Literacy and Social Inclusion: Closing the Gap

By Stevens, David | English Drama Media, June 2008 | Go to article overview

Literacy and Social Inclusion: Closing the Gap


Stevens, David, English Drama Media


Literacy and Social

Inclusion: Closing the gap

Eve Bearne and Jackie Marsh,

Trentham Books, 2007, 17.99[pounds sterling]

ISBN 978-1-85856-389-3

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

'How do you know if you are socially included?' (or, by implication, socially excluded) asks Victoria Carrington, one of the contributors to this stimulating collection of papers linked by the overarching issues around literacy and social inclusion. How indeed? It's an important question, and one all too easily overlooked: after all, it does take something of a leap of the imagination for the vast majority of us working in education or academia, socially included as we invariably are in various webs of literacies, to empathise with those who are not. This readable, skilfully edited book goes some way towards addressing the problems--including offering helpful working definitions of both inclusion and its opposite--and, more importantly perhaps, offers a range of viable, contextualised solutions and resolutions.

As such, the book fulfils its stated intention of giving 'an innovative overview' of questions of 'literacy, access and social justice', focusing on 'closing the gap' between children's and young people's 'experiences and educational achievements'. Having set out their stall so effectively, and whetted at least this reader's appetite for more, Bearne and Marsh introduce their colleague contributors. I must admit I was a little disappointed on reading the first of the chapters, by Viv Bird on 'the policy context', as it seemed both a little dry, lacking any vivid examples of literacies in action (or not, as the case may be) and sometimes veering towards too easy an acceptance of official policies and initiatives: for example, 'Improving literacy is widely recognised as the cornerstone for raising educational standards, encapsulated in the Primary and Secondary National Strategies'. Well, yes--but many would take issue with such an encapsulation as contentious and problematic, and no real critique follows. However, noting the chapter title, quoted above, I can see the necessity of providing some sort of policy summary, and Bird herself goes on to pose the vital question 'will schools risk experimenting with creative ways of teaching literacy ...?'. In a sense, the rest of the book responds accordingly, and not just referring to schools either.

Eve Bearne's chapter on gender and literacy is both succinct and wide-ranging--quite a combination. She says much about the significance of drama, visual images and writing (the last of these maybe something of a surprise to those who mistakenly believe that boys don't/can't / won't write) in addressing the 'underachievement agenda' for boys especially, and goes beyond this agenda in arguing powerfully for 'a curriculum based on principles of multimodality and diversity ... [to meet the] needs of all learners'. Bearne goes on to describe compellingly some practical initiatives in this context. Here, my only regret is that, despite the assertion that 'two brief case studies give a flavour of the work', there is no example of any of the boys' writing included to do just that: something of a missed opportunity.

Maybe this last point is a bit of a niggle, though, for in subsequent chapters there's certainly no lack of vivid examples to give a full flavour of diverse literacies and the important issues arising. Eve Gregory, for instance, in her chapter 'What counts as reading and learning outside school', evocatively outlines case studies in the East End of London on multi-lingualisms and multi-literacies over two generations and more, reminding us of the 'wealth of literacy practices in the lives of ... East Enders', and suggesting ways in which literacy educators may fruitfully draw on such experiences. …

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