Musing about community literacy

Welcome to the CLC!

Through these dialogues we hope to bounce ideas around each other, coming to a fuller understanding of community literacy and how it “opens up a unique space where intercultural partners can inquire into and deliberate about problems, working toward both personal and public change.” (Higgins, Long and Flower — in your reading for this week!)

That sounds important right now…

In this first blog post, spend some time reflecting on the purposes and intentions of literacy and community literacy outlined by the essay by Flower/Higgins/Long. As you compose your post, consider these questions: How are you defining community literacy? What problems and possibilities are raised when literate acts are considered in community contexts? What do you anticipate being the biggest challenge at your community site? The biggest reward?

Post your response of 400-500 words by August 25 — and look back at it occasionally over the weeks before the NEXT meeting to see what responses you might like to add. Check the “Notify me of new comments via email” to be sure you are aware when other interns are responding.

This is experimental — we have not done interactive posts before — and we hope that it will bring a deeper collaboration to the group. THANKS!


15 thoughts on “Musing about community literacy

  1. I define literacy as being able to have the knowledge to comprehend reading and writing skills. However, I believe that literacy goes beyond the capabilities to write and read professionally. Literacy is the ability to critically think and solve complicated problems throughout life. It is also being aware of one’s personal and others literacy skills. Moreover, to assess the strengths/weakness and the capability to evaluate the works of one’s’ literacy skills, whether that be personal or with other individuals. Literacy is everywhere and a part of everyday life, it is constant involvement of all communication of human beings no matter what career path one is associated with. The problem and possibilities that will arise when literate acts are considered are home environments, family involvement, and trends in family life. I think family has a huge impact on adolescents literacy and education development. If education is not important in the home it is hard on adolescents to have motivation and to strive for higher education goals. I am working in the Remington House this semester and I think some of the biggest challenge I am going to face is addressing trauma, negative attitudes toward help/education, race/cultural difference, and the lack of belief the adolescents may face among themselves. I most worried on taking on the burden of the adolescents trauma and it wearing myself out emotionally. I know how important it is to listen and be compassionate, but there needs to be balance so their emotions don’t wear me down. I think the biggest reward working at the Remington House Community will be helping adolescents develop their voice and that these kids deserve to be heard. I want the adolescents I work with to realize their opinion and their lives matter, especially teens that have faced trauma. The biggest hope I would have would be for the adolescents I work with to understand that they are not defined by their situation, but it is part of who they are and that it can be positive influence. Also, I would want them to realize their self worth and become confident in one’s education/future. As well as, convey the message that someone is believing in them and rooting for them to succeed.

    1. Shelby! I’m excited about the focus you bring to the group (and to the kiddos!) with your background in Human Development and Family Studies. Thanks for this insightful comment.

      I like this part: “The biggest hope I would have would be for the adolescents I work with to understand that they are not defined by their situation…”

      This is important for all of us to remember, all the time! 😉


    2. Love love love your biggest hope that you hope to show kids that who they are isn’t based on their situation. It’s a great hope and goal!

    3. Hi Shelby!

      I really appreciate how you defined the literacy in the traditional sense of the word, but then expanded on it to fit the context that we, and so many others, are hoping to accomplish through facilitating these types of workshops. I like how your definition kind of alluded to what we spoke about in our first meeting on Friday, how community literacy is very much an act of social justice.

      I can totally relate to your feelings of apprehension regarding the emotional toll that hearing these stories and interacting with these individuals who have gone through so much can have on your emotional well-being. I’m a HUGE fan of self-care tactics and I highly recommend you search (or, if you already have searched, come back to) for the routines and activities that you do to take care of yourself when you’re feeling overwhelmed. I’ve found, after volunteering last year in ComCor, that writing in my journal helps me kind of process what I’m feeling and check in with myself. But you’re SO right about the rewards that will come out of Remington House; witnessing the strength, resilience, and intelligence of the kids that you’ll be working with will be nothing short of an incredible gift.

      So excited to work with you this semester, Shelby!

  2. My definition of literacy was limited before reading this article. On a basic level, I thought being literate meant being one was able to read and write. However, after volunteering in the jail last semester, I know that that is not the focus of our Community Literacy Center. It is more about giving voices to marginalized groups and listening to a population who is not a part of the dominant ideologies in our society. The article we read touched on this, but expanded my view of literacy as well. Flower, Long, and Higgins encourage the cultivation of an environment which seems very similar to Invitational Speaking from Communications Studies to me. By their logic, diversity is valued in a local public, as are challenging ideas with questions, and being aware and respectful of our differences. This local public can then serve as a medium for exploring complex issues and assessing various ways in which they could be mended. Literacy in a communal context becomes a little problematic because of the topics explored. In this setting specifically, it will be tricky to balance questioning the world and providing material that relates to my audience without triggering anyone in the room. I want to encourage discussion, but not to anyone’s detriment, which could end up being a fine line. The biggest challenge at my community site will likely be finding something that will appeal to both me and my participants, given that we are a diverse group. The biggest reward that I anticipate at my community site is feeling more comfortable later on with leading the sessions and planning lessons. As of right now, it is a bit daunting to think about because of how unique the format of the session is. It isn’t something I can draw much on from my own experience because it is so different from even my Creative Writing classes. I would love to borrow lessons from my professors on developing craft elements or analyzing poetry, but I doubt that that would be captivating for my audience. I think I need to be more focused on personal exploration and teasing out nonfiction because that is likely going to be more cathartic for this population. The article mentions Heuristics, whereby we create a discourse with others. This seems imperative to the CLC given that generally speaking, the men I will be working with will have had bad experiences with school, so I have to be careful about not making this setting feel like a class. In this sense, it feels like a new medium, and despite having had been in this room and in this setting, I am anxious about mastering it.

    1. Zoe! You are surely going to reap your “biggest reward.” Though if this work ever stops being challenging, we are not doing it right!

      I suggest going ahead and trying once what you say you’d love to try… Borrowing from your professors on analyzing poetry. Adapt it to your group and it could surprise you and the writers!

      Loved reading this, thanks. Your mix of curiosity, experience and anxiety is familiar and a good indicator of real engagement. Brava.

  3. Zoe, hi! I completely relate to all the challenges you mentioned in this post. I think I am just a little nervous because this is my first time working with CLC and, you’re right, it is a very daunting task. I want to make sure everything I presenting and giving attention to only does positive things for those listening! I think, at least for me, I just need to have faith in myself and my abilities that I have learned, even outside of school, to guide me. I also know I have some great people, like yourself, who have done this before, to help me out when I get stuck and guide me through any rough patch that may come. I’m so excited for this opportunity, much like you are yourself! I think one of the biggest things we can all do is help one another out and be a good support system.

  4. Literacy, to me, emcompasses a broad expanse of many different things merging and forming into other things. It’s not only being able to read and write and understand what you’re reading and writing, but it’s also being able to use words (either written or spoken) to communicate from one person to another. Words have been around forever and, I think, so has literacy in its own way. It’s human nature to understand one another through words. Literacy is being able to put forth words in some sort of way to communicate from person to person. It is reading, writing, and speaking. It’s transforming meaning and contextualizing meaning through the words, which, although it may sound complicated, isn’t. But after reading Higgins, Long, and Flower my idea of literacy has expanded and has added a few more layers. As stated above, literacy is a form of communication but unlike the authors of this article I never really thought of literacy being used to change things or discuss problems. I guess I saw rhetoric and literacy on different sides but now I see they can be used together to make something new or change something. By putting literacy and rhetoric together many opinions and thoughts arise, as Higgins, Long, and Flower described. Having many different voices speak on a problem may inspire more change than just chatting with those who may agree. The possibilities then become endless through this combination! I mean, of course, there will be disagreements and that could lead to more problems than necessary. But, I think, pulling all different opinions together may produce a richer outcome than originally thought. Disagreements are bound to happen but literacy and rhetoric may have some fail safes to overcome that. Disagreements generally come from lack of understanding; that is what I am most nervous about as we begin this process. I’m working with youth who have experienced things that I could never even begin to imagine. I won’t be able to fully understand that that may lead to some unwanted tensions. It’ll be a struggle to always keep in mind what these kids have gone through and make sure what I am sharing is useful, not triggering, for them. This is all a new experience so of course I am a little anxious! But at the same time I am so excited for this chance to share my love of words in general with others. I’m unsure exact rewards that may come out of this but I know that the entire experience will have be rewarding in its own ways!

    1. So much of what you have here applies to life in general, too! Here’s to the many voices! Thanks for this insightful response, Laney!

  5. For me, literacy is having the knowledge and skills to successfully understand and interact with a particular way of communicating. In the past I’ve typically thought of this in terms of the applying to different modalites, genres, or specific types of discourse. In light of the work of Flower, Higgins, and Long what my previous definition was truly lacking was the importance of human interaction. That is, the importance of being able to create and interact with communities through which those other types of literacy are enacted. To go beyond an object based view, or a focus on individual’s relationship to knowledge, and see the interpersonal element that makes the transmission of such knowledge possible.

    As Flower, Higgins, and Long note, considering literacy in a community context truly challenges the existing dominance of alphabetic, argument based, and academic ways of knowing and expressing. The shift to championing situated knowledge is not only important, but vital, to understanding concrete realities, and is full of possibility for better understanding our community. Though this shift will likely come with significant challenges, such as creating a productive and supportive environment where previously marginalized ways of knowing are accepted and given their due.

    This year I’ll be working with the women in the Larimer County Detention Center. Much as other interns have noted I think my biggest obstacle will be finding the balance of truly listening and being present to the experiences of others while also avoiding emotional overload or secondhand trauma. Along those lines I’m also concerned with finding the appropriate level of honesty about my own standpoint and experiences without forcing the experiences of others into my personal frame.

    However, I expect the rewards for this work significantly exceed the challenges. I’m incredibly motivated by helping others and the idea of helping someone to feel more comfortable and confident as writer is incredibly exciting. To elevate voices that may not always feel they have a platform as valid and important is critical work. Much as Haraway offers in her work, I feel more voices contributing to a conversation translates to a more complete, accurate, and rich understanding. I’m looking forward to participating in the conversation and enriching (and challenging) my own views as a result. I also really hope that I’ll be able to highlight the multitude of literacies these women have already mastered and in so doing make other new or intimidating literacies seem more approachable.

    1. You, and several, comment on the possibility of emotional overload. This is a real concern, and we turn to the cliched term of “self care” time and again, but find it is essential! More to follow on this.

      I love that you mention challenging your own views! Yes! A lot of this happens and it is rich and wonderful.

      Welcome, Kelly!

  6. When I was asked on the application to write about what the definition of “literacy” meant to me, I was stumped. I looked at traditional definitions, some newer ideas concerning literacy, but ended it summing the term to more than just reading and writing; it was understanding the communication around an individual as well, which is subjective. Even then, I wasn’t sold on my answer, but it was enough then. Reading Flower’s essay and her expansion on the collaboration that goes into community literacy brought a greater appreciation and even viewpoint to literacy. “Community literacy was… a way for people to acknowledge each other’s multiple forms of expertise through talk and text and to draw on their differences as a resource for addressing shared problems (Peck, Flower, and Higgins 205).” Having an eclectic group of people striving together to make a difference means so much more than just attempting to teach the ability to read and write, and that is a definition I hope to use. We have to remember what makes a community, and that is more than just students and business people and happy neighborhoods; communities are filled with kids who haven’t had as many opportunities, with people both on and off paper in the criminal justice system, and we all together represent a community. As such, it’s important to consider how literacy will impact all of us, and the steps that will be needed to achieve that goal.
    But with those other populations that are often overlooked or ignored (using LCJ for example), expressing the importance of community literacy is hard. When I tell people that I will be running a workshop with the men at the jail, I’m often asked why, and it’s hard for me to respond, not for the reasons of why I would, but for every reason why I wouldn’t. Along the way kids and adults alike get lost in the system somewhere, and I know that writing is absolutely a way to help them find themselves. Expressing that to people who don’t understand that, and who don’t think people who have committed crimes or been addicts deserve help is one of the greatest and most problematic stigmas that occurs in society, and I think it’s one that will continue to be preventative in reaching a common goal of community literacy.
    Working at the jail, I think my biggest challenge will be keeping distinction from my job and my internship, because there are crossovers between ComCor and LCJ. I think maintaining the balance will be much easier as time goes on (especially as others have done it before), and trying to make sure I have writing exercises that all writers feel in touch with.
    The greatest reward? Easily the response that I know will come from these writers who are getting to come to a place, not as inmates or criminals or volunteers, but as writers. I’ve seen how workshop can challenge and create growth and break and build a person, as I’ve had all of those things happen through writing. At the end of the day, there is nothing better than the recognition that we can come from different places, different families, different circumstances, but we are all writers, and we can all be saved through writing.

  7. AHHH I finally got it to work! So sorry for the delay, everyone.
    To me, community literacy has to do with creating a sense of greater understanding and appreciation of each other’s views and values more than anything else. Through literacy and the accumulation of knowledge as it relates to reading and writing, individuals not only increase their intellectual repertoire and stores of information, but they also learn to think critically and in unique ways, possibly in ways different from their peers.

    I really like how this piece takes the perspective of community literacy as a tool used for social action. Because that’s exactly what we’re trying to do with the communities that we work with in SpeakOut. It creates change. However, some problems that might be raised when literate acts are considered in community contexts could be surrounding the mentor/prompter expecting to “fix” problems that they see or trying to change others (most likely with good intentions!) when, in all reality, people can only help and change themselves. Mentoring and fostering growth are great roles for literacy leaders, but we can’t do all of the work ourselves and for others, as it wouldn’t be fair or sustainable for us or those we’re trying to help. I like the idea of “inquiry” that the article promotes as well. Without curiosity or exploration, how are we, as a community, able to find what works for us and what we’re interested in? This could be the source of another challenge as well, though. Do these individuals, coming from such diverse and sometimes rather difficult backgrounds, believe that they can contribute to this pursuit of change? To someone who hasn’t had many options or opportunities available to them in life, this task may seem incredibly daunting, so much so that he or she feels the desire to abandon such a quest. It’s also important to note that in order to spread ideas and start a conversation about what a community is needing or what would be helpful to accomplish within the group, discussion needs to happen. Active discussion, in which those affected by the discussion are voicing their opinions, needs, and concerns. This is difficult to do! How to establish trust and create a comfortable, safe environment to share will be difficult tasks as well. This is the largest challenge that I expect to face at my community site. Breaking down those walls and letting go of fear of judgment is a difficult task for anyone, especially when you’re in a space where creativity, vulnerability, and feelings are involved.

    However, after talking so much about the potential problems that one could face, it’s very important to speak about all of the good that could be accomplished as well. Diverse people sharing their diverse experiences is such a gift and an incredibly important facet of problem-solving and making positive change in a community. Seeing relationships form between those who share and contribute is very humbling as well. The collective group wisdom gained is priceless and precious. This is a rewarding experience that I anticipate witnessing at my community site. I can’t tell you the incredible surprises that come out of these groups and sessions—the creativity, the emotion, the intelligence, and the wisdom. It’s truly amazing.

    1. I love that you touched on the problem with phrasing the problems with community literacy as “fixing” it, because it implies issue, and brokenness, and that’s simply not how change will be successful. You’re exactly right; people have to want to change, and want to address community literacy, and that’s something I think SpeakOut! provides in workshop.
      I share the same concerns about creating a space where the writers feel comfortable sharing their experiences and stories, especially as we don’t share many of the same backgrounds and pasts. However, I look forward to creating an eclectic group with the writers, and seeing how our diversity can create a unique group!

      Thanks for sharing!

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