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UPDATED Syllabi for "Unsettling Literacy"

Anne Dalke's picture

English 244 (TTh 2:25-3:45, English House Lecture Hall) and
Education 244 (W 1:10-4, Thomas 104), Bryn Mawr College, Spring 2017



"...the library as a social creature within a changing social technological landscape":
Book Hive, Bristol Central Library, England, Spring 2014

The “arc” of this cluster:
what it means to become literate--
about literacy,
in schools,
about schooling,
about prisons,
in and outside prisons, 
and in resistance to them.

from late Middle English -> Latin littera, ‘letter of the alphabet’
* the ability to read and write.

* competence or knowledge in a specified area.

“Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.” --Narrative  of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave

“Stories are compasses and architecture; we navigate by them, we build our sanctuaries and our prisons out of them.”--Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby

“...literacy becomes a meaningful construct to the degree that it is viewed as a set of practices that functions either to power or disempower people.”--Paolo Freire and Donald Macedo, Literacy: Reading the Word and the World

* Students are expected to do all the assigned readings, to attend class,  and participate in discussion. Please let us know ahead of time if you cannot be present; any time you need to miss class, you will be expected to do a posting about 'what you might have said,' had you attended.

* Every week until Spring Break, students will also do two postings on Serendip, one due by midnight each Sunday, reflecting on their praxis experience, another due by midnight each Thursday, considering the current readings. After Spring Break, one posting, reflecting on your week's experiences, will be due each Sunday evening. Class writing will also include three  "web events," due at spaced intervals throughout the semester. In addition, at each praxis site, students will develop a literacy-based project.

Assigned Readings:
Please bring marked copies of each text to class; if you've read a shared copy, please bring all your quotes and notes.
Many of our readings are available either on on-line sites or in our protected reading file.
In addition, you should purchase 5 books @ the Bryn Mawr Bookshop, or make plans to share these texts with others, or to read them on reserve in Canaday:
Kirk Branch, Eyes on the Ought to Be: What We Teach About When We Teach About Literacy
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Written by Himself
Jennifer Gonnerman, Life on the Outside: The Prison Odyssey of Elaine Bartlett
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah
Angela Davis, Are Prisons Obsolete?

Weeks One-Two: Conceiving (and reconceiving) Literacy

Day 1, Tues, Jan. 17:
What is literacy?
What are our own stories about becoming literate?
What is the arc for our becoming (more? differently?) literate t/here together?
Review of praxis placements and course expectations

Day 2, Wed, Jan. 18: Becoming literate about prisons

Brian Stevenson, Introduction: “Higher Ground,” Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption (Spiegel & Grau, 2015), pp. 3-18:

Juleyka Lantigua-Williams, “Ava DuVernay's 13th Reframes American History,” The Atlantic (October 6, 2016):

In-class viewing: 13th. Directed by Ava DuVernay, featuring Michelle Alexander, Cory Booker, Angela Davis, Henry Louis Gates, Van Jones, Bryan Stevenson and others. Kandoo Films, 2016 (100 minutes).

Day 3, Thurs, Jan. 19: Becoming literate about literacy

Paulo Freire, "The Importance of the Act of Reading," trans. Loretta Slover. Brazilian Congress of Reading, Campinas, Brazil. November 1981. Rpt. Journal of Education 165, 1 (Winter 1983): 5-11: /exchange/files/freire.pdf

Interview with Daniel Jansen on “Bio-illiteracy”, Discovering the Genome, University of Pennsylvania, 2017 (5 minutes):

Tues, Jan. 24-Fri, Jan. 27: first site visits

Day 4, Tues, Jan. 24: “Reading the room”
Review excerpts @ /oneworld/unsettling-literacy/quotes-towards-day-4-learning-read-room
then select one essay to read in full.
Dialogue about how we talk with and listen to one another, what practices we want to use together.
How to read ourselves, our classmates, our classroom, attentively, collectively, and with care? 

Day 5, Wed, Jan. 25: “Reading the sites” and "Reading Literacy"

Anna Plemons, "Teaching Philosophy":

"Accomplices, Not Allies: Abolishing the Ally Industrial Complex," Indigenous Action Media. May 4, 2014:

Kirk Branch, Introduction, Eyes on the Ought to Be: What We Teach About When We Teach About Literacy (New York: Hampton Press, 2007), 1-15:

Nell Anderson will join us for praxis orientation

Day 6, Thurs, Jan. 26: Orientation to Praxis, continued

As orientation to our reflective writing, read excerpts by Alice Lesnick and Gordon Harvey, as well as a webpage by
Mark K. Smith, 1999, all linked to from /oneworld/unsettling-literacy/orientation-our-reflective-writing

Nell will join us again, along with Josh and TA from YASP

By midnight Thurs, Jan. 26: post your first reflection on this week's reading and discussion.

By midnight Sun, Jan. 29: post a reflection on your experiences at your first site visit.

Weeks Three-Four: “Reading literacy”

second and third site visits

Day 7: Tues, Jan 31: Kirk Branch, Chapter 1: "Educational Literacy Practices and the World in Which We Need to Live," Eyes on the Ought to Be, 17-51.

Ernest Morrell, Chapter 8: “Critical Literacy as Care for the Self,” Critical Literacy and Urban Youth: Pedagogies of Access, Dissent, and Liberation (New York: Routledge, 2007), 167-183 (in our protected reading file).

Day 8, Wed, Feb. 1:  site talks and reflecting on our own writings
read ALL THE MOST RECENT POSTINGS @ /oneworld/node/5826/listing
bring to class  (either a hard or electronic) copy of your own posting

Day 9, Thurs, Feb. 3:
  Kenneth Goodman and Yetta Goodman, “Learning to Read: A Comprehensive Model,” in Reclaiming Reading: Teachers, Students, and Researchers Regaining Spaces for Thinking and Action, Ed. Richard Myer and Kathryn Whitmore (New York: Routledge, 2011): 19-46 (in our protected reading file).

By midnight Thurs, Feb. 3: post your second reflection on our reading and discussion: what questions or insights emerged for you this week? what would you like us to continue to discuss?

By midnight Sun, Feb 5: post a reflection on your second site visit

Day 10, Tues, Feb. 7: Preface through Chapter 7, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Written by Himself (1845, rpt. Revel Dawson, 2015).

Day 11, Wed. Feb. 8:  site talks (read ALL THE MOST RECENT PRAXIS POSTINGS)

Day 12, Thurs, Feb. 9: SNOW DAY!

By midnight Thurs, Feb. 9: post your third reflection on our reading and discussion

By midnight Sun, Feb 12: post a reflection on your third site visit

Week Five: Reading “schooling”

fourth site visits

Writing Conferences this week with Anne and Jody, in preparation for "Web Event" #1:
The topic for your first 5-pp. paper – broadly about “the politics of literacy”--is open to your passion/direction/questions--and we would like you to ground it in at least one of our shared texts/film. A process for beginning:  think about questions raised for you at this point in the course (look over both sets of your postings--often a great resource!); come to your writing conference with the question you're most engaged with, and a tentative plan for how you might pursue this.  What shared texts and/or additional readings, considerations from your site work and/or other experiences, freewriting, etc. might help you move toward this paper/“web event”?

Day 13, Tues, Feb. 14: 

Chapter 8 through Appendix, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

Day 14, Wed, Feb. 15:  site talks (read ALL THE MOST RECENT PRAXIS POSTINGS)

Jody Cohen and Anne Dalke. Chapter One: "Being Here." Steal this Classroom: Teaching and Learning Unbound (New York: punctum books, forthcoming 2017):

Day 15, Thurs, Feb. 16:  June Jordan, “Nobody Mean More to Me than You and the Future Life of Willie Jordan.” Harvard Educational Review 58, 3 (August 1988): 363-374:

By midnight Thurs, Feb. 16: post your fourth reflection on our reading and discussion

By midnight Sun, Feb. 19: post a reflection on your fourth site visit

By midnight Mon, Feb. 20: 5-pp. "Web Event" #1, on The Politics of Literacy

Weeks Six-Seven: From school to prison

fifth and sixth site visits

Day 16, Tues, Feb. 21: 
Erica Meiners, Chapter 1: “Surveillance, Ladies Bountiful, and the Management of Outlaw Emotions.” Right to Be Hostile: Schools, Prisons, and the Making of Public Enemies. New York: Routledge, 2007. 27-56 (in our protected reading file).

Anna Plemons, Abstract, Preface and Chapter 1: “Getting Inside: An Introduction,” Lingering Coloniality: Considering the Epistemic and Structural  (Im)Possibilities of University-Sponsored Prison Writing Programs, Dissertation, Washington State University, 2014, i-19:

Day 17, Wed, Feb. 22: site talks (read ALL THE MOST RECENT PRAXIS POSTINGS)

visit from Greg Davis, Bryn Mawr College Department of Biology

Scientific Studies: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (May 8, 2016): 

Test of Scientific Literacy (in our protected reading file)

Excerpts from Karen Barad, “Reconceiving Scientific Literacy as Agential Literacy, or Learning How to Intra-act Responsibly Within the World,” in Doing Culture + Science, edited by Roddey Reid and Sharon Traweek (Routledge, 2000): /oneworld/unsettling-literacy/karen-barad-reconceiving-scientific-literacy

Day 18, Thurs, Feb. 23:  Kirk Branch, Chapter 2: "Make Them Wise to Salvation: Literacy and Literacy Practices in Correctional Education," Eyes on the Ought to Be, 53-94.

Anna Plemons, “Tattooing Scar Tissue: Making Meaning in the Prison Classroom,” Colloquium, Washington State University (March 27, 2015):

By midnight Thurs, Feb. 23: post your fifth reflection on our reading and discussion

By midnight Sun, Feb 26: post a reflection on your fifth site visit

Day 19, Tues, Feb. 28:  Megan Sweeney, Introduction, Reading is My Window: Books and The Art of Reading in Women's Prisons (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2010), 1-17 (available via Tripod as an E-book).

Deborah Appleman, “Teaching in the Dark: The Promise and Pedagogy of Creative Writing in Prison,” English Journal 102, 4 (2013); 24-30:

Dan Colson, “Geographies of Prejudice: Self-Narration and Radical Teaching in the Prison,” Radical Teacher 95 (Winter 2012): 51-56:

m r r, "Phenomenal Woman, Revisited," Serendip, /oneworld/unsettling-literacy/phenomenal-women-revisited

jane doe, "Citizens," Serendip,  ): /oneworld/unsettling-literacy/citizens

Day 20, Wed, Mar. 1:

In-class viewing: Out in the Night, directed by Blair Dorosh-Walther. The Fire This Time The Film, LLC, 2014 (82 minutes):

Day 21, Thurs, Mar. 2: Joey Mogul, Andrea Ritchie, and Kay Whitlock, Chapter 5: “Caging Deviance: Prisons as Queer Spaces.” Queer (In)justice: The Criminalization of LGBT People in the United States (Boston: Beacon Press, 2011): 92-117:

By midnight Thurs, Mar. 2 : post your sixth reflection on our reading and discussion

Spring Break, Friday, March 3
‐Sunday, March 12: read Life on the Outside!

Week Eight: Reading Inside and Out 

seventh site visits

Day 22, Tues, Mar. 14: SNOW DAY!

Day 23, Wed, Mar. 15:
Sabrina Alli, “Carceral Educations,” The New Inquiry (September 22, 2014):

Larissa MacFarquhar, “Building a Prison-to-School Pipeline,” The New Yorker (December 12, 2016):

Jennifer Gonnerman, Prologue through Part III.  Life on the Outside: The Prison Odyssey of Elaine Bartlett (New York: Picador, 2004).  3-270.

Watch together in class: "Women to Women: Elaine Bartlett, Life on the Outside: The Prison Odyssey of Elaine Bartlett" (May 18, 2004): 

Day 24, Thurs, Mar. 16: 
Visit from Rebecca Makas, host at Books Through Bars

in preparation for Rebecca's visit, please spend some time @
the Books Through Bars website:
focusing especially on the pages entitled "Why Do This?"
and "Education vs. Incarceration":

Gonnerman, Part IV and Epilogue, Life on the Outside, 271-346.

By midnight Sun, Mar. 19: post a twelfth reflection on your week's experiences,
in reading, in class discussion, @ your praxis site, or @ a related event

Week Nine: The Literacy of Activism

eighth site visits

Day 25, Tues, Mar. 21:  finish discussing Gonnerman

begin discussing Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Chapters 1-10. Americanah (New York: Knopf, 2013), pp. 1-115.

9:15 a.m.-4 p.m., Day 26, Wed, Mar. 22: Community Day of Learning: “Minds and Bodies: Belonging in Our Communities"

Day 27, Thurs, Mar. 23:  Visit from Kavita Goyal, Assistant Director NELI (Non-Profit Executive Leadership) Programs,
Bryn Mawr Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research,
along with Julie Burnett and Sandra Hill, two colleagues from CADBI (The Coalition to Abolish Death by Incarceration)

Student Nonviolent Coordination Committee of California, "Cesar Chavez Talks About Organizing And The History Of The NFWA," The Movement (December 1965):

New York City Organizing Support Center, "Building a Base for Community Organizing, With a Focus on One-to-One Meetings" (Summer 2000 Draft), pp. 3-9:

Anne Schwartz, "Organizing one-on-one is essential, but what is organizing one-on-one?" Women In and Beyond the Global (December 18, 2016):

By midnight Sun, Mar. 26: post a thirteenth reflection on your week's experiences, in reading, in class discussion, @ your praxis site, or @ a related event

Week Ten: Blog Literacy: Reading Across Cultures

ninth site visits

Day 28, Tues, Mar. 28

Day 29, Wed, Mar. 29: site talks (read ALL THE MOST RECENT POSTINGS)

Chapters 11-23, to p. 291.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Interview, Channel 4 News (Mar 11, 2017):

Jen Richards, "What Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Got Right—And Really Wrong—About Trans Women And Male Privilege" (March 18, 2017);

David Smith, "Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on Transgender Row: 'I have nothing to apologise for.'" The Guardian (March 21, 2017):

Day 30, Thurs, Mar. 30:  Americanah, Chapters 24-38, to p. 431.
Please bring in a passage from Ifem's blog that you'd like to discuss.

By midnight Sun, Apr. 2: post a fourteenth reflection on your week's experiences, in reading, in class discussion, @ your praxis site, or @ a related event

Weeks Eleven-Twelve: The Literacy of Abolitionism
tenth and eleventh site visits

Day 31, Tues, Apr. 4:
Americanah, to end, p. 588.
Please bring in a passage you'd like us to discuss.

We'll be conducting a writing workshop designed by Olivia Porte. In preparation for her visit, please comb through all your postings since the last paper (Feb. 20), with an eye towards questions of positionality. Think through what Olivia is calling your "constructed brand": the various identities you carry--some imposed, some chosen (along with the experiences that have formed them), which you bring to your site. How are you performing yourself in your praxis placement?

Day 32, Wed, Apr. 5: site talks, based on in-class praxis writing

Angela Davis. Chapters 1-3. Are Prisons Obsolete?  New York: Seven Stories Press, 2003. pp. 7-59.

Day 33, Thurs, Apr. 6: Visit from Rashida Ingram, Social Work Supervisor at RCF and Board Member at YASP

Angela Davis. Chapters 4-6. Are Prisons Obsolete?  pp. 60-115.

By midnight Sun, Apr. 9, post Web Event #2: What does activism mean to you now? In asking this question, we’re inviting as wide a spectrum of possibilities as can be imagined. Drawing on @ least one of the texts we’ve studied together, and other resources you may have available, including what happens at your praxis site: what questions do you have now about activism, and how might you approach addressing them? You might think about relationality, about "joining," about actually making your project itself an example of activism. (No short posting due this week.)

Day 34, Tues, Apr. 11: Davis, Are Prisons Obsolete?

Day 35, Wed, Apr. 12: site talks

Davis, Are Prisons Obsolete?

In-class viewing: The Last Graduation: The Rise and Fall of College Programs in Prison. Zahm Productions and Deep Dish TV, 2005 (56 minutes):

Day 36, Thurs, Apr. 13:

Angela Davis: An Autobiography (New York: Random House, 1974), pp. 50-64, 87-113, 133-145 (in our protected reading file).

Greg Ruggiero, "Editor's Note" and Angela Davis, "Introduction," in Angela Davis, A New Critical Edition, featuring her "Lectures on Liberation," of the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglas (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 2010), pp. 9-40 (in our protected reading file).

By midnight Sun, Apr. 16: post a fifteenth reflection on your week's experiences, in reading, in class discussion, @ your praxis site, or @ a related event

Week Thirteen:  Political Literacy
twelfth site visits

Day 37, Tues, Apr. 18:
  Tabitha Rowley, "Hair Chronicles," in Wally Lamb and the Women of York Correctional Institution, Couldn't Keep It to Myself: Testimonies from Our Imprisoned Sisters (New York: HarperCollins, 2003), pp. 95-111 (in our protected reading file).

Sissy, "Life Narrative: 'There's a time to be silent, and there's a time not to,'" and "Reading Narrative: 'If you can't relate to it, then read about it,'" in Megan Sweeney, The Story Within Us: Women Prisoners Reflect on Reading (Urbana: Univeristy of Ilinois, 2012), pp. 23-44 (in our protected reading file).

Day 38, Wed, Apr. 19: site talks

In-class viewing, "Season One, Episode One: The System," of Time: The Kalief Browder Story. Spike, 2017:

Day 39, Thurs, Apr. 20:  Walida Imarisha, "Gangsters and Martyrs" and "Bleeding Out in a Prison Visiting Room," Angels with Dirty Faces: Three Stories of Crime, Prison, and Redemption (Oakland, California: AK Press and the Institute for Anarchist Studies, 2016), pp. 95-139 (in our protected reading file).

By midnight Sun, Apr. 23: post a sixteenth reflection on your week's experiences, in reading, in class discussion, @ your praxis site, or @ a related event

Week Fourteen

Last site visits

Day 40, Tues, Apr. 25: Beth Richie, Chapter One: "Introduction" (read as backdrop to) Chapter Five: "The Matrix: A Black Feminist Response to Male Violence and the State," Arrested Justice: Black Women, Violence, and America's Prison Nation (New York: New York University Press, 2012), pp. 1-22, 125-156 (in our protected reading file). 

Day 41, Wed, Apr. 26:

Qui Alexander (Program Coordinator for the Dean's Office and the Women's Center, Haverford College), Workshop on Transformative Justice

Day 42, Thurs, Apr. 27:  Sharing of web event #2.  Final reflections

By midnight Fri, Apr. 28: final posting on your praxis site

By May 6 for seniors and May 12 for everyone else (campus-wide deadline for all written work):
Web Event # 3 and final self-assessment:  email to

See post for further description of final assignments.

Additional texts:
Sherman Alexie, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (New York: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2009); illustrated by Ellen Forney.

Sabrina Alli, “Carceral Educations,” The New Inquiry (September 22, 2014):

Karen Barad, “Reconceiving Scientific Literacy as Agential Literacy, or Learning How to Intra-act Responsibly Within the World,” in Doing Culture + Science, edited by Roddey Reid and Sharon Traweek (Routledge, 2000):

Abraham Bolish, “Freedom from Education: Decolonial Study for Abolishing the Prison University Complex.” May 6, 2014:

Kirk Branch, Chapter 4: "The Boldest and Most Insulting Thing: Officially Threatening Literacy Practices at the Highlander Folk School," Eyes on the Ought to Be, 139-182.

Bryan McKinley Jones Brayboy. "Culture, Place, and Power: Engaging the Histories and Possibilities of American Indian Education," History of Education Quarterly 54, 3 (August 2014): 395-402 (in our protected reading file).

Dan Butin, “Dreaming of Justice: Critical Service-Learning and the Need to Wake Up,” Theory Into Practice 54:1 (2015), 5-10, DOI: 10.1080/00405841.2015.977646

Melissa Chadburn, “Resilience is Futile: How Well-Meaning Nonprofits Perpetuate Poverty.” Jezebel. July 14, 2015 (3:15 p.m.):

Rena Fraden, Introduction and Chapter 2, "To Be Real," Imagining Medea: Rhodessa Jones & Theater for Incarcerated Women (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 2001): 1-26, 67-119 (in our protected reading file).

Cara Gormally, Peggy Brickman, and Mary Lutz, "Developing a Test of Scientific Literacy Skills (TOSLS): Measuring Undergraduates’ Evaluation of Scientific Information and Arguments," CEB-Life Science Education 11, 4 (2012): 364-377:

Marc Lamont Hill, “A World Without Prisons: Teaching Confinement Literature and the Promise of Abolition,” English Journal 102, 4 (2013): 19–23: 

Lewis Hyde, Introduction and Chapter 10: "Frederick Douglass and Eshu's Hat,” Trickster Makes This World: Mischief, Myth and Art (New York: North Point Press, 1998), 3-16, 226-251 (in our protected reading file).

Scott Jaschik,
"Still Asking About Crime and Discipline," Inside Higher Ed (March 10, 2017):

Larissa MacFarquhar, “Building a Prison-to-School Pipeline," The New Yorker (December 12, 2016):

Anna Plemons, Chapter 2: "Joining the Work: Complicating Prison Literacy Sponsorship," Chapter 5: “Coloniality and Academic Inquiry: Thoughts on a ‘Failed’ Study of Two Incarcerated Teaching Artists,” and Chapter 7: “In Lieu of a Conclusion: Three More Looks at AIC.” "Lingering Coloniality: Considering the Epistemic and Structural  (Im)Possibilities of University-Sponsored Prison Writing Programs,” Dissertation, Washington State University, 2014, 20-42, 103-132, 163-176:

Rob Scott, “Using Critical Pedagogy to Connect Prison Education and Prison Abolitionism,” St. Louis University Public Law Review 33, 2 (2014): 401-415:

Julia Sudbury, "Challenging Penal Dependency: Activist Scholars and the Antiprison Movement." Activist Scholarship: Antiracism, Feminism, and Social Change, edited by Julia Sudbury and Margo Okazawa-Rey (Boulder: Paradigm Publishers, 2009), 17-35 (in our protected reading file).

Megan Sweeney, Conclusion: “This Really Isn’t a Rehabilitation Place: Policy Considerations,” Reading is My Window, 252-258 (available via Tripod as an E-book).

Gerald Vizenor, "Prologue: Tricksters and Transvaluations," The Trickster of Liberty: Native Heirs to a Wild Baronage (Norman: University of Oklahoma, 1988): ix-xviii.

Anne's Reading Notes....