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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