Monday, March 11, 2013

Brandt's "Accumulating Literacy"

In "Accumulating Literacy," Brandt examines the acquisition of literacy over four generations of one family living in south central Wisconsin. She then looks at the role of literacy in the lives of Genna May (born 1898), Sam May (born 1925), Jack May (born 1958), and Michael May (born 1981) through interviews with each member of the family, coming to the main conclusion that each successive generation has added to and molded “an increasingly intricate set of incentives, sources, and barriers for learning to read and write” (104).

For Genna May, the sources of her literacy include the Protestant Church and the common school. Where she recalls never seeing her mother write anything and very few books ever being in her household growing up, two generations later, Jack May describes a childhood with lots of books, even with a room in their house nicknamed “the library.” To add to the differences in these “commercial sources” for literacy experiences, Jack's family received numerous magazine subscriptions, even one directly targeted towards children.

I think this is one of the most interesting facts that Brandt points out: the increasing saturation of commercial sources of print in each successive generation. This creates part of the context that she mentions early in the chapter, saying we need to be wary of mitigating later generations' literacy by simply stating that “the demand now is simply for more people to achieve a kind of literacy that used to be achieved only by a few.” Now, literacy learners have to “piece together reading and writing experiences from more and more spheres, creating new and hybrid forms of literacy where once their might have been fewer and more circumscribed forms” (74-5). And where Genna went on to further schooling, receiving a crash course in typing and bookkeeping, in order to open herself up to more types of employment, never having much need for writing in her private life, it became socially unacceptable in her children's generation to not be able to write, and for Jack's generation, your penmanship itself began to be associated with things ranging “from moral character to social-class mettle, from clerical aptitude to scholastic fortitude” (94). All of these aspects add to the increasingly intricate context that literacy has in the modern world.

Some questions that I have relate to resources for literacy. Brandt describes the way new resources build upon past ones, like the magnetic letters that Michael used echoing back to the slate and chalk Genna used; is this still accurate in the digital realm? Are there just magnetic slate apps now or is penmanship ignored at the expense of learning able to type fast and accurately? Has grammar and word choice replaced penmanship as a marker of standing and learning or is there something else?

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