He supports his argument by indicating that when linguists listen to Black children speaking and saying “He crazy” they hear highly structured systems with many grammatical categories which are important parts of any logical system coming from a non standard dialect (Street, 1984, p.26). Labov in his tests also revealed much better results for clever youths who were labelled ESN (Educationally Sub Normal) and he demonstrated that the tests that were being used were mostly social conventions of a dominant class as opposed to universal logic (Street, 1984, p.27). Street simplifies his ideological model by revealing his research in Mashad, a holy city in the province of NE Iran.
He explains by providing a model that came out of the religious schools called ‘Maktabs’. The leading ‘tajers’ (middlemen) in the villages who arranged the fruit trade learnt as youngsters in these ‘maktabs’ a specified type of literacy, they used and adapted these skills to the needs of their new commercial position. This adaptation is what Street refers to as upholding the ideological nature of literacy practice (Street, 1984, p.12). He thus argues that what is taken in the autonomous model to be qualities inherent to literacy are infact conventions of literate practice in particular societies (Street, 1984, p.4).
Street upholds Lankshear’s argument against the misconceptions of literacy by this ideological model of literacy. Street is clear and informative in persuading us to support such an argument. To Street, those who consider this model put their attention towards social practices of reading and writing (Street, 1984, p.2). This model emphasis the importance of the socialisation process in the building of the meaning for literacy for the people who take part and thus it is concerned with the social institutions through which this procedure operates (Street, 1984, p.2). This model is cautious towards the western liberal educators who uphold the ‘openness’, ‘rationality’, and critical awareness in their teaching (Street, 1984, p.2).
Graff in his research supports both Lankshear and Street. He refers to the literacy myths in 19th century Canada and concludes in his research that schooling and the techniques for teaching literacy are mostly types of a control of one over others. He was able to show how the concepts of literacy being autonomous and neutral was imposed by ruling groups who imposed social control upon the disturbed lower groups. He thus explains that it would be a misinterpretation in these situations to represent the procedure of acquiring literacy as pointing towards greater ‘criticalness’ and logical functioning (Street, 1984, p.11).
The misconceptions discussed by Lankshear (which are supported by Graff and Street) thus brings Lankshear to his conclusions. I have supported Lankshear’s argument because of my concerns towards the autonomous model, Lankshear is able to point out how this model is deconstructing the value of literacy and showing an elitist view towards the concept of literacy, however, it could be argued that the autonomous model may at times be the stronger argument. For example, Labov’s research on the Black youths, although being a cross cultural perspective of studying how various social groups think, may not get the support of purists who believe in imposing their concept of literacy upon the ethnics and working class. I consider my views as that of a realist and I feel that it will be difficult to prove to today’s society about the proficiency of ghetto language in an educational context, however one must admit that this language has prestige amongst its users.
The concept of literacy is a difficult one for us to grasp. We may make distinctions between formal literacy obtained through an academic establishment and ‘informal’ literacy obtained by the interest for knowledge with only a limited or no schooling background. Although formal literacy is more prestigious, Graff has revealed tests that many High School graduates and college students are illiterate, he reveals statistics of low literacy rates in the U.S.A, Hungary and France. These countries being some of the modern industrial countries of the world. It is comforting to know that the ideological model encourages a broader, more open view towards literacy.
It is the ability to apply literacy skills in a new environment, using and interpreting skills and thus adapting them to the requirements of the new environment. It is this type of perspective towards literacy which is opposed by the autonomous model and if such is the case will restrict valued literacy amongst people of a wide cross section of society. Lankshear’s argument stands for the opening up of literacy, his understanding will consider and acknowledge children’s literacy through participation and interaction as a positive contribution towards the progress of their literacy. His view will find a place for the impact and contribution that popular culture has for children’s literacy developments.
Let us now look at how children become literate and the role that popular culture plays in children’s literacy. Goodman reveals that children both discover and invent literacy as they actively take part in a literate society (Goelman et al, 1984, p.102). Goodman continues, different types of personal and environmental conditions play vital roles in literacy development, he puts it to our awareness that children’s literacy development increases out of their experiences and the views and attitudes towards literacy that they encounter as they mingle and exchange information with social groups (family, community, other socio-economic classes, ethnic groups, races, religions) (Goelman et al, 1984, p.102-103).
As children take part in society they are influenced by their surroundings through friends and the media they are introduced to the world of popular culture. It is my understanding that children from different backgrounds have usually a common tendency to identify with and take in images of fictional characters from popular culture. They think about these characters, identify with what they stand for and produce work based on these characters in the forms of drawings, story writing etc. Jackie Marsh reveals how the popular fiction character Batman was used to set up a range of literacy activities which encouraged both boys and girls to participate. This project was very successful comments Jackie and she emphasises how the children took part in various types of literacy activities. (http://www.literacytrust.org.uk/pubs/marsh.htm [16.10.01]). Most of the popular culture that the children are introduced to are from the media (J.Marsh, 2000, p.119)
Kress explains that In fun parlours, children are absorbed in complete concentration with pseudo interactive electronic games, he stresses that this pastime has no link to linguistics skills, instead he highlights muscular, cognitive and affective natural character which are being formed as a result of participating in these activities (Kress, 1997, p.2). Kress comments that today’s children who are absorbed in fast paced programmes on TV, the electronic fun parlour, video and computer games are being taught a new kind of ‘training’ which is in this day and age most likely to be the most important and useful kind of training that children will receive (Kress, 1997, p.5).
I would argue though that without supervision and guidance this ‘training’ will not contribute to developing children’s literacy skills. I would however support Kate Pahl’s understanding that boys’ interest in cartoon characters, if valued could allow development of stories such that it would bring about more specific meaning making. She supports this statement by introducing Elaine Millard’s arguments and her suggestions that boys could develop their work by using popular TV characters (E.Millard, 1997, p.173).
The use of popular culture in children’s literacy can be similarly compared to the learning in the ‘maktab’ schools in NE Iran. Lankshear’s argument has great implications towards our understanding and progress in literacy. Today’s understanding of literacy is in debate, there are various thoughts on how we should impose literacy on the society. Whereas Lankshear’s arguments support the masses, the misconceptions he states supports the best few. Lankshear gives a good argument for his conclusions, he is convincing in his approach and supports his argument well with the help of Street and Graff. Jackie Marsh makes a competent effort in exploring the potential of popular culture in motivating children towards literacy and the acquisition of literacy skills through this medium.
Goelman, Hillel; Oberg, Antoinette & Smith, Frank, (1984) Awaking to literacy, Heinemann Educational Books, London, U.K. Kress, Gunther, (1997) Before writing, rethinking the paths to literacy, Routledge, London, U.K. Graff, H.J, (1979) The literacy myth: Literacy and social structures in the 19th century, Academic Press, London, U.K. Lankshear, Colin with Lawler, Moira, (1987) Literacy, Schooling and Revolution, Falmer Press, Lewes, East Sussex/ Philadelphia, U.S.A.