Graphics, scrolling texts, and irrelevant advertisements…Oh MY!

For this evaluation of literacy centers online, I will be reviewing the website for the Literacy Coalition of Colorado (found here: http://www.literacycolorado.org/contact.htm). I found this website using a very broad Google search for “literacy groups in Colorado.” In perusing a few other sites from my initial search, I noticed how turned-off I became over extremely complex websites. If I come to a page where there is too much going on, such as graphics, text columns (multiple), scrolling text, advertisements, etc. I become quite overwhelmed. It is very hard to navigate websites that are as “busy” as this because I constantly feel like I am overlooking important information or sections of the website. Not to mention, I become frustrated when ads for First Bank are on a website for literacy…relevance?

 

With regard to the Literacy Coalition site, I really appreciate the layout and design of the site. The aesthetic is simple (with the logo displayed in the top left corner and no other images), yet visually pleasing. I also like how the text does not take up the whole page; it makes the content easier to peruse and maneuver. There is a navigation pane on the left side with various links to separate pages, making the site user-friendly in light of this intuitive organization. When I clicked on a link, only relevant information was displayed; there was no inundation of pop-ups, frivolous ads or extraneous information that I did not want.

 

What I also like about this particular site is the conciseness of the text. Rather than provide extremely lengthy descriptions of the program and work, they provide bullet-points regarding “their solution,” who they are, what they are doing and what they have accomplished. Although detail can be nice at times, I think for a more general audience (i.e. casual readers or students), this format would be optimal. The quantity of information was not overwhelming, while the quality was high. The content was informative and provided a nice overview of the organization and its work.

 

The links or sub-tabs on the Literacy Coalition site are also quite pertinent to the CLC’s work. The links are as follows and correlate to our work closely: benefits of literacy (overview of literacy and/or community literacy in our case), programs and services (i.e. SpeakOut), volunteer (including opportunities and trainings), news and events (newsletter archive), donate (good place for information about the program’s funding), and contact. All of these tabs would be useful on the CLC site, I believe. Additionally, I envision a “resource” section being quite helpful, including links to the SpeakOut 2.0 site, CLC and intern blogs, as well as staff bio’s.

 

Although the site did include a “news and events” section, it did not appear up to date. I was actually unable to determine how often the website was updated.

 

The contact information was easy to find, included as its own tab. The site had a built-in email application within their contact section. I think these types of applications can be quite useful for contacting organizations due to the hassle (sometimes) of having to find an email and then open your email to contact. I think having a built-in application can be especially user-friendly and more convenient than having to email an organization on your own.

 

There is little I would change about the website. It would have been nice to see more updated events and what the organization has been doing recently. Otherwise, I thought it was very easy for me to navigate and gather all desired information about their work.

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Short-term jail sentences, long-term impacts: A research update

For my research project, I am writing an article to be submitted to the Journal of Poetry Therapy. This journal focuses on interdisciplinary practice, theory, research, and education. Lately, I have been reading past issues and articles, in an attempt to determine the framework for my article. After reading, it seems that most articles begin with a theoretical framework, typically relating to poetry, journal, narrative writing, etc. as a rewarding therapeutic tool for healing or self-help. Authors will then apply various theories to their work with journal therapy and/or other writing programs. This has been a very enlightening experience, reading about the diverse applications of journal therapy. For instance, in schools with younger children, among the elderly, and among substance-users. There are few articles relating to writing in correctional settings, thus my decision to submit an article to this journal. I am hoping to frame the article as filling a gap in research relating to journal and poetry therapy with incarcerated populations.

Furthermore, there is a great dearth of information relating to the effectiveness of writing programs, in terms of tangible outcomes. For example, many articles I have read state the need for program evaluation and assessment, as it relates to the health and lifestyle effects of participation. It is clear that journal therapy can produce positive mental health effects, but there is little quantitative data to support these findings. Although I am not proposing a quantitative study of the effects of jail writing, I do plan to investigate other resources relating to the effects of rehabilitation, therapeutic and alternative programming on correctional populations. Namely, how participation in these programs effects recidivism (re-offending), increased life chances following incarceration, and psychological measures, such as self-perception and emotional healing (similar to what was discussed in the meeting earlier).

I will argue for the importance of therapeutic programming in jails, in light of their short-term nature: individuals incarcerated in jails are typically serving sentences up to one year. However, this is not always the case as a few of the writers in the men’s group have been and will be held in jail for longer than the customary one-year incarceration period. This is due to overcrowding in prisons, unavailability of space in other correctional facilities (i.e. drug treatment programs), and long wait times for sentencing. I digress. Due to the “revolving door of criminal justice,” most notably in short-term settings such as jails, journal and poetry therapy programs have an opportunity to create positive change in those while incarcerated. I am not arguing that these programs will prevent re-offending, but rather will assist in making time in jail less…well, gruesome. Participation in SpeakOut and similar programs may instill a sense of productivity, as well as supply a creative outlet for processing one’s incarceration and other life experiences.

In discussing the benefits of journal therapy as applied to correctional settings, I plan to draw on my experiences at SpeakOut although I am still uncertain of the depth to which my involvement will be discussed. As much as I would like to draw on the positive feedback and reaction to the program expressed by many of the men, I am afraid I would have to go through IRB to get permission to do so. Thus, a road-block! Or writers-block, I suppose 🙂

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But I’m Not a Therapist: Reflections on Literacy Work with Survivors of Trauma

“But I’m Not a Therapist” by Jenny Horsman is especially poignant to my experiences at SpeakOut! thus far. She raises many relevant points of concern pertaining to work with individuals who have experienced trauma in the past, as well as continue to experience it secondarily through remembrance and emotional processing.

I see trauma as being ever-present in the workshops with the men at LCDC, in addition to feelings of regret, guilt, loss, and pain (to name but a few). In fact, I view these emotions as characteristic of much of the work that is written both in class and outside, during the week. I am constantly surprised at how quickly many of the writers share these extremely personal stories with the other men, as well as the facilitators who, in many cases, they are meeting for the first time. Despite the content of their stories and writing being very personal and emotionally-vulnerable, the men are still quite eager to read their writing to the group or even have the facilitators comment on it in private. When I think of “a door being opened,” I think more about the writers finally finding an outlet through which to express and process these deep-seeded, long-felt emotions. Participating in the writing workshop provides the opportunity and initiative for them to take note of their own mental state and what is on their mind, which for many, are the struggles and/or pains of their past. Sharing their work is their own choice: if they feel comfortable, they will share, if not, they write and keep quiet (or don’t write and just sit and reflect). I would hope they do not feel obligated to share, just because they are attending the workshop as that could prove further stressful when dealing with trauma.

I am continually surprised, though, at how quickly many of the writers are able to take an ostensibly very simple, straightforward exercise–found poetry, for example–and transform it into something very personal and revealing. In fact, I often feel that the men’s default theme for writing is one of a personal nature, rather than say, fantasy or fiction writing. Just the other day, we experimented with writing pantoums, very structured poems in which certain lines are repeated throughout the work. One of the other facilitators suggested taking lines from the poems we brought as samples, in order to assist in the writing process (and also in light of having less time for the exercise than initially planned). However, nearly all the writers disregarded this suggestion and instead used their own words as the template for the pantoum. Within ten minutes, many of the writers had produced extremely insightful, deeply personalized poems about their pasts: some wrote of love (namely, of loves lost), as well as feelings of persistent regret, inability to forget, or even forgive themselves. One man, in particular, wrote his pantoum about scabs. He wrote about constantly picking at these scabs from the past, unable to leave them alone. Funnily enough, it seemed we facilitators were the ones who used less original writing in the poems!

Referring back to creating a safe space for the writers to share and re-experience trauma [through writing], as well as how to respond to such work, I think back to Jenn Matheson’s talk at the recent training. Her insight into how to work with those who are discussing trauma was incredibly invaluable. The simple phrases and body language cues she discussed, I think, will prove to be extremely beneficial in our work. In addition, I believe modeling positive feedback or even reception of a writer’s story when they share (i.e. Mindfulness: giving a writer your full, undivided attention) are also important aspects of the facilitator’s role.

As stated earlier, though, I have been very surprised at how open and receptive the men have been to sharing their work/traumatic stories, listening to those of others, and also providing support or feedback. Although the other facilitators and I have read the “group guidelines,” it seems as though many of the men already come into the group with these expectations of mutual respect. Because many of the writers come to write and “process their feelings in more healthy ways” (as was stated by a newcomer to the group last week), I believe they understand, or at least discover quickly, the reciprocal nature of the workshop: in order to feel safe when sharing their own stories, they must also provide that safe space for others.

Jenny Horsman discusses creating an appropriate balance of pain, pleasure and joy in workshops. This issue resonated with me, in terms of knowing how much time or attention to give to a writer’s traumatic experience or story, while also not over-emphasizing it so as to create negative attention for the writer. I think this is where the insight of Jenn Matheson could indeed be utilized, but still wonder if I might be misinterpreting the writer’s needs in a particular situation.

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To assess? Or not to assess? What is the real question here?

As I pursued the proliteracy.com site, I was struck by one seemingly no-nonsense statement: their explanation of why literacy should be investigated. This issue is one that is, naturally, touched on throughout our work with the program, as well as through our individual research projects. However, reading the site’s overview as literacy as a “crisis,” I felt compelled to question the role of the SpeakOut program in the context of the larger literacy movement. How does our program contribute to literacy education? Are there any unique aspects of our program which may serve other programs well, if integrated? As stated on the site, literacy is of primary importance to:

…solve all of these socioeconomic problems and more, we must start by building a more literate adult population. Because when individuals the world over learn how to read, write, do basic math, and use computers, the more likely they are to lift themselves out of poverty, contribute to improved health care costs, and find and keep sustainable employment.

I do not mean to imply skepticism about the importance of literacy, but rather, whether or not SpeakOut is actually assisting in “building” a more literate population. Are the writers involved in the program actually becoming more literate? When considering the different types of literacy, for example prose, document, and quantitative literacies (National Adult Literacy Survey (NALS) 1994*), I still see discrepancies in the skills of some of the writers involved, leading me to question the overall effectiveness of a literacy program that emphasizes only one specific aspect of literacy: that of prose. Although the writers are exposed to different forms of literature and styles of writing, I wonder if they are developing stronger skills or simply making use of those skills they already had.

So how can we actually track the development of reading and writing skills or the strengthening of current knowledge through participation in SpeakOut? Due to much of the writing being free-form and personal, I am curious as to the best way to evaluate the growth or development of literacy skills. Is it as simple as conducting a content analysis of each writers work? If so, what exactly do you look for in the writing as indicators of growth?

Although content analysis could be one useful tool for assessing the development of literate skills, program evaluations (conducted recently in our respective groups) could also be useful. In specific, questions relating to interest in additional writing sessions (i.e. How to write a resume, cover letter, writing a business letter, etc.) may glean insight into these various forms of literacy and the writers’ need or desire to learn such skills. In addition, the current question on the evaluation–“What did you learn about yourself as a writer?”–could possibly be adapted into a more in-depth self-evaluation for the purposes of having the writers explore their own development throughout the program. Many of the writers actually touch on this already in their reflections, noting particular areas they thought they improved on.

In sum, I think the current evaluations are an effective tool for assessment, however certain questions could be reformulated to allow more in-depth analysis of individual strengths and weaknesses. Furthermore, it seems only appropriate to consider the work actually created throughout the semester, considering it is a writing workshop, after all. However, the issue of analyzing content becomes complex and problematic for me. In light of the myriad writing styles and levels of skill among the participating writers, how can we best assess the effectiveness of SpeakOut at promoting and “building” a more literate adult population?

*The following statistics were taken from the National Adult Literacy Survey (1994), conducted by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Studies. Findings were compiled in a report entitled “Literacy Behind Prison Walls: Profiles of the Prison Population from the National Adult Literacy Survey.”

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Reflections Reading Research

For this blog post, I would like to discuss and elucidate connections between my work with the CLC and my studies in criminology and sociology. To do so, I will review a small sample of readings relating to my current work and research.

Boudin, K. 1993. Participatory literacy education behind bars — AIDS opens the door. Harvard Educational Review 63 (2): 207-232.

The topic of correctional health has been an interest of mine for some time now, developed during my past work in public health dealing with underserved populations. By ‘correctional health,’ I mean the health status of inmates, as well as the services offered and quality of care received.

Despite incarcerated populations having mandated healthcare, their health status remains lower or poorer than that of the general population, characterized by higher levels of infectious disease (HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, hepatitis, etc.) and mental illness, to name a few. Being incarcerated, in addition to being in poor health and lacking appropriate care, only serves to exacerbate the stigma of “criminal”; creating a dual-stigma of “offender” or “ex-con,” as well as “sick,” “HIV-positive,” “infected,” etc.

The issue of correctional health resurfaced after reading Emily Nye’s “The More I Tell My Story” with regard to the potential benefit and effectiveness of using writing groups for therapeutic reasons, especially among such dually-stigmatized or vulnerable groups. Although Nye’s research focused on non-incarcerated HIV-communities, I think her work and that of SpeakOut are indeed connected.

When thinking about literacy programs and their benefit, I wonder how best to serve those individuals that may be experiencing illness or disease while incarcerated? Perhaps some of the writers currently participating in the program are already experiencing this dual-stigma (although I am sure there are many other elements to their stigmatization, such as poverty, lack of education, socioeconomic status, etc.).

Proctor, S.L. , Hoffman, N.G., & Allison. S. 2012. The effectiveness of interactive jounraliing in reducing recidivism among substance-dependent jail inmates. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology 56 (2): 317-332.

As an extension of what was discussed above–literacy programs for inmates with infectious disease or other health issues–I have also explored therapeutic programming specific to substance abusers or addicts. The study above recruited a sample of substance-dependent recidivists, or those who re-offend after being released, to participate in an intervention at Buncombe Country Detention Facility in North Carolina. The intervention consisted of a 24-page interactive journal utilizing the transtheoretical model of change (TMC). Proctor reports the focus of the journal:

To help individuals make the connection between their substance use and criminal activity and afforded the inmates a means of weighing the costs and benefits associated with different options they might pursue and how they might develop a plan for change following release (323).

Results from the study included a 15% reduction in recidivism among those participating in the intervention, compared to the control group. Surprisingly, this reduced recidivism rate was observed “with [correctional staff’s] minimal involvement in the journaling process and with less than optimal implementation of the process itself” (330). This finding suggests that with more involvement from correctional or treatment staff, recidivism could possibly be reduced even further among participants.

What I loved about this article was the specific way in which writing was tailored to the substance-dependent population. The use of TMC, “a theoretical model of behavior change that views change as a process involving several stages [6],” to address the issues plaguing this group of inmates was extremely insightful and, I thought, groundbreaking (323). Journalers were able to reflect on the choices they have made which led to their present situation, as well as brainstorm more prudent, socially acceptable strategies for living life on the outside.

Connecting Proctor and Boudin’s work, I am curious as to how literacy, journaling, or writing programs could be tailored to HIV/AIDS-inmate writing groups to become more beneficial to the writers themselves. Would the utilization of a transtheoretical model like TMC actually promote greater healing through writing for these communities or groups?

Furthermore, the utility of such theoretical models is not unique to groups like substance-users or those with an infectious disease. Thus, could the integration of more structured, theoretical activities emphasizing self-reflection and change be successfully implemented in SpeakOut programs? Would the writers even be receptive to such an intervention or program?

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Writing as a healing voyage

Emily Nye’s work “The More I Tell My Story” was quite powerful in elucidating the personal and communal benefits of writing. Her focus on writing in HIV/AIDS communities was also very interesting to read about, especially when applying their experiences to that of the writers in SpeakOut. Throughout her piece, I contemplated this idea of “healing,” what it means to me as a writer, and what, in particular, it might mean for the men at LCDC.

Nye’s ample descriptions of the benefits of writing were much appreciated and provoked questions regarding my own intentions with writing that I had yet to consider. I particularly enjoyed her discussion on “writing about AIDS” where she noted that “the act of writing and the writing produced are ways ‘to resist the absurdity of suffering and death.’ Such narratives help interpret the meaning of a person’s life” (387). To this end, I do believe that narratives can restore “health” through introspection, education, heightened self-awareness and perception of [an individual’s] place in a larger communal context.

Several advantages of writing were discussed throughout the piece, including 1) writing being therapeutic and liberating for the individual, allowing them to create themselves through words; 2) writing can be used as a vehicle for imagining and dealing with “possible worlds” (390); 3) writing can be used as a tool for education, in this particular case, for those with HIV/AIDS to teach others and also so they may learn about themselves; 4) writing is empowering, allowing individuals to realize their own knowledge; and 5) writing lessens the distance between people by connecting our personal experiences and stories.

Each of the above also contribute to the “reconstruction” of self and restored health. This process of reconstructing the self was best described, I believe, in the following quote (title quote): “the more I tell my story, the less the bad stuff has power over me. It changes me as to how I look at the disease. As I change the story, I change myself. I’m evolving” (409).

I especially liked Nye’s discussion of intersubjectivity–the shrinking of the distance between the self as subject and object. This interplay between the self as “the subject of their writing, as well as the object of examination” allows for greater self-awareness and understanding (392). Through writing, individuals are able to discover and process their feelings about their disease, thus reconstructing and restoring themselves back to health.

In addition to the personal, therapeutic benefits derived from writing, a “communal wholeness” is also achieved (391). It is through writing that those with HIV/AIDS can educate those without, as well as establish themselves as part of a larger humanity. Narratives possess a healing power not only for individuals, but also for communities or those without HIV/AIDS. As Nye describes it: “a more general healing message for anyone who has ever experienced the emotional pain of being stricken, ostracized, and oppressed” (411).

When thinking about the SpeakOut journal publication, I am inclined to say that it would most assuredly produce a community healing effect. However, upon further deliberation, I was stopped by the issue of audience. Nye discusses how the speakers in narratives are of a rather privileged position of authority. A point that becomes salient when hearing the many stories of the men about their experiences while incarcerated and prior to. They are indeed the experts; they hold the power over the narratives they construct due to having lived through the scenarios they portray in writing. Their stories educate those who have not been incarcerated nor have lived through similar life experiences.

However, I wonder if the formation of community through writing is hindered if those having not experienced incarceration or HIV/AIDS are resistant to the “lessons” of others. I am compelled to think of situations of oppression and suppression [of ideas] where writing is perhaps not even allowed or welcomed among these particular communities. What if there are problems if distribution, in terms of the writing from these communities not wanting to be read or shared. How, then, are they to educate others, reconstruct themselves, and ultimately finding healing?

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REPRESENTATIONASATOOL

The issue of representation is one I have grappled with in the past, however always under different pretenses or alternative terms. Typically I approach this issue from a sociological perspective, thinking about the nuanced ways in which structure, as one example, affects perception. After meeting with other CLC staff, I discovered that my initial understanding of representation was not completely flawed.

When conceptualizing representation, I think of the various ways in which individuals are described: based on physical, cultural, structural, or geographical characteristics.  How an author or researcher writes about an individual reveals their underlying assumptions and expectations about the individual or group being portrayed. In the case of Petra, Pat Rigg (1985) consistently emphasizes her status as a poor migrant worker, one with few resources or support. From the way she described her living arrangements–“Petra gave me a small smile and, because she knew and liked D, waved us graciously into the tiny sweatbox that served her, her husband, and her two sons as kitchen, dining room, and living room, all in one.”–to the way she described Petra herself–“She is a big woman, a little over five and a half feet tall, large bosomed and very handsome with strong white teeth and long black hair in a thick braid down her back. Her hands are big and calloused.”–Rigg adamantly stressed physical details (129). As a result, Riggs’ depiction of Petra came off as degrading and self-elevating. She discussed frustrations with Petra’s diverging view of literacy and, rather begrudgingly, how Petra’s strategies for learning deviated from those of Rigg and other researchers.

Despite my own irritation with Riggs’ writing and portrayal of those involved in her work, I did appreciate one conclusion levied: that researchers, and sponsors of literacy more appropriately, need to consider the possible consequences or blowback of learning how to read. As was evidenced by Jose, Petra’s son, cultural and societal expectations, and in this particular case, gender stereotypes and socialization, often compete with modern views of literacy. Jose was not supportive of his mother’s efforts to learn to read but rather preferred she stay at home, preparing fresh tortillas for his arrival from school (137).

Contemplating how I represent the writers at my site arouses just a touch of internal turmoil. When thinking of the men at the jail, Petra, or other at-risk individuals, I do fear representing such groups in “reductive” ways. I want their character and talent to be acknowledged. I want their stories and literacy skills to be appreciated in spite of their criminal status. However, when considering how the men are represented, I feel conflicted as to how much of their story needs to be told and exactly how to do it appropriately, in a way that challenges the stigmata endured by so many. I am particularly amazed by the writers’ talent, creativity, and desire to learn during these times of adversity. However, I am afraid that discussing their incarceration, to any extent really, would lead to poor or irresponsible representation. When dealing with at-risk populations such as the incarcerated or migrant workers, what are strategies for avoiding reductive representation? Moreover, is there ever a danger in over-inflating an individual’s character or possibly glamorizing their portrayal?

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The Literacy Myth: What good is literacy? What good are we accomplishing?

Gee presents a strong case for the potentially deleterious effects of literacy and literate practices (e.g. Education policy and school tracking systems). In order to dissect claims underlying “the literacy myth”–that is, that literacy always does good, promoting positive self-growth and training–Gee outlines historical developments in literacy, focusing specifically on the work of Plato and Freire. Throughout his essay, Gee highlights the tendency of literacy to be used as both an emancipator or liberator, as well as a weapon, emphasizing the differential impacts of policies, practices, and ideologies on various socioeconomic classes. Discussion of the benefits of literacy, but perhaps more importantly, it’s potential to harm individuals and groups, indeed strikes a poignant note with regard to our work at SpeakOut.

When speaking of literacy and its potential for human progress, Gee notes that “literacy, it is felt, freed some of humanity from a primitive state, from an earlier stage of human development” (26). In other words, humans are civilized as a result of our literate capacities.

I was surprised, however, by many of the statistics provided in this article, namely the fact that the 1985 NEAP study reported a 95% young adult literacy rate, while also finding that “only about 10 percent of the whites, 3 percent of the Hispanics, and 1 percent of the African Americans could generate an unfamiliar theme from a short poem or orally interpret distinctions between two types of employee benefits” (23). Seeing statistics such as this brings into question the appropriateness of the traditional definition of literacy, as well as reinforces Gee’s concept of the literacy myth. I wonder, what impact does the potentially deficient definition of literacy have on the overall effectiveness of literate practices? Meaning, are literacy programs ineffective (thus supporting the idea that literacy does not always do good) as a result of differential definitions and expectations associated with literacy?

Gee does well to correct existing gaps in defining literacy and what it entails by providing a more comprehensive explanation, which I appreciated. Literacy, he states, is not solely the ability to read or write, but also involves reading comprehension, logical and critical thinking, as well as the ability to differentiate myth from history.

When considering literacy and its relationship to knowledge, Gee resorts to Plato’s polemic on the shortfalls of the written word. For Plato, writing, and literate practices more generally, become problematic when considering the capacity of a text to be defended or “correctly interpreted.” Plato champions a view of knowledge which classifies “true knowledge” as that which “comes about when one person makes a statement and another asks ‘What do you mean?’” (29). As evidenced, Plato emphasized the ability of the written word to be challenged, verified, and re-stated in different words. This process, he believes, creates deeper meaning by allowing response and dialogue. He even goes so far as to make the claim that “only dialogic thought, speaking, and writing were authentic” (29).

Inherent in Plato’s thinking about reading comprehension and interpretation is the idea that there is only one correct way to read a text. Although there is cause for concern with regard to free interpretation, I would urge Plato to consider the consequences of the alternative. That is, of not being able to freely interpret something or, as discussed, only being exposed to writings which are accompanied by prescribed interpretations or fixed meanings, such as with many religious texts. This notion of predetermined meaning and lack of agency on behalf of the reader is by no means liberating. In fact, I would consider this type of literacy to be exemplary of its potential to be used a weapon. What good is literacy, or the ability to write and comprehend something, if your abilities to interpret, analyze, and challenge a writing are, essentially, rendered obsolete? By definition, this notion contradicts the traditional view of literacy–that of the ability to read, write, and understand.

Another issue ingrained in the process of reading comprehension and interpretation is that of privilege, economic and social resources. Throughout the article, Gee references potential complications with literacy or how literacy can be used as a weapon. He discusses the ability to understand a text being tied to socioeconomic status and skill. Indeed, certain individuals may be better-equipped (e.g. training) to interpret a text the way one is meant to be understood. In addition to some texts being restrictive in terms of the audiences that can access or “correctly” interpret them, literacy also often involves attempts to maintain the status quo or “solidify the social hierarchy” (36). Gee alludes to the fact that literacy often perpetuates elite behavior, while also “stressing deference” among the lower-positioned. This discussion was reinforced through explanation of school tracking systems and their tendency to stress differential behaviors and expectations among the high and low tracks.

This issue of divergent expectations and objectives among elites and those in lower positions is especially relevant to our work at SpeakOut. Being that we are working with a disadvantaged, underserved, and highly stigmatized population, I wonder if our efforts, by any means, reinforce the social hierarchy or teach the writer’s to accept their positions of inferiority. Would Plato and Freire consider our work with literacy liberating?

I believe literacy through SpeakOut emphasizes each of the components recognized by Gee: critical thinking, verbal and analytic skills, personal growth and development, as well as discipline, time-management and honesty. What the program accomplishes is extending access to literate practices beyond the general public, that is, to those populations so often neglected from social programs or consideration. SpeakOut offers writers an opportunity to develop and refine their critical thinking skills, reading comprehension, and creativity, through writing. Additionally, the writers are exposed to and incorporated into broader circles of literacy. Through SpeakOut, individuals are given a stake in the larger literate practices of their community and society, more generally. Not only are the writers able to read the work of others, which quite likely they were restricted access to while incarcerated or even beforehand, they are also instilled with the opportunity to share, disseminate and publish their own work for others to enjoy.

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Writing for Grants

Through reading about the grant application process, I was able to gain a new perspective into our work with SpeakOut!: the continuation, expansion, and preservation of the literate practices of the CLC. Grants serve as an extension of current work, as well as a vehicle for future projects or innovative thinking. I very much appreciated the sample grant given from last year’s “Writing and Violence: A Community Literacy Training” as it proved to be a helpful resource when thinking about potential grants or projects for which to submit an application. Moreover, I would be very interested to hear the outcomes of this training.

With that being said, last year’s grant stimulated many ideas for possible trainings for next spring, somewhat in keeping with the themes of “Writing and Violence” and “Writing and Trauma.” Although topics such as loss or grief are frequently broached, the men’s group also draw on their experiences with addiction, parenting, and self-guilt. While the 2011-2012 grant mentioned “substance abuse/violence and at-risk writers” as a specific area for training, I did not see any consultants or other personnel associated with the event who had a background in substance abuse or addiction. Whether the men are struggling with their own addictions or have lived through someone else’s, this is a persistent topic of writing and discussion; one that many men, as well as women and teens, are clearly afflicted by.

The issue of self-guilt and self-criticism is regularly mentioned, as well, and likewise raises concerns about how to facilitate effectively around such sensitive topics. When the men reflect upon their past, and future for that matter, their writing becomes extremely personal, emotional, and often dark. I wonder as to the best methods for moderating such a discussion, as well as how to maintain appropriate boundaries with the men’s group so as not to incite emotional or psychological trauma through the recollection of a negative or painful memory.

Although both addiction and self-guilt may involve feelings of trauma or be associated with violence, I think trainings specific to such issues would also be beneficial. In addition, I feel that any speakers with experience or familiarity with working with such populations as the incarcerated or at-risk youth would prove enlightening to our own work with SpeakOut!. In particular, these trainings would provide opportunity for further development and enhancement of our [SpeakOut! staff] skills and capabilities as workshop facilitators and volunteers.

In terms of future grants to which we could possibly apply, I would be interested in funding that would support the publication of longer works. Many of the inmates from the men’s group have memoirs, novels, or lengthy collections of poems, short stories, or illustrations which they would like published, however are too substantial to submit to the SpeakOut! Journal. I only performed a cursory internet search for such grants, but to no avail. The search continues…

One potential concern associated with grant writing is clarity in purpose statements. More specifically, I worry about effectively communicating the objective and potential benefit of a certain project so as to arouse support among those funding or awarding the grants. While the advantages of a project are surely quiet salient to those affiliated with a program or organization, difficulties arise when trying to demonstrate the necessity for such trainings as the “Writing and Violence: A Community Literacy Training.” Is it appropriate [or even advantageous to a grant-writer] to include best practices, statistics, evaluations or critiques from programs, meetings, or trainings similar to the one for which we are completing a grant application?

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Literacy Sponsorship

Deborah Brandt’s article, “Sponsors of Literacy,” did quite well to situate my experiences of working with male writers at the jail in a larger social context. Underlying Brandt’s study is the recognition of the diverse social situations — indeed impacted by political, economic, or other broad social conditions — confronting members of society. Not only is access to literacy and literate practices shaped by one’s race, class, gender, or religious affiliations (to name but a few), but the content and form, as well as the interpretation of writing, is also influenced by these social factors.

 
The numerous case studies outlined by Brandt provided specific contextual analyses of the literate practices of individuals, with particular regard for their initiation, development, and transformation. These anecdotal accounts proved to reinforce Brandt’s notion that “…despite ostensible democracy in educational chances, stratification of opportunity continues to organize access and reward in literacy learning” (6).

 
I very much appreciated Brandt’s comparative approach to sponsorship, emphasizing the differential impacts of historical, political, and cultural change on the literate practices of individuals. Through these case studies, the long-term, overarching influence of socioeconomic status, race and ethnicity, as well as the business sector, more generally, on access to literacy became more salient.

 
Also highlighted throughout these case studies, in keeping with the overall theme of the article, is the presence and role of literacy sponsors in the origination of literate conventions. Sponsors, as defined by Brandt, serve as “underwriters” to the literate practices, their learning and use (2). Indeed, access to literacy is very much determined by sponsorship. As the author states, “sponsors are a tangible reminder that literacy learning throughout history has always required permission, sanction, assistance, coercion, or, at minimum, contact with existing trade routes” (2-3). Brandt, thus, urges the reader to consider the effects of sponsorship on literate outcomes, expectations for literacy, as well as the actual content of written work.

 
Thinking specifically about my role as a facilitator at the men’s jail, I feel compelled to question my motives: what, exactly, do I hope to bring to the SpeakOut! Program? What are my objectives in performing the role of a literacy sponsor? And, perhaps most importantly, in what ways do my interests conflict with those of the sponsored? As Brandt discusses, sponsors set the terms of access to literacy which, inevitably, weighs heavily on the future practice and development of literacy. I wonder how, if at all, my facilitating/sponsorship may negatively impact the literate practices of male inmates in the program.

 
One point I took away from this discussion was that sponsors of literacy have the potential to unduly influence the learning and use of literate practices among individuals. Although Brandt refers to the relationship between literacy sponsors and the sponsored as reciprocal, she also stressed the the effects of competition and access to resources on literacy. While both parties stand to gain from this prolonged engagement with one another, I wonder how this relationship may become less hierarchical. That is, less a dynamic of the learned individual controlling and setting the terms for access and opportunity for the learning individual and more a dynamic of mutual advantage, one in which the interests and objectives of both the sponsor and sponsored are reconciled. In what ways can literacy sponsors better accommodate the needs and wants of the sponsored, while also avoiding “misappropriation” and remaining steadfast to individual goals?

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