Annotated Bibliography on Literacy as Cultural Tool

Delpit, Lisa. “The Silence Dialogue: Power and Pedagogy in Educating Other People’s Children.” Harvard Educational Review 58.3 (1988): 280-298. PDF.

Delpit argues that skills-based instruction and process-based instruction are infused with
five components of cultures of power. She explains that these components cause a
miscommunication between “liberal education movements and that of non-white, non
middle-class teachers and communities,” or what Delpit calls “the silence dialogue”
(282). The author concludes the only way students of color can participate fully in
American life is if they are taught the rules of the culture of power, not just the basic
skills they learn. Furthermore, the split between skills-based instruction and process
based instruction is false; the strengths of both methodologies should come together.

—. “The Politics of Teaching Literate Discourse.” In Freedman’s Plow: Teaching in the
Multicultural Classroom. Eds. Jim Fraser and Theresa Perry. Routledge. 1993.
Delpit writes a response to James Paul Gee’s two articles on literacy instruction “What is
Literacy?” and “Literacy, Discourse, and Linguistics: An Introduction.” The author
agrees with Gee’s assertion that literacy involves learning the behaviors and beliefs of a
discourse. Some discourses are more dominant than others, such as White middle-class
discourse over African American discourse. However, she disagrees with two of Gee’s
arguments: First, students of color been born outside the dominant discourse will have
trouble entering that discourse. Second, students of color will find the values in their
primary discourse conflicts with the values of the secondary or dominant discourse.
Delpit demonstrates that students of color can in fact both easily acquire the dominant
discourse and overcome the conflicts between discourses with the help of teachers.

Lewis-Williams, Tracy. Personal interview. 10 March 2016.
Lewis-Williams, a professor of computer science the University of Wisconsin-Madison,
explained her research on minority computer science majors (“iCope: Training Resilient
Computing Students using Wireless Digital Media Players”). One finding from her
research was the computer science education has unique stressors for minority computer
science students. The key factor to their success was having a strong sense of emotional
intelligence and a higher ethnic identity, or seeing other like them in the classroom.

Vara, Vauhini. “Why Doesn’t Silicon Valley Hire Black Coders?” Bloomberg Businessweek. Bloomberg, 21 January 2016. Web. 28 March 2016.

Vara describes how minority computer science graduates from Howard University have
attempted to find internships and jobs in Silicon Valley. She also describes how Howard
University is revising its computer science curriculum and partners with local and
national entrepreneurs to better train minority computer science majors for starting their
own businesses in the technology industry.

Commentary

These sources above demonstrate an overlap between traditional literacy and digital literacy. Delpit and Lewis-Williams both point to the necessity of addressing the backgrounds of students when teaching literacy and programming language. One wonders how the presence of other African Americans students supports or lends to better interaction with the stressors of literacy education? Given Delpit’s argument, it would appear that the relationship between the teacher and the student matters more than high ethnic identity or sophisticated emotional-intelligence. Of course, EID and emotional intelligence factors in this relationship, but they would be controlled by the ideologies that guide instruction. Delpit thinks outward by considering how traditional literacy is awarded in dominant discourses. She would turn to Lewis-Williams and ask (politely, of course), how programming language links to dominant discourses. What cultures of power surround programming language instruction? Is it split according to which programming language is most valued? Thus, Vauhini’s article provides some context and real world examples of what happens when African American computer science graduates enter what appears to be a merit-based and skill-based job market. Success in Silicon Valley, but one graduate student immediately finds herself up against a discourse with conflict values: white men who’ve coded since they were seven year-olds and referencing to popular culture. The graduate student had never had these experiences growing up; she may have the skills to program but she does not have the culture needed to interact with her project team members. Thus, Gee would postulate, and Delpit would agree to some extent, that the graduate student had not been trained to take on the beliefs and values of the dominant discourse. What support had Howard University given to this graduate student? Despite interacting with an entrepreneur and getting some training in startup culture, had they addressed the culture of power associated with computer science? She may had the emotional intelligence to succeed in computer science but what about her time in Silicon Valley? Is coding from early childhood and consuming some parts of pop culture a clear indicator of a dominancy discourses values? I think these sources will allow me to address the initial question Anne asked at the beginning of the semester: do you want to find some way to think rhetorically about the problem of white male coding culture in Silicon Valley (and elsewhere) — some way of thinking about coding literacy in parallel to how others have critiqued approaches to literacy, approaches that treat literacy as simply an acultural skill? I’m interested in studying rhetorically how coding academies for African Americans simply recreate white middle class.

Published by aabyrd

I'm the instructor for WCATY's Media Studies in a Digital Age course for Summer 2015.

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