Saturday, April 9, 2011

Literacy with an Attitude: Patrick J. Finn


      Literacy with an Attitude: Patrick J. Finn

            "Today we see literacy among the have-nots as the source of many social ills. One explanation is that we have come so far in our democracy that we have nothing to fear from the have-nots. We worry instead that the low levels of literacy among them make them a liability for the rest of us. The idea is that if we could raise their level of literacy they would join the haves. America would have no poor, just rich, richer, and richest."

         I am stuck on the Preface but when just reading the first page of this my mind was racing about just this area that I had to stop reading. I love articles and books like this that make you stop and think and then after anazlying and relating you want to know more! I feel like I relate to this quote so much because I feel like the idea of Utopia is engrained in me as everybody being equally rich and never have to worry about finances or comparing your items (ex: fancy car with my piece of junk.)

       Then this next quote got me, "An idea that is often associated with this point of view is that our schools offer literacy equally to all comers, but somehow the have-nots refuse to take us up on our offer. They're not smart enough or they're lazy or simply perverse."

       This one made me realize that I grew up with this idea and concept. I believed that people should "pull themselves up by their bootstraps". What I am now realizing is that this puts a LOT of pressure on people that mostly turns into negative pressure and then the person gives up because they don't believe in themselves or feel someone else is SO much better than them that their is no use of them trying. I feel like I see this more clearly now because I am experiencing it myself. I grew up in a "white privelege" upper middle-class household. My Dad worked a ton and my Mom was the housewife that took care of the kids, cook, cleaned and rubbed his feet when he got home. Then I grew up and saw things differently...I saw how unhappy they really were (they are now divorced) and then my values began to change. I began to seek a sense of self that really feels right and become more comfortable with myself and learn to take some of these pressures off of myself. My father is an incredible man, he came from a low income family so he realized how hard he must work to get the nice things he liked. He now works incredibly hard and seems to be very proud of his things and proud of himself for working so hard. For me, instead of wanting to work so hard to do what is taught by me through the "secret education" (Christensen) I just started to re-evaluate as to what happiness means.
             Sometimes I feel as though I am sabotoshing myself because I am doing something that feels right to me, in this case it is being with my boyfriend. I could easily go stay with my Mom or Dad and not have to worry about food or other stresses but instead I find that what makes me happy is living with my boyfriend. As of now my boyfriend is currently homeless but has set up a large tent on his sisters horsefarm. Now, this tent is nice: three room - has a bed, couch, tv, dresser, microwave and our cat that goes in and out, all in it. We are a couple who LOVES nature, hiking, camping, animals, and physical labor so this idea at first was exciting to us. Then the pressures of society came down on us and we felt as though we should not be happy or content with this situation. I feel like when I tell people how good things are and how I feel at home with this situation, they do not believe me. My boyfriend and I also realize that when we are upset or stressed it is not derived from our own happiness but the pressures and judgements of those around us. Really we have no money to the point of eating or not each day comes up, every night we ask each other first thing.. have you eaten today? Overall though, if the world would lighten up, I think we both love our situation. We love our semi-privacy, we love waking up and being in a park - did I mention this is on a horsefarm/ public park where my boyfriends sister lives?- well we wake up to fresh air and take advantage of the trails. We do my photography hw mostly during these trail walks and our cat (that thinks he is a dog) follows us. Today we had an excellent day, my boyfriend got out of bed and was asked to do pony rides during the day. The regular guide did not show so I was about to teach my boyfriend some basics about giving pony rides and he loved it. It was bright and sunny and we had excuses to enjoy the outside.

      My question is, why is there so much pressure on us to fit this mold. This reminds me of a quote from the movie Across the Universe. At the dinner table the character Jude says,"Surely its not what you do, its the way that you do it".  It also reminds me of  RSA Animate- Changing Education Pardigms. The RSA Animate video makes me feel like I am not crazy and the world or the economy does put a huge amount of unfair pressure on us as citizens. Looking at the map on this clip of how many people have ADHD in New England, really makes me want to move West!
                This article, Literacy with an Attitude, is really intriguing to me, I do not know if I should make separate posts or if I should just summarize my thoughts but every few sentences my brain is racing with relations to it. This then talks about how we have two kinds of education that prevent literacy from being seen as dangerous amoung the working people and unemployed of the United states. It says, "First, there is empowering education, which leads to powerful literacy, the kind that leads to positions of power and authority. Second, there is domesticating education, which leads to functional literacy, literacy that makes a person productive and dependable, but not troublesome. Over time, political, social, and economic forces have brought us to a place where the working class gets domesticating education and functional literacy, and the rich get empowering education and powerful literacy. We don't worry about the literate working class because the kind of literacy they get doesn't make them dangerous."
           I believe this 100% at this moment unless I read further or something changes my mind. I feel like I have directly seen this within my own "class" from when I considered my "class" to be the same as my father's vs. my current "class" as an independent 24 year old woman. When I was young I could clearly see a difference between my parents money vs. other kids who had less but also those who had more. I guess we would have been considered mid to upper-middle class so we were exposed to people above us and slightly below. I remember clearly as a kid comparing myself and my father to my cousin and my uncle, my father's brother. My Dad made/makes good money but his older brother makes a lot a young girl I was fascinated with horses so I showed my younger cousin. I had taken a few lessons at the time and had an excellent book with me that I wanted to share so bad with me cousin. My cousin, also a "wealthy" white female, had a slight interest in the horse things I had to show her but wanted to play a game instead of look at my silly horse book. My parents had some money but also had nice things that cost money so they did not have much to spare on their young daughters fantasy. I didn't care, I daydreamed about horses day in and day out, drew up my own barn plans and picked out a new name for my fantasy horse each day. Finally I was of age to start working at a barn to hopefully get some lessons. When are started taking lessons, my competative little cousin (from my jealous viewpoint) decided to ask her Daddy who has plenty of extra money to spend on his daughter if she could take lessons too. Well, instead, he skipped right to getting her the horse of my dreams that I described to her, that she was forced to take 8 lessons in order to own him. My self esteem was shot down and I realized that I would never be as good as her because I didn't have the money to go everyday and even if I did my Mom had an infant to take care of so she wasn't able to cart her preteen around everyday to to be at the barn. I became a "working class stiff" at the barn while my cousin continued to rise in the horse world. The further she got into it, the more money they invested so the better instructors she got. She has now been in magazines, qualified for the junior olympics and was asked to travel to Africa to train world class horses.
                I saw first hand what money could buy and how the rich got richer much faster than the poor got richer. I also see how this taught me the "domesticating education" that has made me productive and dependable, but not troublesome. I watched my father climb the "social latter" by working so hard that everything else came second and by playing by the rules. Now that I am independant and consider myself in the class of my income and more of what my boyfriends background/ economic class is I am seeing things all different. I am realizing that there is privilege and it makes a difference, it is a reason and not an excuse. Although I am living in the same conditions as my boyfriend I do feel that our political, social and economic backgrounds still divides us. Honestly I am facing many of the challenges of being homeless and poor but still my mindset is more of that of an observer. I guess in the back of my mind I know at any moment I have family/ relatives that could and most likely would help me if I just asked for it, where my boyfriend does not have that back up. His family/ relatives are just as kind as mind but they are all "stuck" in the poverty class that falls victim to the cycle of the poor staying poor. I see that my education plays a huge role in this as well. I am privileged mentally because I have more of the Delpit "rules and codes of power" thru my upper middle class and now college level education. Now I see first hand that many uncontrollable variables have prevented and slowed down my boyfriend from having the same privileges that I have, just as I see how the odds of my cousin going far in the horse world over me were much greater due to her privilege. I also see how important education really is and if ALL elementary students got the SAME education, as described in Jeannie Oakes' article, Tracking: Why Schools Need to Take Another Route. If everyone had the same educational privileges it may help greatly, although then you question equal vs. equity and how can you make education equal without making environments equal, and if you want to change environments isnt that imposing on people's personal rights.
I feel that this video is a modern day example of this cycle of rich get richer and poor stay poor or get poorer.



  1. Just like you, I was stuck on the preface of Finn's piece. Everything that was in their shocked me. I couldn't believe the things he was writing. The more I thought about it the more I could see his points.

  2. yes i agree with your comment, somethings he said did catch me off guard but the more i read into the other chapters i understood a little more, however it was not one of my favorite reads

  3. Rachel, I agree! It definitely was not one of my favorites. And Alycia, I LOVE Across the Universe and you picked such a perfect quote. That whole scene really is wonderful. And when it comes to watching your dad work all the time, my dad still does that. He sometimes gets carried away and forgets about us.