Literacy’s Role in Revolution and Independence: Where have we been, where are we going?

By Laurie Andes.

Published by The International Journal of the Book

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

The connection between literacy and liberation has been influential as a force in shaping educational policy, particularly where cultures meet and clash. This connection is based on the critical theories of Paolo Freire (1985). The term “emancipatory literacy,” refers to the premise that learners’ ideas develop and evolve as they think about their lives in society. The very act of reading is so interwoven with thinking that one cannot read without being influenced or transformed in some way.
Who were the groups of people who transformed the English colonies into the United States of America? What were their respective levels of literacy? What impact did literacy play in developing conditions for revolution? This idea is examined here in documents of the eighteenth century, particularly school textbooks. These provide information about the spheres of influence that enabled the start of a revolution, and about the literate population that provided the foundation for independence.
For at least one hundred years before the American Revolution, colonists engaged in acts of literacy. The Massachusetts Bay Colony had over one hundred Oxford and Cambridge University graduates before 1650. A public school, a printing press, and a college was established in Massachusetts before 1640 (Jernegan, 1931). Thus, when Thomas Paine penned his famous pamphlet that outlined the concerns of the colonies and their arguments against the King, there were groups of citizens in every colony who were able to read, understand and share his ideas. Printed communication influenced, transformed and finally, united colonists in thinking about themselves in a new way--as citizens of the United States of America.
This paper examines the texts that were used in literacy instruction, and draws conclusions about the transmission of cultural ideals that took place prior to revolution and independence.

Freire,P. (1985). The politics of education: Culture, power and liberation.
Granby, MA: Bergin & Garvey Publishers, Inc.

Jernagan, M.W. (1931). Laboring and dependent classes in colonial America,
1607-1783. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Keywords: Literacy Materials, Literacy, Culture and Revolution

International Journal of the Book, Volume 6, Issue 3, pp.9-18. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 829.057KB).

Laurie Andes

Associate Professor in Education, Department of Teacher Education, Salisbury University, Salisbury, Maryland, USA

Her research interests include the history of literacy instruction, literacy instruction for English Language Learners, and Educational Leadership. She holds a Masters Degree as a Reading Specialist, a doctoral degree in Educational Administration. She has taught first, fourth, and fifth grades, and now teach undergraduate teacher candidates in the Elementary Education Program and graduates in the Educational Leadership Program at Salisbury University, on Maryland's Eastern Shore.

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