Literacy Wars: Revolution and Counter-revolution at a Small Private U.S. University

By A.J. Grant.

Published by The International Journal of the Book

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Article: Electronic $US5.00

In the past two decades, literacy has come to be viewed as a socially situated phenomenon which involves participation in reading, writing, speaking and listening in a number of discourse communities. Literacy is no longer understood as the simple ability to read and write, rather the cognitive dimensions of the “shift” from orality to literacy have been explored (Ong, Orality; Havelock, Muse; Goody, Interface), as well as the differences between speaking and writing and how this might affect writing pedagogy (Stotsky, Comparison). The most recent studies, however, critique both the “great leap” (cognitive shift) and the “great escape” (the lone writer) views of literacy (and writing) by arguing for literacy as a socially situated phenomenon (see Deborah Brandt, Involvement; Patricia Bizzell, “Professing”; and Flower, Construction). The literacy literature suggests a number of insights for educators involved in the language arts: First, writing itself seems to possess unique cognitive qualities different than speaking, qualities which may enhance learning. Second, one does not become literate once and for all time by learning to write or speak in grade school, high school, and finally college; rather, one becomes literate in a variety of discourse communities over time through involvement and participation. Third, one becomes eloquent as a writer or speaker in a particular discourse community by doing, that is, by speaking and writing regularly. Fourth, even though form and content may be unified in discourse, as Bakhtin argues, nevertheless, research suggests that students first learn what Cheryl Geisler has called the domain content problem spaces of a discipline and later, if at all, the rhetorical process problem spaces (“Literacy”). In this paper I explore the contemporary discussion about literacy as a socially situated phenomenon and the difficulties encountered when a small private U.S. college, Anywhere College, attempted to address literacy concerns by launching a revolutionary communication across the curriculum program (CAC) in 1995, which featured students reading, writing, speaking and listening in at least one course for each semester of their undergraduate study. Since 1995, the CAC has struggled to achieve and maintain its original vision because of a growing counter-revolution involving ideological, political and financial forces at play in the university.

Keywords: Literacy, Communications Skills, Writing Across the Curriculum, Information Literacy

The International Journal of the Book, Volume 10, Issue 2, pp.73-86. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 340.975KB).

Dr. A.J. Grant

Head, English Department, School of Communications & Information Systems, Robert Morris University, Moon Township, PA, USA

A.J. Grant is a Professor of English at Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh, PA. He currently teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in communications, rhetoric, literature and philosophy, and has offered a variety of professional workshops on writing and professional communication in corporate settings. Grant’s research interests include writing in the academic disciplines and professions, literature, the history of communications and popular culture topics. He has published articles on these topics in scholarly journals like the Journal of American Culture and Rhetoric Society Quarterly. Grant received his Ph.D. in rhetoric and English from Northern Illinois University, an MAT from Wheaton Graduate School and a BA in English literature and writing from the University of Pittsburgh.

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