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The Social Construction of Literacy

abeardall's picture

In Gee's article, he broke down literacy in terms of being able to control our discourses. He discussed the social construction of literacy and how it is not simply a matter of the ability to read and write. I found that it was extremely important to make this distinction and to recognize there are many different types of literacies. However, I feel it is also essential to acknowledge the power that reading and writing hold. As liberal arts college students taking an education course, we recognize the value in all types of literacies but the average person automatically associates literacy with reading and writing. Schools are determined to be good or bad based on their test scores in reading and writing. In my sociology course, Problems in the Natural and Built Enviornment, we discussed how many things are social constructions but that doesn't make the consequences of them any less real. A student may be literate in terms of music or social skills, but if they lack the ability to read or write, they will be significantly disadvantaged compared to students who can. Our society places different values on different types of literacies, giving agency and power to those who posess valued literacies. It makes me wonder how we can change the system; how can we make major structural changes to ensure equality. I think it's also necessary to make the distinction between those who lack literacy in any language (referring to those who can't read or write in their primary language) versus those who code-switch and therefore may be proficient in one language but may struggle with the other.


alesnick's picture

"How can we make major structural changes to ensure equality?"

This is a vital question.  Another way to ask it, which I learned from McDermott and Varenne (2006), is where access is possible, how can we widen it, and where barriers are fragile, how can we further weaken them?

I am also helped by your post to wonder whether we can consider reading and writing not as opposed to Gee's notion of discourse, but embedded in it.