Literacy and Learning
|This article may rely excessively on sources too closely associated with the subject, preventing the article from being verifiable and neutral. (January 2014)|
Learning and Literacy; Reflections on Writing, Reading and Society (2009) is a book released by Deborah Brandt and published by Jossey Bass. It features a collection of Brandt's essays that discuss the ways in which literacy has changed over the last one hundred years. The essays look at changes in how literacy is "practiced, learned, and valued by everyday Americans". Literacy and Learning draws on a number of interviews that Brandt completed over a fifteen year period, with subjects of many different ages and backgrounds. Through the interviews, Brandt illustrates how these changes in literacy have changed the lives of her subjects, whilst at the same time, changes in their lives has altered their relationship with certain forms of literacy. The book deals with the growth of the electronic communication age, and with the help of her subjects, helps to show how this has effected literacy's role in the economy.
- 1 Chapter 1: Sponsors of Literacy
- 2 Chapter 2: Literacy in American Lives Living and Learning in a Sea of Change
- 3 Chapter 3: Accumulating Literacy: Writing and Learning to Write in the Twentieth Century
- 4 Chapter 4: Remembering Writing, Remembering Reading
- 5 Chapter 5: Writing For a Living; Literacy and the Knowledge Economy
- 6 Chapter 6: The Status of Writing
- 7 Chapter 7: How Writing is Remaking Reading
- 8 Conclusion: Conclusion: An Excerpt from Literacy in American Lives
- 9 References
Chapter 1: Sponsors of Literacy
In this first chapter introduction, Brandt introduces her concept of literacy sponsorship, which she defines as "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 in this way". Brandt has been tracing sponsors of literacy for the past five years, asking people to recall how they learned to read and write. She interviewed more than one hundred people, from a diverse background, born between 1900-1980. From these interviews in which she asked people to remember how they learned to read and write, she noticed how many people made reference to sponsors who played formative roles in their learning. In the chapter, she sets out a case for why sponsorship is so suggestive for exploring economies of literacy and their effects. She uses these case examples, to highlight the current conditions of literacy teaching and learning.
The first section of the chapter deals with sponsorship. Brandt theorizes that sponsors are usually figures who bankroll events, and are usually richer and more entrenched than the sponsored. They have something to gain from the association with the sponsored. She gives the example of a Little League team wearing the logo of a local insurance agency. They don't do this because they are about the insurance agency, but they do it because they get to play ball. This is an example of people acquiring literacy so as to further someone else's cause. This sponsorship, has led to a race to harness mass literacy, so as to manage and exploit it, when has set the terms for people's encounters with literacy. Sponsors help to explain the human relationships that turn up to the scenes of literacy learning, be it sharing between adults and kids, or in schools.
Brandt next discusses "Sponsorship and Access" discussing how literacy learning and opportunity are linked. She presents the cases of Raymond Branch and Dora Lopez, both the same age and lived in the same town. However, due to their differing backgrounds, Branch, the better off of the two, had more access to literacy forms thanks to his parents, enabling him to gain access to the computers he wished to use. With Lopez, she was not better off, and her family had to work harder to provide literacy practices for her. Due to this, they took up different places on the economic reward ladder with Branch higher than Lopez. Brandt uses this example to show how access can affect the sponsorship that people receive.
The next section of the chapter deals with "Sponsorship and the rise in literacy standards". This part focuses on the idea that literacy becomes available to people through the mediations of the more powerful sponsor. There has been a rise in literacy standards since World War II, and this has resulted in people needing to rely on reading and writing to earn a living and protect themselves. She discusses an interview with Dwayne Lowery, who transitioned from a line worker in a car factory in the 70s, to a field representative for a major public employees union. Even whilst working this new job, he had to continue re-learning so to keep up with the trends and practices of his role at that time. The sponsorship of Lowery's literacy was from the changes in the union whilst he worked there, and the union itself, which provided him with a grant to train in union practices. Brandt says this is what makes today's literacy feel so advanced and so destabilized at the same time.
For the next section Brandt discusses "Sponsorship and Appropriation in Literacy Learning". The section deals with the potential of the sponsored to be diverted towards an ulterior project, usually projects of self-interest. Brandt refers to her interview with Carol White who originally worked as a secretary, working close with the vice president and helping him to produce a magazine for a national civic organization. Through this work she typed letters and articles, and also proofread for him. White subsequently took these skills, and the anecdotal style her vice president used, and applied them to her door-to-door missionary work for the Jehovah's witnesses. She uses the anecdotal style to prepare demonstrations she gives at their weekly services. Brandt identifies this as an appropriation of literacy learning, noting how it opens up in a clash between the pressure for literacy change, and that of literacy's history. In White's case, the secretary work is the history, whilst the Jehovah's witness work is the new.
Chapter one ends with a section called "Teaching and the Dynamics of Sponsorship". In this, Brandt suggests that from what she has discussed in this chapter, many of the cultural forms of literacy development, are linked to the economics of literacy. She explains that by bringing attention to this she is not suggesting students should be better prepared for the job market, but instead that we should help individuals in their pursuit of literacy, and pay attention to how literacy can pursue them.
Chapter 2: Literacy in American Lives Living and Learning in a Sea of Change
In chapter two, Brandt focuses on the changing standards for literacy achievements over time. One of these main changes is that more people now need to know how to write for work, and this has put more pressure on the teachers of literacy. During the early to mid 90s, Brandt interviewed eighty people, asking them about how they learned to write. Brandt found that the interviews were filled with references to teachers, professors, bosses and others. The interviews also showed that people had to learn how to write, not just because they wanted to. Brandt suggests that sponsorship creates access to something valuable (literacy), and this creates pressure on the teacher and the student.
Brandt next introduces two of her interviewees named Martha Day and Barbara Hunt. Brandt compares both subjects, as their backgrounds differ. Martha graduated high school in the 1920s, and worked as a journalist for the Mid Plains Farmer. She was in the farming economy at a time when it was a thriving community within America, and there was a large community to sell a periodical to. Her earliest exposure to literacy was through her father's reading of the daily paper, which played a part in growing her desire to learn to write. Her writing was encouraged by the Methodist Church Martha and her husband attended to take a class run by the managing editor of a local paper who encouraged Martha to write. The editor then bought a newspaper, and invited Martha to write for it. Through this job, the paper was bought out by a larger corporation who took Martha on, and this continued her career, writing on the thriving agricultural industry at the time. Upon her retirement in the 1960s, the agricultural industry was no longer thriving, and in her retirement, Martha still wrote, but instead only to friends and her memoirs. Brandt points to the Mid Plains Farmer's desire for success as the vehicle to drive Martha's adult literacy, even though the window was brief, as it was shutting as Martha retired.
Next, Brandt discusses Barbara, who was born in the 1970s. She was born after the golden age of agriculture that Martha profited from, as Barbara was born to a father on a struggling dairy farm. Compared to Martha, Barbara's literacy sponsors were hard to come by, as she worked a number of jobs, none related to agriculture instead more in the stagnant retail sector. Barbara's literacy potential was developed through the work she did with the HR department of a community college she attended, as well as through her time with the Wisconsin High School Forensic Association. Through her involvement in the club, Barbara wrote speeches and competed in competitions, providing an outlet for her writing. At the time of their interview, Barbara's speech writing was resonating with the human service course she was taking at a community college to try and capitalize on the growing need for social workers in the region. Brandt mentions that it is a popular program for first generation student women in that area.
Brandt next compares the two interviewees. She discusses that many of the local literacy opportunities afforded to Martha, are no longer there for Barbara to take advantage of. These changes in the literacy learning point to the changes in the economic climate, in this case that of the agricultural industry. Brandt suggests that one-time literacy values are now devalued due to this change. For Martha, she was able to take advantage of the strong community and economy surrounding her and her work, whereas for Barbara, this does not exist in the same way. This is where economic and literacy disadvantage find their relationship. As money was not being put into Barbara's community, it made it harder for her to find strong sponsors of literacy, and to find a good job to make money. This isn't the fault of the individual it is instead the fault of the lack of investment in literacy study, which is effecting 21st century literacy learners according to Brandt. She says that as teachers, they must remember that for those learning literacy today, different values of literacy learning are inflated or deflated when compared to previous years due to the economy.
Chapter 3: Accumulating Literacy: Writing and Learning to Write in the Twentieth Century
Brandt begins the chapter by comparing the literacy histories of Genna May and her great-grandson Michael May. Genna was born in 1898, went to school for only twelve week per year as was required at the time, and after high school enrolled in a small business college and received a certificate in penmanship. Michael, born in 1981, went to school equipped with computers and grew up in a world increasingly intertwined with them, he also began his literacy journey at the age of two. Brandt uses this example to show the economic and social transformations of the twentieth century. The differences in their circumstances show the differing circumstances in which they learned literacy. Paper was not readily available for Genna growing up, however for Michael it was abundant. Genna had to carve out a life for herself in a world where literacy learning was sparse, whilst Michael has to do it in a world where literacy learning is abundant and excessive.
This abundance in literacy forms that Michael has grown up with, Brandt suggests points to a type of literacy learning, where one has to piece together reading and writing experiences from different spheres, which in turn leads to new hybrid literacy. This is a rapid diversification of literacy, and Brandt argues that literacy at the end of the twentieth century is best measured as someone's capacity to amalgamate new literacy practices. To illustrate this point, Brandt draws from interviews she conducted during 1992 and 1993. The aim was to try and identify the major affects of "accumulating literacy", as she believes that in the twentieth century, literacy piles up. The rapid evolution of these forms lead to a multi-layered society, where old forms still exist, along with the new.
The first interviewee is Sam May, son of the aforementioned Genna, born in 1925. He was raised into a literacy of upward-mobility by his Aunt, who wrote columns for a local newspaper. As a child, he wrote and produced (with other children) "slideshows" that were then performed to the community. He wrote scripts and flyers, and worked on collaborative writing. However, these shows were encouraged by a new technology, films, which people flocked to watch, giving the children's shows an audience. This was an example of a new technology influencing old literacy practices. Radio also encouraged Sam to write, as he wrote to radio stations, trying to acquire items, which in turn led to his fascination with radio, and as a teen he build radios in his garage. Due to the war and the bombings on Pearl Harbour, radar, the atomic bomb and transistor radios were all developed, creating a need for people with proficiency in this literacy. Due to this, Sam took courses straight out of high school, and he became a radio repairman at eighteen. In line with his job, Sam had to write a large amount, writing service manuals on the new technologies, that were appearing frequently. Following his service, Sam headed to college, and after graduation, became an electronics technician. Sam now spends around thirty percent of his day to writing in different forms at work. At the time of the interview, he had not learned how to use the computer available to him, but was planning to.
Brandt next turned to her interview with Jordan Grant, born in 1948. Grant's earliest literacy experiences were based around his local church. At two he had to memorize a speech for an Easter pageant. He later helped his mother compose church bulletins using a mimeograph machine. In school, at aged eight he recalled entering a writing contest, writing on how he wanted to become a minister like his father. He won, and continued this success in a writing competition in college. Grant suggested that his success was because he used the composition techniques that his father had used in his sermons. Brandt mentions that this concept, the passing of literacy from father to son, is termed "literacy transmission". Grant's literacy was tied in with the civil rights at the time, as he recalled with his brothers, writing picket signs, and composing essays on the subjects in private. He used writing as a vent. Grant graduated with a degree in English, and then went onto get his Ph.D. At the same time he moved into a job as the affirmative action officer in a school district, writing affirmative action plans and training manuals. This was significant as it was a field that had never previously existed. The district was mainly white, which caused tension with his writing, as he used his father's sermon style at times. This also caused friction with his white dissertation board. His next step was to set up his own consulting firm, making writing his full-time job. Whilst Brandt interviewed him, he was in the middle of working on a book focusing on civil rights issues. The social change through Grant's time led to literacy development for him, as he tried to integrate his southern, black, sermon-like writing style into the white and bureaucratic north.
Brandt concludes this chapter discussing how the interviews show that attempts to acquire reading and writing, are in response to a developing of literacy and other enterprises. This provides incentives for learning to read and write for individuals. Both of the interviewee's were swept up in the post World War Two technocratic society. Brandt also discusses how in addition to this, the accumulating of literacy is made up of past and present literacy styles, which are essential to the development of new forms of literacy. Brandt suggests that the accumulation of literacy could be better dealt with in schools if they recognized the conditions of literacy. Brandt believes schools should look at the in-depth picture with literacy. For example, with Sam May, his penmanship lessons that he received in his farmhouse, or Jordan Grant's sermon style of writing, there are many aspects that affect a literacy. Literacy is always in a state of flux, always mixing with its past, present and future. This is the excess of literacy earlier referred to, and Brandt believes that being literate in the twentieth century has to do with working with that surplus.
Chapter 4: Remembering Writing, Remembering Reading
This chapter explores the relationship between reading and writing, focussing on cultural attitudes and circumstances that surround her interviewee's memories of their literacy experiences. Brandt conducted her interviews for this section between 1992 and 1993. She says that the main purpose of the interviews was to explore the learning of literacy as it occurred across the twentieth century, more specifically, what people remember about reading and writing across their lives.
The first section is entitled "Cultural Dissociations of Reading and Writing". Brandt begins by commenting on how people differently remember their first writing experiences. For some, it was pleasurable, and for others not so much. Many of her interviewee's said that reading and books were endorsed within their households, usually in the form of being read to by parents. Brandt says that the vividness of these memories, suggest their importance to the individuals. For some it was the reading of religious materials, as in the case of Johnny Ames, born in 1950, whose grandmother would read from the bible to him from a young age. In other homes, it was secular reading that was more predominant. Many read comics as a form of pleasure and entertainment. Brandt commented that reading to preschool children cut across race and gender, and even those whose parents did not read to them, were still given books to read by those same parents. The importance of buying books is also highlighted, with some responses indicating that buying books was more common that going to a library, and many would save their children's books, to pass to other friends and family, or to reuse on their next child.
Brandt's next section focuses on "The Ambiguity of Writing". The first point made is that after her interviews, Brandt noted that writing as a youth was much less coherent in family life when compared to reading. Many of her interviewees mentioned early writing as rebellious. This is show in the case of Harry Carlton, who as a child wrote all the bad words he knew on a blackboard with his mother and her friends in the room. Many others noted a lonely feeling surrounding their early writing memories. Carla Krauss recalled her first poem being inspired by sitting alone on her front step, waiting for her sister to arrive. Whereas reading was motivated by adults, with writing, it appears that it's motivated by the circumstances the youth found themselves in. However, there is an ambiguous aspect to the writing memories, as in the Carlton case, after being scolded for writing the bad words, his mother informed him that he had spelt "butts" with only one t, and that the correct was with two. Brandt also notes that for many, the first reading memories were very clear, whilst the first writing memories in many cases were not. This is maybe because, Brandt theorizes, the definition of writing itself is tough to clarify. Many people assumed handwriting, and thought of the mundane writing tasks as not qualifying as writing. However, when pressed, they remembered more than they realized. Brandt says that for many adults, reading with children is a necessity, but this is not the case for writing. In the case of Karla Crauss, she regularly read to her two children, but never encouraged writing. Writing appears to be not as important to the parents. Krauss mentioned that she didn't feel it was the responsibility of the parents.
The pride people had in being a reader was established in interviews, but many people did not consider themselves writers, even Benjamin Lucas, who is now a writer and critic. When interviewing Bernice King who writes fiction and poetry, Brandt asked how she developed an identity as a writer, King replied that she'd never considered it. Brandt takes time to mention that by saying all of this, she is not devaluing writing, as in many interviews the importance of writing is shown as high valued. Many of her interviewees still had lots of their writing, and described writing as an adult with the same intimacy they described their childhood reading memories. Brandt theorizes that writing in everyday literacy practices is more ambiguous and conflicted when compared to reading. Writing does not seem to be as broadly sponsored by parents.
The next section is entitled "Reading and Writing Across Generations". Brandt starts by suggesting that reading is something that transcends generations easier than writing. Brandt's interviewees associated their parents' reading with learning, relaxing and worshiping, which are things that are all shared with children. However the parents' writing such as bills, is not something that is applicable to children. Many children would read their parents' magazines, but there was nothing on the writing side available to them in that sense. Brandt suggests that the reason for this is the secrecy surrounding many forms of writing which diminishes teaching opportunities. Diaries, for example, were covered in secrecy. Interviewee Miles Murphy had a notebook as a teenager in the 1930s which he filled with notes and thoughts, and it was kept secret. Many people mentioned that when a sibling found their secret diary, it left them feeling violated. Writing for them was used as a purge or a vent, which Brandt also discovered was common in the white and black women and men whom she interviewed. The writing like this occurred mainly at times of crisis. Eva O'Malley wrote a lot during her divorce. Reading sometimes got people in trouble (Jordan Grant's father raised issue when he found a book with the title "murder"), but Brandt wanted to point out that there is a large difference in how children and adults relate to each other in reading and writing. Writing remains more invisible than reading as it tends to be more mundane, and as such, adults have less reasons to talk to children about writing.
The final section of the chapter is entitled "Writing and Reading Relationships in School". Brandt says that the story of reading-writing relationships change when people talk about literacy practices in school. In school, many remembered spending more time reading than writing. However, many interviews suggested that both were always linked in assignments, but in a way that made writing the subordinate of the two. Writing was often induced to verify the readings. Harry Carlton recalled not writing much, but having to write book reports to get a star. Brandt says that attention should be paid to the unofficial literacy events and lessons. Many interviewees mentioned writing parodies of readings assigned in school, or passing notes in class. Michelle Friedman recalled being caught passing a note in class. The teacher then warned her against writing things down.
Brandt concludes that after tracing the cultural dissociation of reading and writing from her interviews, she joins calls for a broadening of the study of literacy practices. She believes that both school and home can work together to participate in cultural diffusion of literacy in the twentieth century. This process multiplies the contexts in which the youth learn about reading and writing. She believes it is important to know about the settings in which people come to learn about reading and writing, and by doing this, we will understand better what compels literacy.
Chapter 5: Writing For a Living; Literacy and the Knowledge Economy
In this chapter, Brandt aims to explore the idea of written products becoming a vehicle for economic trade and profit making. From twelve interviews, she aimed to understand how writing with competitiveness relates to contemporary work place writing. Brandt discusses how discussions on the knowledge economy never focus on the roles of reading and writing in the making and selling of knowledge. In this knowledge economy, wealth is created by generating and leveraging literacy. This knowledge economy, Brandt says, has led to a reliance on people's minds for productivity as workers control the means of production within their minds, and this puts added investment on human cognition and literacy.
The first section is entitled "Writing as the Thing: Manufacturing Texts". The focus here is on what happens to writers and their writing becomes the main product. Some interviews focused on the manufacturing products of the writing, in the case of Roxanne Richards, a marketing director who described the long process her work would have to go through to be accepted. Even her press releases have to go through a long manufacturing line before being released. This is one note of the collaborative style of writing in the work place, and many other interviewee's mentioned how works were collaborated on by a number of people. There are also guidelines on the writing, as some writings are heavily scrutinized, like securities dealer George Carlise who mentions that his proposals are proofread and edited by a number of people.
The next section is entitled "The Toil of Writing: Writers as Mediators and Meditational Means in Production". Brandt attributes the fact that by understanding writing as a collaborative process helps to account for the high levels of mediation of so much of contemporary writing. Workplace writers are like parts of machinery, turning raw materials into functional pieces of writing. Brandt points to mediation as one of the hardest forms of writing. Interviewee Matha Weather describes her role as a mediator, as she had to create front and back end user manuals for computer software, which involved her having to work with and appease a number of different departments. Brandt next focuses on ghost-writing as another form of mediation. Pam Collins discusses how tough it is, to try and write as someone else would, and try to put yourself in their place. Brandt turns to discuss a more complex form of mediation, discussing how certain writers function as meditational means for others, and this in turn helps to show how literacy serves the knowledge economy. From this, the meditational side of writing becomes pronounced. Brandt refers to insurance underwriter Jacob Herron, who discussed the fine line he had to toe when writing health insurance policies to meet a variety of needs. He explained how he had to stay within the law when writing, and this shaped his writing. This, among with other testimonies highlights how literacy as a human skill is recruited as an instrument of production. Intense mediation founded on reading and writing helps to shape the works into their desired forms and to meet certain goals. Brandt concludes that mediation and synthesis are always at the core of this composition.
Brandt's next section discusses "Writing and Regulation". People who write for a living find their writing increasingly codified. This comes to the center of concern in the knowledge economy. As texts become more valuable as a product, more money and effort is spent on regulating it, which has resulted in the increasing presence of regulators in the workplace. Brandt found that in many of her interviews, intervention from a regulatory body was discussed. Many worked with lawyers, and others found that the regulations that they followed were always in a state of change. Regulation also informed what topics could be discussed. Martha Weber discussed how she was not allowed to write on certain topics whilst at her work, despite its relevance to her role. In some interviews, the FDA were referenced, as people described having to work under their constraints, and produce documents that fit with FDA approved guidelines. This, Brandt summaries, shows the influence regulators have on the writings produced.
In the next section "Demand for Change", Brandt begins discussing the pace of change in the knowledge economy. This race to find the next economic advantage from knowledge-producing fields, leads to an ever-changing unstable work environment. Interviewee Karen McWhorley described having to dissolve and start many small companies in response to the changing mortgage rates in the banking industry. Brandt points to the aggressiveness of these changes, by recognising the amount of training and retraining that employees have to go through. Except for the self-employed, all of her interviews had gone through training and retraining. Jacob Herron for example, say the changes change his job drastically, moving to a different larger team which affected his writing processes, as did the advent and emergence of e-mail. Some interviewees also referenced having to change to a shorter, more direct style of writing to fit in with modern changes. Brandt concludes that these changes show the importance of being able to adapt to changes in conditions for writing and in the means of writing itself.
"Literacy and the Knowledge economy" is the next section, and it deals with literacy in the twenty-first century, being something that companies will try to control, by trying to grow them in the ways they wish. Growing knowledge is why training is so important in the current climate. The idea, is to make the information deeply embedded in the structure of the company, so that it can easily be taught to people, and not owned by one person. An example of this is Jacob Herron, who went from writing on his own, to writing in a large team, losing the autonomy he had previously enjoyed. Brandt suggests, however, that literacy is something that remains property that can't remain private, and that people will always find a way to move the learning into other contexts. For example, accountant Barry Freund mentioned information he found researching things for his clients, actually came in handy in his own personal life. This idea, of literacy being something tied to a person, is focused on when Brandt discusses the satisfaction that comes with authorship, pointing to a number of examples in her interviews where interviewees discuss how workplace writing, has provided them with personal pride. Brandt, however, reminds us that authorship is forged from labour, and is in the context of competition and control. Some interviewees pointed to how they read and wrote at work, bled into personal lives, for example, when trying to read for pleasure, they would read for the high points, as they had been trained to do at work.
Brandt concludes by saying that on one hand the interviews pointed to huge investment on human development in companies. People who write have found access to learning, teaching and information to help them develop, as well as systems of power and legitimacy. However on the other hand, these writings are for the purpose of profit, and are constrained into the guidelines of the workplace. So this shows that the demand for workplace literacy shows a great demand and support for writing, but at the same time, instability due to the constant changes of the workplace. This is something, Brandt suggests, that needs to be analysed deeper by both scholars, and citizens.
Chapter 6: The Status of Writing
Brandt beings this chapter, telling an anecdote of a new ghost-writing company that is the first to offer insurance in the case that they plagiarize. Brandt points to this as an example of the complex dynamics in the status of writing. The transactional function of writing, is something that makes it so different from reading. Brandt points to reading as something that helps to generate and share knowledge, but it cannot participate in unadulterated exchanges like writing. Reading participates in a different economy to writing, it contributes something to the reader, and reading acts as a good, it is not a good. You can be enriched by reading, but you can't become rich by reading. Reading over time has been marked with high culture, and this value has extended to those who write. This is the idea of ghost-writing, as those who write transfer the status that comes with it to those who have paid for it. Plagiarism, Brandt says, is wrong because it interrupts the exchange of the good from writer to reader. It makes the readers receivers of stolen goods, which shows the importance of plagiarism insurance, it allows the author to re-separate from the moral responsibility of authorship, and claim to be a victim to.
In terms of cultural and economic forces, reading and writing have developed in different ways. Despite being taught as dependent on one another in schools, their different cultural origins affect how they are experienced in everyday life. Historically, more people were presumed to read than write, however now, they are on the same level. When mass reading exploded in the 18th century, people were not expected to know how to write, and held less significance. When writing first appeared, it was reliant on powerful patrons with money, and focused on mathematics. Writing was taught in private-pay institutions, whereas reading was more openly available. Writing found its value in the rising communications industry, eventually rising to be considered a vehicle for economic competition.
Brandt next looks into the collision between the moral economy of reading and commercial economy of writing. She again looks at her interviews, seeking patterns of a rivalry between reading and writing. Writing is has more transactional value than reading, which highlights the relationship. This also highlights the focus put on writing, as it is at the center of the production economy. An example of this are presented in a large insurance company that has a floor designated to writing policies. In this way, writing is prioritized how reading never is. Companies do not try to teach and mold reading. Many interviewee's noted how their writing styles were critiqued and morphed within their workplace. This is due to the high stakes that surrounded their writing. Conversely, reading instructions are scarcely provided in the work environment. Brandt noticed that when reading instruction was provided, it was usually to low-level employees to whom English was not a first language. Private writing instruction took place on a high level, and the more important the writing, the more support received. One's location in the production process seemed to effect how much instruction they would receive. Brandt likens the modern workplace to a school in which writing is taught, due to the role writing has in economic production, which shows an inequality in the public commitment to reading, and private commitment to writing.
Brandt's next point is that the government regulates writing more than reading. This is shown by the regulatory agencies that have a large presence over everyday writing and it's writers. Many of her interviews spoke of the Food and Drug Administration amongst others. Many consulted with in-house lawyers too. Brandt points this to the fact that writing is protected by law, however, it is due to the sake of the readers that this all exists. The freedom of the press is for the readers, as the government looks to nourish the mind of its people. However, by regulating the writing, is appears the government is trying to prevent people being taken advantage of, entering into contracts that they may not understand. As reading is so essential to the consumption of so many goods, it places emphasis on the writing that goes with it.
Brandt next looks at another dynamic, the idea that mass writing is given less ethical and moral value than mass reading. Brandt points to reports showing a decline in the buying of books, to which people see as society falling, whilst in the same reports, it showed that writing is on the up. Reports have failed to explain why more people are engaging in creative writing. In the history of mass literacy writing as a rival to the character building of reading has not featured. However, in her interviews, Brandt noticed how many spoke about the cathartic and uplifting experience of authorship. This changes the notion that in order to write well, you must read well. Brandt suggests that maybe in the future, you will need to write well first. Brandt provides an example of this from her interviews, with a police officer, who describes writing his police reports as if they were a movie, and he were writing a film script. Another interviewee explained how writing crystallizes her thoughts. Brandt notes that if people claim reading promotes perspective taking, reflection and creativity developing, then the same must surely be put for writing. However currently, these ideas go unacknowledged, even in the places where they occur. For example, in schools, writing functions within the ideals of a reading based literacy. However now, the equation is being reversed, as the value of reading is coming to rely on the status of writing as a literary experience. Brandt ends by asking a question, as the US was founded as a nation of readers, how can it now sustain being a nation of writers?
Chapter 7: How Writing is Remaking Reading
Brandt begins the chapter with the story of Henry Leonard, who works in the special collections department of a library. When he began to work there in 1982, he wrote letters and composed notes, but by 2005, was the director of web services for the library. Now he writes essays and blogs to "get into people's livings rooms". This is an example of the trend that now more people spend more time as a writer than a reading. This is the first time in history that writing is eclipsing reading in mass literacy.
We spend much of our time believing that reading and writing co-exist, and without one there would not be the other, however Brandt suggests that we have not given enough thought to the idea that reading and writing can be in competition with each other. Now, the heritage of reading is being undermined by the heritage of writing. Brandt suggests that less reading is being done, because more people are now writing. She again uses the example of Leonard, who says he grew up reading, however in recent years has turned to writing to manage his work due to computers altering the way people seek information. He now writes all day, and receives praise for his writing. It is the writing that brings in the money. Reading, Brandt suggests, is seen as being good. As a way of being good in school, work, and citizenship, which goes back to the earliest sponsors of reading, namely the church.
Mass writing however, does not share this moral legacy. It has always been for profit and production. It is a good, not for a good. This is seen by the library where Leonard works becoming increasingly entrepreneurial. There was a reduction in public funding, so they had to use writing to try and make money. Now, the library has to depend on powerful patrons to exist, such as Google, to promote itself. Google promotes its wares in the marketplace, whilst the library's staff learnt to make their texts Google-friendly in exchange. In Leonard's example, Brandt also notes how reading gets re-positioned. He no longer does he reading through books, he now does it on electronic readers. So he now reads through the same mediums he uses to write, with a keyboard at his fingertips. This is another show of how reading is now re-positioned, even to access reading, people must write to gain access to it. Brandt suggests that this change of writing literacy taking a different course from reading literacy, is down to how it is sponsored and valued.
Brandt delves deeper into the idea of mass reading always being encouraged historically. Churches and the state have always encouraged it as a form of knowledge gathering. There has never been this universal ideology for writing. States have not invested in citizen writing, but they have in reading. Subsidies for mass writing have come employers, which points to writing becoming a chief means for production. Services are bought and sold through texts, and consumers are educated this way. Texts take the forms of warranties and instructions. The internet also makes citizen writing a commodity. Without workplaces working so hard to ensure that people can write, the transition to internet-based writing would not have happened so quickly. Brandt interviewed people over the past two years, all of whom pointed to the teaching and learning of writing at work being important and promoted in many ways. This puts writing in an important place, as people need it to move up or down the employment ladder, adopt a new technology and other things. In many job applications, they now test the writing skills of the applicant too, with good writing talent being desired, recruited and rewarded.
Brandt next looks at the depth of literacy learning provided at work, to show the potential at stake that causes them to promote literacy. As literacy is valued through its production, it's valued in the writing side. This means some forms are promoted more heavily, for example in Brandt's educational corporation, she can receive computer training 24/7 for free, yet is someone is for example, a custodian who needs English lessons, they are very fortunate if they are able to grab one of the few places on the courses offered. Campus custodians are also forbidden to use computers during their work hours. This points to the importance, as custodians do not need this type of literacy to produce their work. This literacy access, Brandt suggests, widens the gap between the literacy-haves and have-nots, because the employers invest more in certain people's writings in terms of production.
The heritage of writing literacy is something that currently favors access and subsidy, in addition to control. As employers buy the time of their workplace writers, and own the tools with which they write, they do not actually own the words written, even though they believe they do. Many of her interviewees discussed their pride in their work writings, even if they are obscure writings. However, the writings accrue to those who provide the materials, usually the employer. Copyright law provides little protection for the workers, as first amendment rights in the workplace are somewhat weak because the writing is viewed as part of labor. Judges say this is due to the writings now being as independent voices, but instead as willingly coerced corporate voices. Essentially the courts argue that free expression does not exists at work.
Brandt finished by concluding that over the last 50 years, we are all part of a campaign to turn us into writers. This is down to literacy depending on the sponsors who retain the ownership of the writing, namely corporations. This means the mass writing is somewhat less independent and receives less government protection than reading. As writing continues to rise in power, reading is becoming folded into writing. We will increasingly read to write. This is a positive to some, such Henry Leonard, whose writings for the library reach more people. However, as literacy falls to the entrepreneurial sphere, the sponsors will become the stewards of a new mass literacy.
Conclusion: Conclusion: An Excerpt from Literacy in American Lives
For much of its history, literacy helped to build nations and was helpful for religious intonation. Lately however, literacy has begun to incorporate the industrializing economy. Towards the end of the 19th century, it was like this in that it helped assimilate immigrants and favor those who had access to it, whilst reading and writing were emerging as skilled labor. This has now changed with the rise in the market economy. Literacy became a direct implication in economic life. Readers became targets as customers, whilst literacy skills became commodities themselves. This points to a literacy less of tradition and social status, but more of one in competition. Literacy has now become a catalyst for change in economic relations.
The commandeering of literacy for economic interests in the twentieth century points to the changing literacy sponsors. These are embodied by the agencies that promote this new form of literacy. They raises the stakes for literacy in competition with competitors. Brandt suggests that sponsors are both benefactors and extortionists. Literacy sponsors have changed, they are now more prolific and diffused. Global communications only serves the boost this idea in the future. There has also been changes in the literacy at home, notably in the child home and school relationship. There is currently a belief that good schoolwork by a child is down to a good family literacy campaign. This is important as it brings children into contact with literacy early. Brandt believes that the relationship between parental work and literacy must play an important role in the approach to family literacy. Technological change around literacy has had a disruptive impact too. Literacy shifts with each new technology. Radio, for example, brought news to millions of people, the same happened with television, even though people dismissed it at first. Nowadays, youth experience reading and writing in a number of different communicative systems.
Brandt also questions the public education system. In the twentieth century education was readily available for whites, however non-whites were not provided with the same opportunity. This has placed whites on a higher plane opportunity wise, and Brandt suggests that the more economics plays a hand in sponsoring literacy, these racial discriminations in the system will hurt literacy development. However, with the political change that has occurred, education has been uncorked on the mass scale for African Americans, however this has not kept up with the drive of gathering new information, and thus racial disparity still exists. American schools have not properly confronted the tensions present in the current literacy forms.
Summing up, Brandt wishes to address the readers who are committed to providing democracy in public education. These democratic places exist to re balance injustice and put everyone on the same field, however many forces such as funding interfere with this issue. So the more the schools have to organize literacy to try and serve the needs of the all-powerful economic system, the more it betrays it's democratic desires. What Brandt tries to suggest is that the new economic order presents educators with a bigger agenda than just teaching future workers. Literacy needs to be addresses in a civil rights context. If students learned to read and write as a forms of civil rights, how would that strengthen their democratic mission? Brandt believes this would cause a rise in literacy standards. Brandt closes by saying that we should appreciate the benefits of parents reading to children, but also acknowledge the complex demands that comes with teaching in our age. We should pay attention to how stigmatized groups go around trying to gain literacy, and notice that the problem is that we have too much literacy. Finally, we must also notice that literacy skills often languish in American lives due to the lack of an adequate sponsor.
- Brandt, D. (2009). Literacy and Learning. Jossey-Bass. p xiv
- Brandt, D. (2009). Literacy and Learning. Jossey-Bass. p 25
- Brandt, D. (2009). Literacy and Learning. Jossey-Bass. p 82
- Brandt, D. (2009). Literacy and Learning. Jossey-Bass. p 161