African American Literacies

By Elaine Richardson | Go to book overview

1

Literacy, language, composition, rhetoric and (not) the African American student: sick and tired of being sick and tired

I was sitting here with a bad case of writer's block wondering how to arrange my arguments in the most persuasive manner. Hoping not to lose you, my K-12 language arts teachers, or you, my composition and rhetoric colleagues, or you, my fellow sociolinguists, or you, my new literacy studies family. And I sure couldn't stand to lose my African American generalists or anyone who is sick and tired of being sick and tired of the decades long struggle to stamp out our failure in the literacy education of African American students.

At first I started out with a chart that I replicated from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), which detailed the disparate writing achievement of Black, Hispanic, White, and Asian students from fourth grade through twelfth grade. I decided to background that 1 when I, while rambling through a bookstore bag, saw this bookmark (see Figure 1.1). And that just got me burning. “He is in the eighth grade but he's reading at the fourth grade level. Will you change this?” The young Black male body is foregrounded in the picture of the bookmark-he symbolizes illiteracy-in need of only a helping hand. The target audience for the ad is recent college graduates. We realize that the founder of the organization intends to make a difference with her life and encourage others to do the same by encouraging young graduates to dedicate their time to a worthy cause. And to be fair, a small percentage of children might improve with the extra help, but we also know that this program cannot significantly stem the tide of literacy underachievement.

Recent college graduates are offered loan forgiveness in addition to salaries if they commit to teach in the public schools in urban and rural communities for two years, as if fresh graduates could actually change something rotten that's been going on for decades. We do the same thing at the university level by initiating teaching assistants into the freshman composition classroom and bidding them to learn on the job. The bookmark exhorts young graduates to “Teach for America.” That's basically what we all are doing-Teaching for America. I want my student loans forgiven too!

-6-

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