogy, entrenched class structures and political forces stand between

the learner and the tacit knowledge of being his/her own person, the role played by

critical literacy becomes essential. This new understanding for literacy as social agent,

especially for children, is exciting, and definitely related to my interest in creativity for

personal and social agency. It’s interesting to read that the most progressive, elite schools

in fact embrace the use of imagination, play, personal reflection and self-directed

problem-solving, while the schools for the underclass are barely able to hold onto their

students, let alone give them free reign within curriculum. So, using Friere’s notion of

‘critical consciousness’ as theoretical ground, it seems that critical and creative thinking

is possible with literacy apprehension.

The phrase “Language is such a weapon, and what goes with language: reflection,

criticism, renaming, creation” in Adrian Rich’s article ‘Teaching Language in Open

Admissions (1972)” and the line “They live in commerce, not in isolation” from

sociologist Frank Penkin in J. L Stuckey’s article “Literacy and Social Class” seem to

articulate the inward looking and outward looking aspects of literacy with consciousness.

Growth in knowledge and understanding through critical literacy can occur when the core

of a learner is allowed to trust his/her own tacit knowledge. Again, many articles brought

forward the importance of recognizing the very ground and social air that the learner

breathes, that the learner occupies a specific time and place, and uses this awareness for

authenticity of being in the learning process.

So, on an individual level, in grows out. And, on a societal level, out grows up.

Throughout the readings there has been the recognition that each learner-thinker-reader-

writer is a free agent already, entitled to demonstrate, participate, and activate

possibilities within a social network of others with similar possibilities. This recognition

is actually a noble vision that must be crafted within systems of entrenched class bias. I

have often wondered about the subtle and not so subtle attitudes of mistrust between

those who work with their hands and those who work with creative craft or imagination, and the others who work with reason and scientific inquiry. The bias goes several ways

though I’ve met more fair-mindedness and appreciation of the other from those with

more exposure to wider texts and ideas. Knowledge itself has its own class structure and

we must be careful not to sometimes blur away the person within the work through bias

and disrespect.

Equality of means for equality of ends is a fine mission for the teacher of literacy.

The current economic meltdown in the U.S.A. could be demonstration of both the power

and suffering possible through applied and misapplied critical literacy. Those who were

the most literate, confident and true to their sense of entitlement took advantage of those

less advantaged, who in turn, failed to connect the dots and consider they were being sold

down the river instead of the American Dream. If the out is to grow up, there must be an

opportunity for those without means to figure out their own dream and take charge of

their own success. The lessons carried forward through the Workshop readings have

been sobering and yet hopeful in declaring the individual literate learner as the liberating

force in whichever system he/she recognizes as stifling their pursuit of growth and

knowledge. In a day to day application, critical literacy can offset the bad smell of

injustices perpetuated in our educational activities by working to get rid of the source of

oppression within exclusionary and socially biased systems of thought.

Freire, P, Education for Critical Consciousness. New York: Continuum, 1973.

Freire, P, Pedagogy of the Oppressed: New, Revised, Twentieth-anniversary Edition.
New York: Continuum, 1993.

Wkshp2-Rd2(SOQ) WK1.rtf

GLIT 6727
Foundations of Literacy Learning I
Julia Blushak

S. Garland, Therrien, L & Hammonds, K (1988)
Why the Underclass Can’t Get Out of Under (1988)

-notion of rampant poverty in 60’s, 70’s – Vietnam war happened but it was still a time of promise for many ie: pop culture flourished, but ideologies were being uprooted – not aware that blue collar was threatened so much then, as my father enjoyed privilege of working in the USA

-class discussion is more valid in Canadian context today than 20 years ago
-the need for more trained skilled workers is in discussion and worries about Doctor, nurse shortages are real
-hi-tech is everywhere and those without a new kind of literacy need not apply – though training can happen at any level

-how have the times and social supports improved in America over this 20 year period

-how educational systems are embedded within a social/economic fabric – they can be a strong thread or merely a support structure

Colin Lankshear
Reading and Righting Wrongs: Literacy and the Underclass (1989)

-exclusion is so much generated by socio-economic forces – “those excluded have no real way of getting in”

-unusual experience to read this angle from an American--the ‘anti-capitalist’ angle is so blatant and presumes a level of political/economic understanding in the reader around
the ‘big ideas’ at work in society.

-is it possible to train a greater number of teachers with ‘critical literacy’ literacy to make a significant difference/change in society at the classroom level

-the USA has struggled for years with notions of inclusion and exclusion and will continue as the economy shifts again through global market structures

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Reading 2-

GLIT 6727  

Foundations of Literacy Learning I                                                    

Julia Blushak



Manning, Andrew

Curriculum as Conversation

Keynote Address, Western Australian Reading Conference, May 22, 1993


Personal Response


-read this and made notes a month ago while at beach -- felt thrilled by the approach then

-re-reading and appraising after some doubts about the process in this course, will see how it strikes now


--the article is a bit dated, but interesting and still potent as a defense for vigilant practices for learning


-’learning that goes on over coffee, over lunch’ is a profound observation, evident here at the university


-listening and relating in volleys of thought and insight creates a wider space for understanding, for

allowing meanings to occur


-I’ve drawn a moebius loop to graphically capture the tracing of generative possibilities that could truly keep going between one and another in dialogue


-Learning p. 5 - Piaget’s notion of accommodation/assimilation echo in other theories ie; Buddhist sense of change being uncomfortable yet necessary - the EDGE of change causes stress and suffering (dukha) but also allows potential for insight/awareness


-we are always trying out meanings, measuring their ‘rightness’ and then modifying them


-learning happens (yes, it’ was said way back then) the best scenario is a space/attitude that’s open


-can a learner sense this space, or is it there to be released, not relearned?


-silence, gaps, carefully crafted biases exist ie: creativity is condoned yet not truly valued in education


-language sustains the sense of ‘I’ then ‘I’ plus ‘I’ plus ‘I’ - hopefully arrive at ‘we’


-’what we learn begins in community’ is more than metaphor - it is the ‘we’ that grounds us


-ability to negotiate meaning and knowledge indicates healthy thinking


-applied theory is very exciting and powerful ie: conversation with a faculty member

whose research grant needs serious rethinking brings me to a place of balancing on the edge of someone elses curved learning path and my own understanding -- we struggle to find a language that even a stranger would find approachable from their own viewpoint -- the ideas and concepts float between us as we play a mental puzzle game -- ultimately negotiation and consensus will not leave either of us frustrated or


Reading 1 -

GLIT 6727  

Foundations of Literacy Learning I                                                    

Julia Blushak



MacGinitie, Walter

The Power of Uncertainty

Journal of Reading


ISBN/ISNN: 0872071227

Publisher: Newark, Del: International Reading Association

Pages: 677-679




Personal Response


-the notion that uncertainty is a groundless place or the place to plant something, anything

-who says this or that or how much?

-it is the place that can swallow you or the place that embraces all that can be


-this is a principle that must be befriended early in life

-how can one give or encourage another to remain open to uncertainty?

-what footing or what kind of pivots exist that can shift, change weight or attitude in one’s mind to allow

for discovery, reaching out or reaching in to facilitate a new understanding?


-I used to see courage as essential before taking a step into faith

-and then faith can act as a talisman to offset fear, attract hope

-but our culture does not rest on talismans or ideologies as it once did - parent to child systems are not

as coded or structured


-what kinds of behaviour/personality/systems are nurtured to strengthen one’s approach towards

growth/learning/living with uncertainties?

Reading 1 -

GLIT 6727  

Foundations of Literacy Learning I                                                   

Julia Blushak 




MacGinitie, Walter

The Power of Uncertainty

Journal of Reading


ISBN/ISNN: 0872071227

Publisher: Newark, Del: International Reading Association

Pages: 677-679




Personal Response


-the notion that uncertainty is a groundless place or the place to plant something, anything

-who says this or that or how much?

-it is the place that can swallow you or the place that embraces all that can be


-this is a principle that must be befriended early in life

-how can one give or encourage another to remain open to uncertainty?

-what footing or what kind of pivots exist that can shift, change weight or attitude in one’s mind to allow

for discovery, reaching out or reaching in to facilitate a new understanding?


-I used to see courage as essential before taking a step into faith

-and then faith can act as a talisman to offset fear, attract hope

-but our culture does not rest on talismans or ideologies as it once did - parent to child systems are not

as coded or structured


-what kinds of behaviour/personality/systems are nurtured to strengthen one’s approach towards

growth/learning/living with uncertainties?

Views on literacy

GLIT 6727                                                                                                

Julia Blushak 


Sept. 10.2008

Research Assignment 1

Your Views on Literacy


My first thoughts on literacy are around words and their meanings - the ocean of words that come upon us each day in waves. As an adult I cannot imagine getting through a day without the help, the cues, the security I get from words to guide my life. Yet without a word in sight I often manage to experience the world, experience other people and experience through my own body in profound ways.


For instance, how important is a word when I’m taking a sip from a steaming, frothy capuccino? If I don’t murmur a response out loud, or feel compelled to describe the experience, then I can float through a delicious range of physical sensations. I may even smile. Now, if a friend were sitting nearby, that smile could cue to my friend, sharing the suggestion that my enjoyment was visceral, real and worthy of expression. My friend might even order what I am drinking without saying a word -- by pointing to the cup and then holding up a single finger to the waiter who happens to walk by. With a nod, the waiter would disappear and still without a word spoken, reappear with another frothy capuccino. Then with the classic ‘OK” hand signal, my friend might even end the transaction and wordless exchange with a sense of approval.


And so, as humans, like animals steeped in social behaviours, we have learned to read each other, both with and without words. We are very literate about behaviours, even reading signals relayed by clothes, by objects and forms, and by the elements we touch in nature and by nature itself.

To be literate about something means that one has understanding, that one has paid attention, perceived cues or clues and made some sense or meaning. Once, while watching a bullfight, my knowledgeable friend explained each aspect of the deeply acculturated activity. If he had not, my strongest responses would have been repulsion and confusion. Yet I managed to restrain my emotional responses by ‘reading’ particular meanings in what appeared to me to be an elegant yet violent sport. My friend’s words, and my informed observations helped modify my emotions and enriched my experience.


For some people, works of music, art, mathematical constructs or scientific configurations may seem meaningless, like foreign languages that others can appreciate because they understand the symbols and signs. Sometimes these languages can be taught and other times there can be great effort made to keep the language secret and inflated with meaning -- and perhaps allowing only a select few to access as if using the correct password. Such are the challenges of learning to be literate in a world filled with many kinds of symbols, signs and systems for meaning.


There is much to ponder. On a cloudy day, I look up to the sky and read the weather as unpredictable. And so, I venture out into the world, prepared with an umbrella patterned with the alphabet, and with a hope to make sense of it all.





While working as a college prof my experiences around literacy were varied and perhaps less complex than confounding. While teaching budding young graphic designers I was usually surprised by the basic lack of regard for reading materials that weren’t attached to other media forms – ie:  digital, musical, video.  I realized that students were more familiar with a wider range of devices and newer literacies than myself. Of course most could noodle and gossip and explore for ‘information / knowledge’ on the computer, or over a magical phone, but a sense of cultural or philosophical reference was often shallow. At one point, I deliberately posted newspaper articles on the wall in the Illustration studio to be read there rather than providing them in digital form on the computer.  It may have seemed harsh but it was a way for me to observe their ability to just read something that wasn’t of personal interest. I was trying to introduce them to the classic newspaper page and to tackle a difficult editorial illustration assignment. The whole thing was treated as a joke or affront to their style or freedom because they couldn’t read where they wanted, when they wanted. So, as information is everywhere all the time and there definitely is a lot of conversation happening across time/space, entertainment is also easy pickings. But there are kinds of information/knowledge and pleasures that still persist without the digital venues. Learning will continue across many formats -- and those who want to learn certain ideas and concepts will seek them out, regardless of convenience and media, I hope.