Tag Archives: literacy


Honoring Trailblazing Women

Global Citizenship Campaign for March

The following post was written by members of the NCTE Standing Committee on Global Citizenship.

“We cannot all succeed when half of us are held back. We call upon our sisters around the world to be brave—to embrace the strength within themselves and realize their full potential.”

—Malala Yousafzai

As the Standing Committee on Global Citizenship continues to consider ways in which teachers, students, and community members can increase our knowledge of what it means to be a global citizen, we turned to the status of girls and women for the month of March. In the United States, March serves as Women’s History Month, and the theme for Women’s History Month 2017 is “Honoring Trailblazing Women in Labor and Business.”

There are many trailblazing women to admire, and thus on a personal level, girls might be encouraged to consult biographies of women who have made a difference in the world of business and labor. Understanding what encompasses both business and labor would be a great start for girls in elementary and middle school, while addressing explicit ways young women might enter the world of business and labor would make for great teaching at the secondary and postsecondary levels.

The National Women’s History Project website is a great resource for learning more about female leaders throughout time. Nominations for this year’s honorees include Kate Mullany, who, in 1845, began the first all-women labor union, and Lucy Parsons Gonzales, who founded the Industrial Workers of the World in 1905.

In discussions about women’s history, exemplars of strong voices who disrupt the status quo can be found in clips from biographies on series such as PBS’s “American Masters”. This month ABC’s “When We Rise,” addresses issues of gender and gender advocacy and offers another great way to encourage students to become familiar with positive avenues for equity.

As transgender equity seems threatened, emailing congressional representatives as well as school board representatives and school district administrators about supporting transgendered students is one action students can take. Talking about such issues and the historic actions taken in the past to protect other underrepresented groups is equally important.

Using biography projects (see Pinterest and Scholastic) or encouraging innovations through inquiry projects that would make a change in people’s lived experiences (see The Better India and edTechTeacher), young people have a path to action. Inviting students to become participants in organizations such as Girl Up or Disrupt and Innovate can help them see that they can be the change we want to see in the world.

Literacy and Culture: Are We Rising?

The words in this blog belong to NCTE member Jeff Wilhelm. Jeff Wilhelm

I spent today in Berlin and then took the train to Magdeburg where I had a dinner meeting and where I will be working with English teachers (teaching English to German students) for the next two days.

Some observations about literacy: the Leipzig Buchmesse (book fair) is taking place and every newspaper I saw from around Germany (Berlin, Frankfurt, Munich) had a front page story about it. Then a page two story about a reading or some such related literacy event in that city.

36% of Germans say they have picked up and read more than one book of literature in the last week. Compare that to 3% of Americans. What’s up with that and what could we do about it? Is this a failure of teaching? A lack of social imagination? Our emphasis on immediate functional work?

Check out the stone tablet! Now we have the Kindle! Where to next? Wilhelm stone tablet

I went to the famous Pergamon Museum on the World Heritage Museum-insel (museum island) in Berlin and the exhibits were filled with scribe statues (a very big deal in ancient Assyria and Babylonia since scribes allowed for record keeping and trade and legal documents and many other things that promotes power and culture), stone and clay tablets, and even a “golden hat”, a rare kind of 19-year calendar that could be used to do various calculations and placeheld astronomical knowledge.

The rise of culture always parallels the rise of literacy. What does that say about us?”

Jeff Wilhelm is Distinguished Professor of Boise State University, Director of the Boise State Writing Project, and an internationally-known teacher, author, and presenter, and author and co-author of many books including “You Gotta BE the Book”: Teaching Engaged and Reflective Reading with Adolescents for which he won the NCTE Promising Research Award in 1995,  and Teaching Literacy for Love and Wisdom: Being the Book and Being the Change  Right now Jeff is teaching in Germany as a Fulbright Scholar and you can follow his experiences on Facebook.

Teaching Literacy and Advocacy Through Hip Hop

The words Hip Hop in block letters. I had the privilege of attending the standing-room only session, “Love, a Brave and Startling Truth: Healing Education Practices within the Cipher of Hip-Hop and Spoken Word Pedagogy” with Tish Jones and Moira Pirsch, at NCTE’s 2015 Annual Convention. Their session was one of many at the Convention that discussed the role of hip-hop in the English classroom. Educators are using this literary medium to teach more than language – they’re connecting it to discussions around race, social justice, and student agency. The quotes that follow are from NCTE members who have written and spoken on the topic. The articles linked below provide insights into how hip hop literacy can become part of your instruction too.

“We ultimately decided that we could utilize Hip-hop music and culture to forge a common and critical discourse that was centered upon the lives of the students, yet transcended the racial divide and allowed us to tap into students’ lives in ways that promoted academic literacy and critical consciousness,” explain Ernest Morrell and Jeffrey M.R. Duncan-Andrade in an article entitled Promoting Academic Literacy with Urban Youth through engaging Hip Hop Culture.

In another English Journal article Lauren Kelly describes her decision to incorporate hip-hop literacy into her teaching from the perspective of what is lost if she doesn’t: “The absence of hip-hop literacy in education does not only harm minority students. It also deprives white students of the opportunity to learn about others.”

David Kirkland describes his experience with hip-hop literacy both as a researcher and a teacher: “As an academic who has researched hip-hop and advocated for its use as a media literacy tool in the classroom, I have learned that hip-hop can be used in classrooms to inspire youth to be agents of social and political change.”

2015 NCTE Annual Convention presenters, Jamila Lyscott, Michael Cirelli and Tish Jones illustrate the above in the following videos:  “Broken English” (Jamila Lyscott), I am Hip Hop (Michael Cirelli) and Tish Jones: Tracks.

“Utilizing hip-hop in the classroom has proven to be a game changer for many students and teachers. Classrooms across the United States …have been transformed from atmospheres of chronic underperformance and sleepy disengagement to purposeful, dynamic, high-achieving learning environments characterized by meaningful lessons, engaged young people, and soaring academic aims—all by tapping the proven power of hip-hop pedagogy…” – From an introduction by Michael Cirelli and Alan Sitomer, Hip-Hop Language Arts: Thematic Textual Analysis

Is hip-hop part of your pedagogy? Tell us about it!

The Gospel According to Literacy

There was also a new bidding—and we could feel it from the vantage point of our Citizenship Program—across class and educational lines, across generations, across localities and dialects and family backgrounds. We could hear this unity in the singing voices and speaking voices of the people; it seemed we could even hear it in the earth itself, like a soft rumbling, a rhythmic beating of drums from all over the South. It was knowing, with undeniable and unshakable conviction, that our time had come. Andrew Young, An Easy Burden

Cover from Rhea Estelle Lathan's Book: Freedom Writing The following excerpt is from Rhea Estelle Lathan’s Freedom Writing: African American Civil Rights Literacy Activism, 1955–1967, the latest volume in the CCCC Studies in Writing and Rhetoric Series.

The South Carolina Citizenship School fairytale goes something like this: Once Upon a Time, in the South Carolina swamps, Septima Clark, a matronly schoolteacher, gathered a few tired, illiterate farmers and taught them to read and write. This bunch of tattered Jim Crow shuckin’ Lowcountry residents, suddenly, with little planning or forethought, decided they wanted social equality. With Clark’s help, they learned how to read the South Carolina Constitution. Armed with their newly acquired “literacy,” the farmers fearlessly marched into the Charleston City Hall and, magically, without incident, registered as voters. Literacy saved the day. Literacy was the golden key that unlocked the gates to civic freedom. White South Carolinians surrendered their Jim Crow practices, integrated lunch counters, and graciously opened schools to black children. The fairytale ends as Septima Clark runs notorious Jim Crow laws out of South Carolina. And the South Carolina Sea Islands residents lived happily ever after. The End.

This is a nice, neat fantasy. Other romantic adaptations have Clark traveling all over the South with a bag of literacy, which she spreads like pixie dust over “Jim Crow,” leading to his ultimate demise. These romantic adaptations reinforce an African American rags-to-riches fantasy that ultimately perpetuates misrepresentations of African American literacy activism. They also legitimize social inequalities that stem from uncritical and incomplete histories. When we tell the stories of our leaders in the struggle for our rights, rarely do we look beyond “Super Septima,” “Tired Rosa Parks,” or “Mighty Man-on-the-Mountain Martin Luther King Jr.” We don’t have to look far to locate nostalgic Hollywood movies or documentary films about the brave Freedom Riders, courageous Montgomery bus boycotters, or heroic Selma marchers. However, if we consider civil rights icon Andrew Young’s declaration from the vantage point of the Citizenship Program, we hear an instrument that amplifies local, community-based voices. A more complete narrative restores participant voices to the historical record. This occurs when we listen carefully to the people dedicated to both teaching and learning.

An oversimplified narrative of the Civil Rights Movement in general, or an uncritical analysis of the Citizenship Schools specifically, casts a shadow on primary sources of African American literacy practices. Freedom Writing illuminates principal resources and lays bare the Citizenship Schools myth, which is often a placatory narrative that obscures hard truths about the role of writing—learning and teaching—during the Civil Rights era. Literacy activism is especially viable within the context of a social movement designed to take up the ongoing fight against intellectual oppression.

The Citizenship Schools are a chapter in the continuing struggle against the overwhelming justification for relegating black people to subhuman positions: the belief that they were, by-and-large, illiterate. Not until the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka decision did we began to see the demise of prevailing US education policies that had enforced laws preserving educational access exclusively for whites (Prendergast, Literacy 16). The decision emboldened black communities en masse to demand their inalienable constitutional rights. The Brown decision was the gateway to civic inclusion, but Citizenship Schools were the path up to the door.

Beginning with fourteen students on Johns Island, South Carolina, the schools grew to include more than 60,000 participants throughout the South and later became the largest program of Martin Luther King Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). The schools set a precedent in mass literacy activity for African Americans that extended far beyond the goal of African American voter registration. They were an empowering force against the dehumanizing strain of segregationist ideologies, guiding many participants into activism. Then, as now, national studies claimed that African Americans lacked the literacy skills required to keep pace with their white American counterparts. If we look to the Citizenship Schools for an innovative perspective on literacy, we both recover and revise a vocabulary for discussing the literacy history of marginalized groups—in this case, the learners and teachers who participated in the Civil Rights crusade.

The Desire for Literacy 7: A Door Open

This is the seventh of eight excerpts we are offering from Lauren Rosenberg’s The Desire for Literacy: Writing in the Lives of Adult Learners, a volume in the CCCC Studies in Writing and Rhetoric Series. We’ll be offering a new excerpt each Monday. In this book, Dr. Rosenberg shares the literacy experiences of four learners who attended the Read/Write/Now Adult Learning Center, a library-based informal education site in Springfield, Massachusetts.

Lauren Rosenberg’s The Desire for Literacy

Violeta states that there are many reasons why writing matters. Some of her intention is functional:

When I have to sign form or when I sign my paper for Section 8, before I was no doing that. Now I sit down, and I read it, and I sign it. I no was doing that before. Like my paper for Section 8, it was a lot of paper. Before I was going crazy. I had to get it from help. I do that now with myself. . . .

     By the time I met her, Violeta already spoke of writing as a means of becoming, my word but her concept, a theory without the theoretical language. Most of her comments about writing connect the process with working out the story of her life. We talked about that relationship:

     What do you like to write?

About my life. About my life, yeah.

     So when you do the kind of projects that Carolyn [her teacher] has you doing here, are those enjoyable to you?

Mm hmm. I do, partly, part of my portfolio is about my life. That’s what I do. Because that helping me a lot to get out what did I go in and explain to me. And I do about my life book. I want to see when I before, was Violeta before? Was Violeta right now? The progress that I make.

     So you want to look at your progress?

Mm hmm.

Is it special to you to get down those stories too?

Is special for me. Porque I can see the difference. I can, when I do that, when I was writing about my life, I can see I was afraid before. I not right now. I can see the progress. I was before afraid [to] get out [in] front of the world. Before I would say, ‘I cannot do this. This is not for me. Uh-uh.’ I don’t know how to get it, pero when I get any and open the door for me and I do it, I can see the difference about my life.

 Violeta continually refers to education as a “door open.” Before, the door was closed, and even though she knew what lay behind it, literacy was unattainable. She was locked inside, the door sealed between her and both street and school, preventing her from having the freedom to pursue anything more than domestic responsibilities. Now Violeta raises her own children and also cares for her daughter’s babies. She worries about the children of her son in prison. She worries about her own compromised health. But she also finds time to acknowledge that there is a “door now open” and that she can slip through that door to give herself the literacy education she has wanted all her life. There is nothing specific that she wants from literacy, but Violeta’s discussion makes it clear that she has begun a process she wants to “keep moving.”

All eight of our excerpts from this book will be added here.