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Beyond hope: Rhetorics of mobility, possibility, and literacy

Posted on:2012-04-11Degree:Ph.DType:Dissertation
University:University of Illinois at Urbana-ChampaignCandidate:Berry, Patrick WFull Text:PDF
My dissertation analyzes the production and expression of beliefs about literacy in the narratives of a diverse group of writing teachers and theorists, from those beginning their careers to those who are published and widely read. The central questions guiding this study are: How do teachers' and theorists' narratives of becoming literate intersect with literacy theories? and How do such literacy narratives intersect with beliefs in the power of literacy to improve individuals' lives socially, economically, and personally? I contend that the professional literature needs to address more fully how teachers' and theorists' personal histories with literacy shape what they see as possible (and desirable) for students, especially those from marginalized communities.;A central focus of the dissertation is on how teachers and theorists attempt to resolve a paradox they are likely to encounter in narratives about literacy. On one hand, they are immersed in a popular culture that cherishes narrative links between literacy and economic advancement (and, further, between such advancement and a "good life"). On the other hand, in professional discourse and in teacher preparation courses, they are likely to encounter narratives that complicate an assumed causal relationship between literacy and economic progress.;My first chapter, "Beyond Hope," explores the tenuous connections between hope and critique in literacy studies and provides a methodological overview of the study. I argue that scholarship must move beyond a singular focus on either hope or critique in order to identify the transformative potential of literacy in particular circumstances. Analyzing literacy narratives provides a way of locating a critically informed sense of possibility. My second chapter, "Making Teachers, Making Literacy," explores the intersection between teachers' lives and the theories they study, based on qualitative analysis of a preservice course for secondary education English teachers. I examine how these preservice English teachers understood literacy, how their narratives of becoming literate and teaching English connected---and did not connect---with theoretical and pedagogical positions, and how these stories might inform their future work as practitioners. Centering primarily on preservice teachers who resisted Nancie Atwell's pedagogy of possibility because they found it too good to be true, this research concentrates on moments of disjuncture, as expressed in class discussion and in one-on-one interviews, when literacy theories failed to align with aspiring teachers' understandings of their own experiences and also with what they imagined as possible in disadvantaged educational settings.;In my third and fourth chapters, I analyze the narratives of celebrated teachers and theorists who put forth an agenda that emphasizes possibilities through literacy, examining how they negotiate the relationship between their own literacy stories and literacy theories. Specifically, I investigate the narratives of three proponents of critical literacy: Mike Rose, Paulo Freire, and Myles Horton, all highly respected literacy teachers whose working-class backgrounds influenced their commitment to teaching in disenfranchised communities. My findings illustrate how a group of teachers and theorists have projected their own assessments of what literacy and higher education can and cannot accomplish onto this influential text.;In my fourth chapter, "Horton and Freire's Road as Literacy Narrative," I concentrate on Myles Horton and Paulo Freire's 1990 collaborative spoken book, We Make the Road by Walking. Central to my analysis are the educators' stories about their formative years, including their own primary and secondary education experiences. I argue that We Make the Road by Walking demonstrates how theories of literacy cannot be divorced from personal histories.;My fifth chapter is both a reflective analysis and a qualitative study of my work at a men's medium-high security prison in Illinois, where I conducted research and served as the instructor of an upper-level writing course, "Writing for a Change," in the spring of 2009. Entitled "Doing Time with Literacy Narratives," this chapter explores the complex ways in which literacy and incarceration are configured in students' narratives as well as my own. With and against students' stories, I juxtapose my own experiences with literacy, particularly in relation to being the son of an imprisoned father. In exploring the intersections between such stories, I demonstrate how literacy narratives can function as a heuristic for exploring beliefs about literacy between teachers and students both inside and outside of the prison-industrial complex.;My conclusion pulls together the various themes that emerged in the three frames, from the making of new teachers to the published literacy narratives of teachers and theorists to my own literacy narrative. (Abstract shortened by UMI.)...
Keywords/Search Tags:Literacy, Narratives, Teachers, Own, Hope, Possibility
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