The excerpts from Patrick Finn’s book, Literacy with an Attitude, were a bit of a challenge to read this week – not just because of the huge amount of information we’re given at once, but because Finn covers so much information about literacy in American schools, it was difficult to sort through it all to find his main argument.
In some ways, I think Finn’s argument is a combination of the arguments of a few other authors that we’ve read this year. When I started reading, I found strong connections to other articles pretty quickly. I first noticed a connection to Lisa Delpit’s work beginning on the second page, and her themes echo throughout the rest of the excerpt. The quote that caught my eye was in the preface:
“The discourse (ways of communication and the beliefs, attitudes, values, habits, and behaviors that underlie them – especially attitudes related to authority, conformity, and power) of working class communities is at odds with the discourse of the schools. This makes acquisition of school discourse and powerful literacy difficult for working-class children.”
This immediately made me think of Delpit and her argument about the rules and codes of the culture of power. In her argument, she states that the reason that some students (particularly students of color) don’t learn or perform well in school is that they don’t understand the language – or “discourse” and Finn words it – of the culture of power. Since these children cannot communicate with the culture of power, they cannot be successful within it. Not just in school, but in society. This theme pops up many times in Finn’s work when he discusses literacy – if lower-class students cannot learn to be successful on their own in school, they cannot learn to be successful in society or in the workforce.
I also began to notice similar themes from the Brown vs. Board of Education readings come up here. In his preface, Finn explains that literacy and education for the working class is considered “dangerous” by the affluent, literate elite:
“The fear was that literacy would make the rabble aware of the injustice they suffered, and they would attempt to overthrow the ruling class violently and take its place.” The same is true regarding racial segregation of schools, like we read about in the Brown vs. Board case. Schools weren’t just segregated because of uneasiness toward race, but also because of an ulterior motive: the U.S. elite wanted to keep African Americans in a second-class citizenship. If they weren’t educated as well as white Americans, then they would be forced to become working-class adults. This is also true in Finn’s argument. He spends a lot of time showing how education affects the outcome of one’s life as an adult. If you are educated to be ignorant and lower-class, then that’s the kind of adult you will become. As Finn explains, “these children were developing a relationship to the economy, authority, and work that is appropriate preparation for wage labor”(12). The same (well, I guess the opposite) goes for upper-class students: “The executive elite children? They were learning to be masters of the universe” (26).
Lastly, I saw many connections to the Kahne and Westhiemier piece, “In the Service of What?” in this excerpt. As I read through Chapter 13 of Literacy with and Attitude, I noticed the idea of change in service learning come back into the picture. Finn talks about Paulo Freire and his work in educating poor adults with literacy campaigns. Reading about his work, I noticed similar ideas from Kahne and Westheimer’s argument about charity vs. change and the discussion we had in class. Freire was working toward a world where the culture gap between the rich and poor would close “not only in terms of wealth and income but in terms of quality of life.” Raising money for the poor communities alone would not fix the problem of illiteracy that these communities face. But as Finn explains, “Freire’s vision was one of class struggle. It was about empowering the powerless as a class so they can stand up for themselves. This is what made him a transforming intellectual” (172). If Kahne and Westheimer were to look at this situation, I think they would definitely call Freire’s work a change rather than a charity.
Putting all of these arguments together, I think each one is a piece of Finn’s overall argument, which includes the ideas of the culture of power, economic inequality, and change that can be made to fix the system. This quote from Finn sums it up pretty nicely: “I’d like to hope that a child’s expectations are not determined on the day she or he enters kindergarten, but it would be foolish to entertain such a hope unless there are some drastic changes to be made” (25).