Cine Literacy Definition Essay

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Introductory sources on the topic of literacy in African American studies are best organized by disciplinary approach. Because no one source represents a complete overview of the topic, researchers may wish to consult multiple sources to gain a sense of the scope and trajectories of the fields in question. Royster 2000 and Fisher 2009 offer overviews of African American literacy in the 19th and 20th centuries, respectively, that are fairly comprehensive in approach, though Royster foregrounds African American women. Their methodologies favor rhetorical, historical, and ethnographic disciplinary affiliations, and each argues for an expansive definition of literacy that links African American literate practices—including reading, writing, speaking, and performing—to sociopolitical activism. Street 1984 introduces the foundational concept of multiple “literacies” that has been applied by numerous researchers in sociolinguistics, education, and literacy studies. Harris, et al. 2001 and Winn and Behizadeh 2011 continue this mode of theorizing “literacies” in the context of African American communities, especially in educational contexts. Both texts contain useful overviews of scholarly debates over definitions of literacy and literacies. Finally, Perry 2003 and Salvino 1989 offer complementary literary and historical perspectives on what literacy has meant to African Americans from the early republic to today, using sources that include autobiographical accounts of literacy acquisition and writing by contemporaneous educational theorists.

  • Fisher, Maisha T. Black Literate Lives: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives. New York: Routledge, 2009.

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    A study of alternative educational spaces—especially venues for cultural performance—and literacy acquisition practices in 20th-century African American communities. Utilizing historical and ethnographic research methods, Fisher identifies a close relationship between literacy and political activism.

  • Harris, Joyce L., Alan G. Kamhi, and Karen E. Pollock, eds. Literacy in African American Communities. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2001.

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    Collection of essays representing scholarly perspectives on literacy in social sciences, education, and communication studies. First essay by Constance Dean Qualls, “Public and Personal Meanings of Literacy,” is an especially useful overview suitable for undergraduates.

  • Perry, Theresa. “Freedom for Literacy and Literacy for Freedom: The African-American Philosophy of Education.” In Young, Gifted, and Black: Promoting High Achievement among African-American Students. By Theresa Perry, Claude Steele, and Asa G. Hilliard III, 11–51. Boston: Beacon, 2003.

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    Starting from the connection many scholars of African American studies have drawn between literacy and freedom, this essay analyzes a sampling of autobiographical accounts of the struggle for literacy acquisition and what it signifies by prominent African American activists and writers from Frederick Douglass to Malcolm X and Maya Angelou.

  • Royster, Jacqueline Jones. Traces of a Stream: Literacy and Social Change among African American Women. Pittsburgh Series in Composition, Literacy, and Culture. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2000.

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    An influential monograph that links rhetorical studies, literacy studies, and feminist analysis with the history of African American women writers of the 19th and 20th centuries. Royster characterizes African American women’s literacy as sociopolitical action.

  • Salvino, Dana Nelson. “The Word in Black and White: Ideologies of Race and Literacy in Antebellum America.” In Reading in America: Literature and Social History. Edited by Cathy N. Davidson, 140–156. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989.

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    A concise introduction to what literacy signified in antebellum America and how ideologies of literacy—especially the idea that literacy equals freedom—come into being. Salvino distinguishes literacy in and of itself from the belief in the efficacy of literacy as a liberating force.

  • Street, Brain V. Literacy in Theory and Practice. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1984.

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    A widely cited source on different theorizations of literacy and “literacies,” addressed primarily to social anthropologists and sociolinguists, but with important implications for educators. Street champions the concept of multiple “literacies,” arguing that reading and writing function in tandem with social, cultural, and political contexts.

  • Winn, Maisha T., and Nadia Behizadeh. “The Right to Be Literate: Literacy, Education, and the School-to-Prison Pipeline.” Review of Research in Education 35 (2011): 147–173.

    DOI: 10.3102/0091732X10387395E-mail Citation »

    An essay on literacy, race, and at-risk students that includes a cogent discussion of defining literacy and “literacies” for research purposes and of the potentially detrimental educational and social consequences of defining literacy according to a color-blind ideology.

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