The Author’s Chair

For my literacy narrative, I chose to interview my mother. She is a kindergarten teacher at a private school in Roseville. Although most of the kids are able to read and write when they come in to kindergarten, my mom has a few tricks for encouraging her kinders to love reading and writing. One trick is the author’s chair. To say that the kids dig this would be a massive understatement:

“After the children have at least two sentences with a picture to match [in their journal], they may sit on the Author’s chair (barstool) and read their writing to the class.  Everyone claps and the child gets a sticker to place on the cover of their journal. Every child needs to read once before another child can have his next turn.  They LOVE this!  They are authors.”

When she says “everyone claps,” she means genuine, enthusiastic applause. And you’d think that blue barstool was a throne. As much as they love it when my mom and I read to them, the kinders adore listening to each other read. Kinda makes me wish I was going on to teach kindergarten instead of college level writing.

And That Upsets Me.

So I know Kim asked us to stray away from thinking about literacy and its links to schooling, but once again I found myself reading the word “literacy” and thinking about the word “education.” I can’t help it. I see what Graff refers to as these “reductive dichotomies” of oral vs. literate, literate vs. pre-literate, literate vs. illiterate, whatever you want to call it, and I realize that whether you are talking about literacy or education, it all comes down to access (639). Who gets to be literate? Who gets an education? The fact that, even today, the answer to these questions isn’t “anyone” upsets me.

But even if “anyone” has the option/opportunity to become literate/educated, what does that do for people? Like all change, mass literacy/education led to new problems. According to Graff, mass literacy required proper texts, proper tutelage, and proper environments (644). Hence the assumption that “real” learning only happens at school. That “real” learning comes from an approved textbook, which is carefully read under the supervision of a qualified teacher, in a classroom filled with thirty students who are all learning the same thing at the same time. But we know that’s not how learning happens. We know that taking subjects out of context does little to help students learn anything. We know that standardized testing is not proof of individual ability. And yet it feels as though so little has changed in education. And that upsets me.

Graff goes on to say that “school literacy, in particular, is neither unbiased nor the expression of universal norms of reading and writing. It reflects the structures of authority that govern schools and their societies” (645). This (to me) explains some of the biggest problems I have with education today. School literacy reflects the structures of authority that govern schools and their societies. This explains the incredible obsession students have with earning “all the points.” And yet, Graff goes on to say that “there is no single road to developing literacy” and I reply, “tell that to the American public school system” (646). Can you tell this topic upsets me?

Here’s a reason why this discussion of “who gets to [insert privilege here]” upsets me. Last week, I worked with a group of incredible educators from all over the world who were given the opportunity to come to Chico State and participate in a six week program designed to help them make the transition to becoming a “connected educator.” Cool, right? Out of thousands of applicants, these twenty people got to participate in this program. My job was to teach them how to use the tools I use every day (Google Drive, Twitter, WordPress, TED Talks, etc) and show them how to use these tools in their own classrooms back home.

So here’s a question: How do you explain the subtle art of the hashtag to someone who just made their very first gmail account in a class taught the week before?

No, seriously. How? How do I show these highly educated educators how to use tools that are available to them here, but not necessarily available to them back home? How do I teach these people how to be computer literate when they take attendance for their third grade class by hand every day? I left each class feeling a little bit sad. Like I just spent three hours teaching people how to use tools that are out of their reach back home. Once again, it comes back to access. Who gets to…..? The answer still is not “anybody.” And that upsets me.