Revolution Lullabye

March 5, 2008

Brandt Literacy in American Lives

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Brandt, Deborah. Literacy in American Lives. New York: Cambridge UP, 2001.

Brandt develops the analytical lens of literacy sponsors to explain how larger economic and social forces impact the development of an individual’s literacy. Her study, conducted in the 1990s, consists of 80 interviews of people, ranging in age from 10 to 85, who live in the southern Wisconsin area. She shows how the rapid expansion of technology and the increased reliance on documents and texts (the contractarian society) has changed Americans’ literacy habits. Brandt shows this change in American society by looking at the literacy sponsors of four generations of an American family (the Mays) and by investigating how specific moments in history corresponded to an individual’s ability to acquire a new literacy (both in reference to the union and labor movement in the 1970s and the prison reform/rehabilitation at the same time.) Another one of Brandt’s chapters deals with the differences in attitudes towards reading and writing. Brandt asserts that writing plays an important role in the new 21st century economy, an economy that is centered around production. She argues that the public schools, who are supposed to be institutions of democracy and equal opportunity, need to be re-evaluated in terms of literacy sponsors to see what literacy learning they are offering their students and what, due to inadequate funds and poor technology resources, are they not giving their students.

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