Discourses of literacy: Cultural models of White, urban, middle-class parents of kindergarten children
AuthorBialostok, Steven, 1954-
Sociology, Individual and Family Studies.
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
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AbstractThis study describes how literacy is mentally represented as cultural knowledge, referred to by educational and cognitive anthropologists as "cultural models." These models, widely shared among specific social and cultural groups, depict prototypical events in a simplified world. Despite enormous research attention identifying 'multiple literacies,' particularly emphasizing the literacies of those who live at the 'margins,' the one most closely associated with a literary literacy remains prototypical or 'normal' while terms such as "functional" reading are viewed pejoratively. This common sense reasoning is produced by the White, middle class who largely control the society, whose ideological stances of the way literacy 'ought to be' escape serious scrutiny. My research integrates sociocognitive, sociocultural, and sociolinguistic analyses by reconstructing the cultural models of literacy held by 15, White, urban, middle-class parents of kindergarten children. This reconstruction required the use of numerous interviews and interpretation of those interviews. My goal in the analysis was to search for patterns across interviewees and interview passages that would be indicative of shared understandings. I focused on two features of parents' discourse: their use of metaphors and their reasoning. The metaphor analysis identifies three schemas that parents have about literacy. The reasoning analysis provides the underlying story of the cultural model that links the three schemas. This study concludes that when middle-class parents of young children talk about reading, they conceptualize a literary literacy. Through indirect indexicality, expressing this literacy as a prototype sends a covert message which emphasizes moral worth. Such a moral attachment to reading books marks and morally elevates one's social-class membership, which is itself implicitly linked to racial and cultural status. This moral identity distances these middle-class parents from the lower and working classes as well as from the upper class. Furthermore, institutions designed to facilitate the literacy of children and families construct a similar discourse, where the goal of learning to read is secondary to the primary goal of reshaping the moral character of the families, particularly non-mainstream and minority families. This discourse hegemonically constructs as 'immoral' the kinds of literacies which do not match a 'moral literacy.'
Degree ProgramGraduate College
Language, Reading & Culture