Literacy in African American Communities

Literacy in African American Communities

Literacy in African American Communities

Literacy in African American Communities

Synopsis

This volume explores the unique sociocultural contexts of literacy development, values, and practices in African American communities. African Americans--young and old--are frequently the focus of public discourse about literacy. In a society that values a rather sophisticated level of literacy, they are among those who are most disadvantaged by low literacy achievement. Literacy in African American Communities contributes a fresh perspective by revealing how social history and cultural values converge to influence African Americans' literacy values and practices, acknowledging that literacy issues pertaining to this group are as unique and complex as this group's collective history. Existing literature on literacy in African American communities is typically segmented by age or academic discipline. This fragmentation obscures the cyclical, life-span effects of this population's legacy of low literacy. In contrast, this book brings together in a single-source volume personal, historical, developmental, and cross-disciplinary vantage points to look at both developmental and adult literacy from the perspectives of education, linguistics, psychology, anthropology, and communication sciences and disorders. As a whole, it provides important evidence that the negative cycle of low literacy can be broken by drawing on the literacy experiences found within African American communities.

Excerpt

For the landmark volume Functions of Language in the Classroom, edited by Cazden, John, and Hymes (1972), Dell H. Hymes provided an Introduction that has achieved a unique place in the history of this particular genre. In his opening to a volume which is a classic in several fields—linguistics, anthropology, and language education—Hymes laid out fundamental issues that have since dominated the direction of research in the field of sociolinguistics. The majority of scholars concerned with language and education over the past three decades have had to hold their work up against the norms and standards Hymes set out in that lengthy introduction to a collection of papers that went far beyond discussions of language use in classrooms. Aside from his co-editors, Courtney Cazden and Vera John, other central figures in the study of language in social contexts of home, community, and organizations contributed chapters to that volume. Some of the earliest work on “native speakers” of Black English appeared, and seminal papers on varieties of narratives and participant structures for Hawaiian and Native American children were included.

The current volume with its broad representation from researchers in language-related fields provides the incentive to review the issues Hymes put forward as “helpful and hopeful” in their fundamental criticism of the then-current state of language education. Hymes began by chastising linguists for not directly undertaking research on classroom language. In essence, this same criticism still holds today, but the current volume reveals that rather than depending on linguists to do studies of classroom . . .

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