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Multiple Literacies--Nannies, Discourse, and Code Switching?

emmagulley's picture

A few weeks ago I wrote about how, to me, literacy felt more integral to a universal "childhood" than any other label imaginable, since literacy, to me, so far, is about learning to communicate, express ideas, and _participate_ in society.  I've combined personal thoughts, class readings, and class discussions to (for the time being) produce one definition of literacy:  "literacy is the ability to communicate and participate in a given social order with either inherent or experiential fluency.” 

This week, in another context, someone brought up the theory of multiple intelligences.  It made me wonder whether or not there's a theory of multiple literacies, and it made me feel as though whether or not there's a label for it, it certainly exists, right?  Sometimes we talk about our one, monolithic childhood, but in reality, for many (all?) people, "childhood" is broken down into many sub-categories.  I grew up under the guidance of not only my parents, but also many different nannies, and so learning to behave one way with my nannies and another way with my parents came instinctively to me, and it can be seen as perhaps a form of code-switching.   I remember the first time a nanny blatantly told me not to do something.  I was six and I think I was coloring on unopened mail and the nanny snatched the markers out of my hands and said, “No! Stop! Don't do that!”  In true white, middle-class teaching and parenting techniques, my parents always set rules using “we” as the subject, and they always explained their logic (i.e. “Emma, we don’t stand on chairs—we could hurt ourselves!”).  Doesn't this compare well to Delpit's scissor example?

As the child of both parents and nannies from decidedly different backgrounds and day-to-day realities, I grew up with one foot in two literacies, and, due to code-switching, I was able to navigate between the “concerted cultivation” of my parents and the “natural growth” of my nannies.  This “bilingualism” in the two discourses ultimately, I think, gave me tools to function in both literacies/discourses/realities.  

Sometimes we talk about literacies in the singular ("literacy") but if there are infinately many literacies can we ourselves be bi-literate? Or ourselves be a part of many different literacies?  Or am I confusing "literacies" and "discourses" here?  Is childhood a literacy and are your realities with your nannies vs. parents two separate discourses?  


alesnick's picture

If "literacy is control of

If "literacy is control of uses of language in a secondary discourse," according to Gee, then I wonder whether we need to know what language you were producing, in addition to hearing, from your caregivers (parents, nannies) in order to answer whether you were biliterate.  It's interesting that you write, "As the child of" parents and nannies -- you are bringing the non-parental caregivers into an "ownership role" not always exposed in language.  

Do think what you are calling "inherent" or instinctual literacy maps to Gee's learning by acquisition idea, and experiential literacy to his formulation of learning?"  Great definition, by the way!

I wonder whether you can remember any conflicts/tensions in your negotiating the differing discourses of parents and nannies. 

emmagulley's picture

It's true that I definitely

It's true that I definitely picked up idioms and speaking habits from my nannies that made no sense to my parents.  

re: negotiating different discourses--I remember I once "got in trouble" with a nanny during the day (which didn't happen often at all) and she said she would tell my parents when they got home.  She did and they spoke in the other room and my parents didn't discipline me at all and totally let me off the hook.  Now that I'm considering this in greater detail, what's interesting to me is the power dynamics of the situation.  In a way, the nanny, who's supposed to be "in charge" or at least care for a child, has the least agency/power, no?  If a child can tell anything to a parent about her experiences with a nanny, how frequently do nannies acquiesce to children? Who has the most power/agency in the triangle of parent--child--non-familial caregiver?

But back to literacies, I guess what I'm wondering right now is: is literacy always about language?  Even if I were hearing the exact same language from both nannies and parents, if those realities were different, isn't that in a way two separate literacies?  Am I missing something?  Or is literacy always about language?