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Review of A Critical Discourse Analysis of Family Literacy Practices
Date: Tue, 27 Jul 2004 12:24:13 -0400 (EDT) From: Elaine Richardson Subject: A Critical Discourse Analysis of Family Literacy
AUTHOR: Rogers, Rebecca TITLE: A Critical Discourse Analysis of Family Literacy Practices SUBTITLE: Power In and Out of Print PUBLISHER: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates YEAR: 2003
Elaine Richardson, Pennsylvania State University
SUMMARY Rogers' text is an ethnographic investigation of the literacy practices of one working class African American family. The book, particularly, highlights the literacy practices of the mother and daughter. Through a critical discourse analysis approach, the author demonstrates how one working class family internalizes dominant literacy ideologies even when these ideologies are not in their best interest and do not yield them social rewards for their compliance. It will be of interest to educators, literacy theorists, sociolinguists, discourse analysts, applied linguists, social cultural theorists, and those with an interest in educational and social policy. The book consists of eight chapters, a bibliography, appendixes, and an index.
OVERVIEW In the introductory chapter (chapter one), Rogers introduces the participants in her study, the Treader family. Here she explains how, through the course of the mother's participation in adult basic education classes, she became the mother's tutor and subsequently tutored the preadolescent daughter, as well as a group of youngsters from the Treaders' neighborhood. This frequent and sustained contact over 2 years provided Rogers with opportunities for close participant observation of the interaction between personal and public literacies and discourses, and intergenerational literacy practices. Rogers also lays out her theoretical orientation here. Her work is informed by literacy studies scholarship (i.e. Heath, 1983; Dorsey-Gaines, 1988; Delpit, 1996; Barton, Hamilton, & Ivanic, 2000), theories of discourse (i.e. Gee, 1991 & 1996; Chouliaraki & Fairclough, 1999), social reproduction theory (Althusser, 1971; Foucault, 1970; Bourdieu, 1991), and theories of cultural models, members' resources, and subjectivities (i.e. Fairclough 1992; Davies, 1993; Gee, 1999). She draws out of literacy theories the cultural and discursive mismatch hypothesis that is so often called upon to explain underachievement of working class students. Rogers connects this hypothesis to theories of discourse and social reproduction theory. Following Althusser, Rogers ''locates schools at the center of a critique of the reproduction of capitalist society.'' (5) Later in the text, she describes and analyzes a meeting that shows how school officials effectively label and place June Treader's daughter, Vicky, into special education. The meeting also functions to make June consent to her place in the social hierarchy. As Rogers states in this chapter, ''One promise of this book ... is an illustration of the ways in which people learn to see themselves through the eyes of an institution.'' (4) Rogers' use of Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) illuminates the micro and macro linguistic aspects of language in use as it relates to social context and the language users' subject position.
Chapter two describes the location of the research--the home, the neighborhood, as well as the city. This chapter also gives the rationale and procedures for the ethnographic method used in the study. Here, Rogers also explains the constructs that she uses to inform her analysis -- literacy events/practices; discourse/Discourse; and orders of discourse. Rogers is careful to point out that she is a reflective practitioner, meaning that she is implicated as a White woman studying oppressed people as well as herself throughout the study.
In chapter three Rogers describes June and her experiences in the adult basic classroom, June's ideas on what reading and literacy are and how they are evaluated. An important refrain in this text that comes through in this chapter is that June measured her literacy the way that the schools did, through tests based on biased constructs of intellect. Rogers will identify this as an intergenerational stronghold. Against this backdrop, Rogers shows how June wrote a community petition and took action to have signs posted for pedestrian safety in her community. Rogers also shows how June is able to negotiate documents concerning her child's schooling and healthcare. Whereas some research on working class families finds parents uninvolved in their children's education, this work shows that the mother of this family was deeply involved. In this chapter, Rogers reveals that June's daughter, Vicky, is recommended for special education, an evaluation that June detests.
In chapter four ''Family Literacy as Apprenticeship,'' Rogers strives to demonstrate that ''intergenerational literacy learning is a delicate balance of textual encounters, institutional arrangements, and subjectivities.'' (65) In this chapter, Rogers discusses her relationship with Vicky and the reading club that developed with other children from the neighborhood. Rogers' work with Vicky shows her to be a capable reader and student. Vicky and the other African American children in the reading group preferred historical biographies or books where there were consequences attached to the characters. They liked non- fiction and historical fiction with strong African American characters. Rogers' work with Vicky included letting her and the other children choose appropriate books that they liked, books and reading experiences that allowed them to somehow live the text, for example, demonstrating empathy toward the slaves as Vicky did when the author discusses the historical fictions of slavery with her. Furthermore, Vicky read the newspaper of her sister's pepper spray incident authoritatively; she explained how to get social services. By using these examples, Rogers demonstrates that children can be set up to succeed in literacy. It is against this backdrop that Rogers presents the school's view of Vicky as a special needs student with language and literacy deficits. A general trend noted in African American literacy scholarship is that literacy is not taught according to the context of lives of the students from Black and working class backgrounds (Richardson, 2003). Rogers found this to be true in the education of both Vicky and June, both of whom were taught to read texts out of the contexts of their lives.
The section '''You Fill Out These Papers'': Acquiring Social Relations' may trouble some readers. Rogers' questioning of Vicky and Taz about the Women Infants and Children's social services program [called WIC] could be interpreted as illuminating the family's dependence on government programs since at a bare minimum need would be a requirement for eligibility. Although we may presume that Rogers' questions are authentic: ''Who do you call to get it?'' (77) and ''So can I get WIC?''; this pattern of questioning has a problematic history in White/Black relations, where Whites ask questions that Black core culture members perceive as off limits or simply unnecessary. Perhaps this is why Vicky signified on the researcher with the statement: ''She's gonna have a baby to get WIC.'' Similarly, some readers may find the following statement problematic: ''First, the relationship between the need to have children and the ability to receive support is clear to Vicky.'' (77 ) The researcher is making this statement to underscore the daughter's ability to learn, make connections in the real world. However, the discussion of WIC could also be taken to exemplify the family's legacy of dependence literacy or recipient literacy when the author writes that ''Vicky learned that June [Vicky's mother] attended to these things [such as applying for WIC] and that eventually, so would she.'' ( 77)
The Free-and Reduced-Lunch Forms section presents similar concerns. Rogers points out that June is very proficient in the welfare/government program vocabulary: ''income level,'' ''house income,'' ''eligible to receive a free meal.'' The point that the author is making is that the school, which represents the interests of the state, teaches certain people certain types of literacy, beginning with learning how to read and fill out worksheets out of context in elementary school to filling in welfare and reduced lunch forms.
A valuable aspect of Rogers' text is her application of theoretical constructs to complex discourse analyses. Throughout the text she appropriately shows readers what the orders of discourse are in her particular study, for example, when specific utterances from her subjects represent certain orders of discourse such as ''the Discourse of schooling'' ''The Discourse of disability'' or her explanation of how style of speech implicates social positioning.
Chapters five and six describe the special education referral process in more detail. Though June protested and declared that she would not let them put her daughter in special education, the administrators with their official evidence of Vicky's test scores label June's daughter as ''a multiply disabled student'' almost forcing the woman into a position of powerlessness. Rogers' analysis of June's language shows a passage from empowered to powerless, from active to passive across different contexts. Rogers shows that June's acceptance of herself as a failed literacy student influenced her ''decision'' to let the school have their way with her child. The researcher's reflexivity also comes into play here as she contemplates her own part in not being able to stop the school from constructing Vicky as a deficient student, despite the fact that she and the adolescent's mother had evidence to the contrary. Chapter six provides a detailed illustration of critical discourse analysis of the Committee on Special Education Meeting and how institutional discourses operate. The researcher takes note of turn taking strategies of the officials and those of the mother, the mother's and the officials ''I'' statements to demonstrate how language functions to create, uphold, and disrupt social arrangements.
In Chapter seven, ''Through the Eyes of the Institution,'' Rogers presents a second Committee on Special Education (CSE) Meeting to compare the structure and logic between the year one and year two meetings. Rogers is able to highlight several contradictions in the discourses and ideologies invoked in the meeting on behalf of the officials and the mother. In the year one CSE meeting, the officials used standardized test achievement scores, rule- governed turn taking, and other official discourse practices to effectively label and classify Vicky. In this year two meeting, the officials used informal anecdotes and memories of Vicky's performance to manufacture the consent of the mother to another year of special education (but with the intent of gradually integrating her into regular classes). The same domains that were used to classify Vicky as multiply disabled were used to identify her as a star student. In doing this, the officials gain the confidence of the mother and build the confidence of the student who have both internalized their own schooled and dominant literacy deficits. Rogers shows that the officials set up the parameters of the options available to the Treader family (go into a regular classroom with no support or continue to be a star student in special education). Although the mother and the daughter had more voice in this meeting, the process was still unequal with predictable outcomes. Rogers argues that ''what keeps the Treaders in their place is their quite complete acquisition of the ideology behind ''schooled literacy.'' (145) Rogers also argues that Critical Discourse Analysis helps to illuminate this situation but ''does not do a good job of showing us how individuals learn to see themselves through the eyes of the institution.'' (145) Though Rogers acknowledges that there is some truth to the structure versus agency argument, she holds that critical discourse theory holds out the potential for both structure and agency.
Overall, Rogers summarization of and reflection on her theoretical approach and methodological struggles presented in using CDA are extremely valuable for discourse analysts. Similarly, Rogers policy recommendations for teacher education programs and school systems underscore the need for institutions to recognize and incorporate the local literacies of families into official curriculum to stem the trend of counterproductive literacy identities perpetuated through current practices. One issue which this raises and that Rogers herself identifies is that production, transmission, and learning of counterproductive identities is not the sole province of schools and is not usually adequately handled in literacy research applying CDA. These ideologies are manufactured and circulated throughout media and most segments of society. Critical Discourse Analysts must find ways to employ ethnographic methods across a wide array of contexts over a significant time period. Another major issue that this text raises is that we need to deal squarely with race, class and gender in literacy studies. The profession must incorporate and make widely known the work of African American and Black language and literacy scholars in order to halt the reification and reproduction of Eurocentrically biased views. (Makoni, Smitherman, Ball, and Spears, 2003) What counts as literacy is dependent on who or what one wants to become. People of color are asked to adopt dominant Eurocentric values, which may or may not produce social rewards, while this is not necessarily a problem for most whites. Rebecca Rogers is to be commended for taking on this much researched though still troubled area of life in today's world.
REFERENCES Gates, H. L., Jr. (1988). The Signifying Monkey: A Theory of Afro American Literary Criticism. New York: Harvard University Press.
Makoni, S., Smitherman, G., Ball, A & Spears, A. (2003). Black Linguistics: Language, Society and Politics in Africa and the Americas. London & New York: Routledge.
Mitchell-Kernan, C. (1974). Language Behavior In A Black Urban Community. Reprinted with revisions, Nov. 1874. Berkeley, CA: University of California Berkeley, Language Behavior Research Laboratory .
Morgan, M. (2002). Language, Discourse and Power in African American Culture. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Richardson, E. (2003). African American Literacies. London & New York: Routledge.
Smitherman, G. (1977/1986). Talkin and Testifyin: The Language of Black America. Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press.
----. (2000). Talkin' That Talk: Language, Culture, and Education in African America. New York: Routledge.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER Elaine Richardson is Associate Professor of English and Applied Linguistics at Pennsylvania State University, University Park. Her areas of research are discourse analysis, literacy studies, and African American oral folk culture.