Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Chapter III is away

[cross-posted at Wind Farm]

Just sent off Chapter Three. It's long. Forty-nine pages. It's bulky, too, it feels. I've read it three, four, five times now. For your reading pleasure, here are a couple excerpts:

From the introduction:
In Ways With Words Shirley Brice Heath issues one of the earliest, and most popular, definitions of Literacy Events. She says, “Those occasions in which talk revolves around a piece of writing have been termed literacy events” (386). Heath advanced and complicated the definition of literacy by including “talk around” literacy as an integral part (Heath’s definition of literacy events is used in later studies of literacy by such scholars as David Barton and Brian Street; they make few if any revisions to the definition of this term). She explains that “The child must know not only how to read but also how and when to talk about what he or someone else has read” (386). Literacy, since Heath, has become more inclusive. Though literacy is, technically, simply the production and comprehension of print, in practice literacy is more than just production and comprehension. This is what Heath in part argues in Ways with Words.

In this study Literacy Events is employed with the same denotation and connotations established by Heath. A literacy event is an event wherein a piece of writing is integral to peoples’ interactions. As a literacy scholar, it’s sometimes challenging for me to observe or even think of an interaction that isn’t at some point and in some way shaped by a piece of writing. I have limited my use of the term literacy event for occasions and interactions where a text or piece of writing is immediately present. As in the scene below, the script that Coach produces each day for orchestrating the team’s basketball practices – i.e. the practice schedule or practice plan – is an example of a literacy event. His hand-written notes dictate the types of drills and activities that will be performed along with the precise times at which they will be performed. Sometimes there are additional notations that further influence specific instructions and thus consequent activities.

This brings me to another term: Literacy Activities. Unlike Literacy Events and Literacy Practices (which I discuss momentarily), literacy activities doesn’t have a rich lineage. Literacy activities are generally understood to be – though rarely articulated as – the physical motor-movements required to produce or consume written words. This would include manipulating a pencil, typing on a keyboard, scanning a page with one’s eyes, flipping the page of a book, etc. Literacy activities also incorporate body postures and gestures. Literacy Activities is a term that helps focus attention on the particular. It is an extension of the “ecological approach” to the study of literacy espoused by David Barton (Barton 36 Literacy: An Introduction to the Ecology of Written Language). As Barton explains, “The point here is that in order to understand literacy it is important to examine particular events where reading and writing are used. Focusing on the particular is an integral part of an ecological approach; this is different from other approaches which place an emphasis on broad generalizations” (Barton 36). The ironic part of this passage is that though he claims a divergence from other more “broad generalizations” he himself does not explore a more specific vocabulary (other than “ecological approach”) for doing so. Barton proclaims the need to look at the particular, but he doesn’t offer a more particular term.

And the conclusion:
Zigzagging from surveillance to literacy activities to control to literacy practices to ethics of behavior to practice schedules makes for a complicated chapter. The complex realities and data that I experienced deserve a complex chapter. I think this chapter, with its four scenes and numerous interview excerpts, mirror well this reality. But in reflecting this reality back to you, the reader, I’ve tried to be clear and explicit about how this supports the argument that I think my data is trying to make. For the sake of further clarity, I want to repeat some of the highlights of this argument here.

First, as opposed to the top-down taxonomy implied by Street and Barton’s theories of situated and social literacies where social literacy practices determine literacy events and literacy activities of individuals, the literacy taxonomy that I have outlined is not linear and does not flow from top to bottom. That is, literacy practices do not always shape literacy events and literacy activities. In terms of a theory of practice, this same argument can be applied more generally as well: habitus does not always determine hexis. The structuring structures of a milieu (i.e. the habitus) can and is affected by individuals and activities. As we saw in the scenes above, small, commonplace acts accumulate and shape behaviors and determine practices, beliefs, values. Practices shape events just as habitus shapes hexis.

A second, much subtler argument is that literacy is habituated activity. In her April, 1986 College English article, “The Ecology of Writing,” Marilyn Cooper challenged the cognitive literacy paradigm and proposed that literacy is as much habituated activity as it is cognitive performance. Literacy, she argued, is a habit. Because literacy is a habit, how we discipline the behaviors and activities of students correlates to performance and success. The ubiquity of literacy events in daily activities – whether they are surveillance activities or otherwise – compels us to understand the relationship between activity-event-practice-ethics. Literacy is disciplined and habituated motor-activity. This is one of the understated arguments of this chapter that is further developed in the succeeding chapters.

Third, the role of surveillance is problematic, but has been found to be an effective method of training student-athletes in the domains of both athletics and academics. In his 2003 Education & Anthropology Quarterly article, “Panopticonics: The Control and Surveillance of Black Female Athletes in a Collegiate Athletic Program,” Kevin Foster argues that not only is the control and surveillance of the department and coaches a positive instrument for instilling “in black female athletes a model of womanhood whereby the come to expect and achieve academic and athletic success” (300). He goes on to propose that this model be applied throughout the athletic department and across the university to non-athletes. The article has some alarming revelations about the white, patriarchical system being imposed on this group of women. However, as Foster argues, the disciplining, control and surveillance have positive educational and psychological effects on these women: they “come to expect and achieve academic and athletic success.” The argument made by my data and articulated in this chapter is in the same vein as Foster’s proposal. In a nutshell, curriculum designers should consider incorporating some form of compulsory and surveilling study halls into the academic infrastructure of institutions.

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