Literacy sponsors

In Literacy in American Lives (fyi: we read the essay that preceded the book), Deborah Brandt defines “sponsors” in the following ways:

“…any agents, local or distant, concrete or abstract, who enable, support, teach, and model, as well as recruit, regulate, suppress, or withhold, literacy—and gain advantage by it in some way…. Sponsors set the terms for access to literacy and wield powerful incentives for compliance and loyalty. Sponsors are delivery systems for the economies of literacy, the means by which these forces present themselves to—and through—individual learners.” (19)

Consider the issue of “sponsoring” discussed by Deborah Brandt in light of your upcoming community literacy work. Tobi’s essay on women’s writing workshops offers one example of the complexities of sponsoring literacy behind bars.

What might it mean to sponsor the literacy of a writer/learner at your site? What implications can you anticipate? How might your own literacy be sponsored by the writers/learners you’ll work with?


13 thoughts on “Literacy sponsors

  1. I was eager to do this reading and blog post for several reasons. Firstly, one of the selected articles was written by Tobi! I was so excited to read something that she’d written and published and I was so impressed by her knowledge, eloquence, and analysis of the importance of placing a feminist, critical pedagogy in places with repressed underrepresented populations, like prisons and halfway houses. Secondly, I think asking who is “sponsoring” literacy, especially in our program, is a great question to discuss. There are so many moving parts involved in these workshops (and the CLC in general) and I think it would do us (or at least me!) well to deliberate about who the stakeholders are here and who is benefitting from these programs.
    I resonated with a lot of points Brandt made about how access to literacy is created and maintained by sponsors. When first reading the prompt and considering my site at Community Corrections, I immediately first thought about the “higher ups” at LCJ that allow us to have these programs every week. Brandt writes, “Sponsors are a tangible reminder that literacy learning throughout history has always required permission, sanction, assistance, coercion…” and refers to sponsors as “delivery systems for the economies of literacy” (Brandt, 167). In Tobi’s piece, she touches on the importance of getting executive permission from prison boards (or other committees that run similar programs), asserting, “The challenge in imagining and implementing progressive prison programs that will make possible…social change is maintain approval and sponsorship from the host prison/jail, a task wrought with complexity” (Jacobi, 113). At Comm. Corr., a lot of moving factors affect how, where, and when the writers will have access to literacy. The staff of LCJ, the other writers, individuals in the milieu, program rules and regulations, the governing board—all of these factors influence how we’ll have access to literacy. And I’m using the pronoun “we’ll” because I believe that we, though facilitators, are affected by this form of sponsorship. Though I’ll get to discuss how we ourselves act as sponsors, we are still gaining literacy through our participation in the workshops and the CLC. I also want to note that it’s important for us, as facilitators and members of the CLC, to trust the ethics of our sponsors that allow us to do work and make sure that we have similarly aligned values and goals (i.e. literacy). But while the LCJ board is a great economic sponsor of the writers’ literacy, there are many more sponsors involved, from the authors of the pieces we use to give prompts to the writers to the company that prints and binds the book for us at the end of the semester to the reader that picks one of the books up from the library! It feels as though, to me, anyone who lends a hand or has passion for what’s being done through Speak Out is a sponsor for the program and for literacy as well!
    I also believe that my own literacy is sponsored by many individuals, including my fellow interns, the volunteers, Tobi, Mary Ellen, the English Department, and the writers at the workshop. We all have stake in each other’s work and practices and have the resources and abilities to help facilitate change and inspire literacy. I’ll most definitely learn from others, whether it be a volunteer’s creative prompt-delivery approach or hearing an inspiring poem by a woman in the workshop who misses her son, and others, I hope will learn something from me. Therefore, we can establish a sort of “sponsorship of reciprocity” during the semester, if you will!
    And while we are one of the many sponsors of the writers’ literacy journey, I think it’s an incredible honor to be a part of that process. It’s a little scary—I’m not going to lie. I don’t pretend to know what I’m doing so to have people put trust in me as a sponsor for their literacy journey is kind of intimidating. But, at the same time, what a gift! So many wonderful, brilliant people have acted as sponsors for me on my literacy journey, and it would be so amazing to play a similar role in someone else’s.

    1. Emilia,

      I really resonate with what you said about it being a huge honor to be one of the sponsors for the literacy of the people we are working with, and at the same time how it can be scary. I definitely feel the same way as it is a big responsibility we have.

      I also very much appreciate what you said about the reciprocity of our sponsorship that is possible! I think it is extremely important to learn as much as we can from each other and from the writers during this process and to keep it in the forefront of our minds.

      1. I think for as long as we do this — it will always be “a little scary” — in that we feel so deeply our responsibility as sponsors! It’s a good scary.

    2. This is so thought-provoking: the image you translate of the many-faceted pieces that come together for the one, pure moment of creative literacy that happens once a week (and that seems so simple as we do it… “write.”) So much to it — you’re already practiced at making it come together so well.

      Glad you can engage in the process as an intern this year!

  2. First of all, I would like to say that I thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated both of these pieces. They are both extremely well written and put into words a lot of feelings and ideas I already had, but hadn’t fully realized, about the inequities in this country and how acts such as writing can be used to empower the people who are hurt the most by them.
    Before reading “Sponsors of Literacy” I had never thought about literacy in terms of sponsors but I can now appreciate their diversity and how they can affect (positively or negatively) not only the literacy of individuals, but of our society as a whole. I also didn’t realize how significantly literacy, and the lack thereof, has the power to impact inequality in our society.
    To sponsor the literacy of a writer in CommCorr for me is truly an honor. The fact that many of these people have probably had negative experiences (or a lack of positive experiences) with literacy sponsors and schooling in general but are still willing to give it another chance is incredible. For us as literacy sponsors to be able to hopefully change the way they interact with it and put it into a more positive light is such a unique opportunity and I am excited to be a part of that. It is an important duty that we have and it is important for me not to take it lightly. Quoting Brandt, “changes in individual literacy experiences relate to larger scale transformations” and being part of a literacy sponsor to these individuals is having a much bigger impact that I realized, which I think is amazing. The writers may use what they learn through writing to benefit themselves and in turn benefit the society as a whole. If they learn to use writing as a positive outlet they may pass that on to other peers and maybe even their kids one day.
    As Brandt states in her article, “encounters with literacy sponsors… can be sites for the innovative rerouting of resources into projects of self development and social change”. I anticipate that this semester’s workshops, as the one’s I’ve done in the past, will foster this rerouting of resources into self development for a lot of the writers and for myself. Over the past few semesters that I have been volunteering with SpeakOut! my own experience with literacy has been changed significantly. I had gotten so used to writing pieces for school like research papers that I didn’t look forward to that I had forgotten all the ways that it could be a positive experience for me. Doing the SpeakOut workshops with the writers retaught me how enjoyable, and valuable of a tool it could be and inspired me to start writing for my own benefit. I expect this to continue this semester, as I have been continually inspired by doing these workshops.

    1. Bree,
      I never really thought about literacy in terms of ‘sponsors’ either, these texts were eye opening! It’s not usually something thought to in regards to literacy. When I think of sponsors I think of like athletes who are sponsored by like Monster energy drinks or Coca-Cola you know? But Brandt brought up some points about sponsorship that completely changed my perspective on sponsorship and literacy as a whole. I didn’t really think that I, myself, would be a sponsor for literacy and how by being that sponsor I hopefully can bring about some sort of change. Reading and writing are like my home away from home and it is truly and honor to be able to share that with others and help others hopefully find a new place they feel welcome.


    The term “sponsor” is one I had not initially considered when preparing for the upcoming workshop, but after reading Brandt’s “Sponsors of Literacy”, it’s one that I feel is appropriate to add in the work we are doing through SpeakOut!. Brandt writes, “They [Sponsors] lend their resources or credibility to the sponsored, but also stand to gain benefits from their success, whether by direct repayment or, indirectly, by credit of association” (Brandt 167). We’ve spoken about the horizontal hierarchy in our meetings, and about the lack of distinct power roles in the workshops; we are not divided by students and teacher, but as writers on the same plane working toward a common goal; to be heard. As such, we have the opportunity to learn just as much from the writers we are working with, and the benefit is clearly not any payment or gain of social representation, but with the connections we make in the writing groups. Tobi mentioned that our work is more than just volunteering; we are working in activism, in social justice, and the rewards of knowing that we have contributed to a group that lack many of the resources we have available are limitless.

    I think it is so necessary to identify the class differential that often exists between the sponsor and the sponsored; poverty is a root cause for much of the education deficit that Brandt discusses, as these people do not have access to resources that can further their education, especially as we’re moving toward an era that relies so heavily on technology by means of learning. “As ordinary citizens have been compelled into these economies, their reading and writing skills have grown sharply more central to the everyday trade of information and goods as well as to the pursuit of education, employment, civil rights, status. At the same time, people’s literate skills have grown vulnerable to unprecedented turbulence in their economic value, as conditions, forms, and standards of literacy achievement seem to shift with almost every new generation of learners” (Brandt 166). With the upcoming workshop, I look forward to meeting and learning more about the writers, because they can teach us so many things. One of the most valuable opportunities in this life is to hear people’s stories, to understand how different every individual story can be, and to relate to others. These writers, the sponsored, have just as much to offer us, and that reciprocation is what makes SpeakOut! successful.

    I’m all about expanding opportunities for writing. My volunteers and I have decided that each week, we’ll each pick a quote that we like, or that ties into the prompts at hand, so we can expand the literature and knowledge of writers each week. The really cool thing about the volunteers is that they’re sponsoring myself as well, as I’m sponsoring them. The growth we can experience through literacy is infinite, and I look forward to starting this upcoming week! We are all teachers, and I want to learn as much as I can.

  4. Sponsoring as Deborah Brandt describes it seems to be constantly evolving, and I think that we’ll find this to be the case in the communities we are in as well. In Brandt’s initial historical analysis of literacy, she discusses Protestant Sunday Schools in England and how these schools initially had limitations for what they offered. However, as time went on, “…working-class families…insistently…demanded of their Sunday Schools more instruction, including writing and math, because it provided a means for upward mobility(Brandt, 168)”. While I do not forsee us taking on these specific roles in our literacy work, I think that this transformation will be the case for us as well. It’s difficult to know what to expect of our job as sponsors and what exactly our role will be, because depending on those who are coming to the workshops and the feedback we’re receiving, the nature of the workshops will change. Even though I sort of know what to expect having been a volunteer in the same community last semester, I think that every workshops group will be different and have a different dynamic and needs. I do think that our sponsorship os literacy will be in-line with Deborah Brandt’s definition. She makes the claim that there is, “A statistical correlation between high literacy achievement and high socioeconomic, majority-race status…(Brandt, 170)”. As sponsors of literacy, we know this firsthand and this is something that we need to take into consideration when working with the populations we are writing with. We get to bring this privileged education that we have had the opportunity of having to people who may not have had the same opportunities. That could be incredibly beneficial for these populations. I know I treasured the ability to have anyone teach me about Creative Writing because that type of literacy education was not available to me until high school, but as Tobi’s article points out, we have to be cognizant of the potential negative experiences that our participants will have had with institutions of education, so it can’t be too technical. That seems like a potentially fine line, but one that I think we will become more familiar with as we try different exercises in our workshops. Brandt delves into this further when she says, “Sponsors enable and hinder literacy activity, often forcing the formation of new literacy requirements while decrying older ones(Brandt, 178-179)”. This quote stresses the importance of diversifying topics, which will certainly be relevant in the jail for me because the backgrounds of everyone in the room are so varied. This might pose a bit of an issue for me as a facilitator because I have grown up gathering knowledge about the classical literary canon, which is exclusive and not very diverse. Finding works outside of this canon may be a challenge for me. The remaining things that came to mind for me were how the issues in Tobi’s essay will apply or change for me since my population is not women and if there is a way to study the impact the of SpeakOut!. Jacobi’s article says, “…we have not conducted formal studies about impact(Jacobi, 121)”, and I wonder if that is something we should be doing, and how we would even go about collecting that data if we decided that should be a focus.

    1. I agree with you about how to facilitate workshop while keeping that background of education at the top of my mind. It’s necessary for success, but difficult when, as you’ve pointed out, our experiences with literature in traditional settings is “exclusive and not very diverse.” I love that you pointed out studying the work that we’re doing; it’s difficult to find data that suggest benefit beyond the group, especially once the writers leave the workshop, and they’re hard to keep in contact with. As a psych student, that’s something I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about, and perhaps we can find a way to obtain statistical data later that can be used in presentation for grants and future publication.
      Thanks for sharing!

  5. “Sponsor, as I have come to think of them, are any agents, local or distant, concrete or abstract, who enable, support, teach, as well as recruit . . . and gain advantage by it in some way” (Brandt,166). I have never ever thought of sponsors in regards to literacy. Sponsors in my mind have always been big companies with money to pay athletes to compete and perform. They have been the logos that have marked up clothing, skis and snowboards, and cars – that is what sponsorship has always been to me. That is what I think of when I hear that word. But, Brandt opened up an entire new world of sponsorship to me. Who would have thought sponsors could be such an integral part of literacy? Not me, that’s for sure. However, Brandt makes sense. In this quickly changing world literacy has pushed to keep up. New ways of communication and writing and reading have sprouted out in recent times in this effort to stay afloat. And who are the people who teach or create or model these new models, sponsors. Brandt says literacy has opened new opportunities that have pressured it to change. And it has.
    This change has become evident to me through the Community Learning Center and Speakout! Times are changing and people are changing with them and everyone must constantly be learning about new literacy. And that’s not necessarily a negative thing. Actually, the opportunity to be a sponsor of literacy, of new and changing communication, is huge! The youth I am working with don’t want to be exposed to this kind of literacy, they don’t want to write. And I can’t make them. But as a sponsor I can hope to encourage them to at least try. I am giving them opportunities they didn’t have before to open up, to share, to communicate. They might not want to listen at first but I hope that eventually they will connect with what Speakout is doing and find a place within literacy they didn’t know they could live in. It’s crazy for me to think about these kids and their experiences with literacy in comparison to mine and how different it might be. And not only because I have been educated my entire life I take pride in the learning I did in high school, the literacy I gained in high school. I went to an Expeditionary Learning school, which is target based, hands on, creative, critical learning for 21st century needs. I learned how to make a fire in a snowstorm and how to write a paper about how only eating bunnies would kill you. Heatstroke and hypothermia are terms I am familiar with and know how to fix. I know how to present my learning in a 30 minute presentation to PSD board members and community members. The literacy I learned at my school changed me as a person and as a learner. It opened me up. I am hoping with these kids I can bring in expeditionary learning techniques to help them come out of their shell. I’m hoping by letting them lead their workshop and helping us create an environment they want to be in they will come out of their shell. These kids are going to be tough to work with, if I’m being honest, but Polaris (my high school) taught me that we are nothing without a little challenge and risk taking leads to wonderful results. I’m not saying it’ll be easy but I’m saying I’m ready and I hope the kids will share this experience and find their own literacy and sponsor their own literacy one day. I’m hoping they are ready for it.

  6. Brandt’s definition of literacy sponsors is a little concerning for me as I attempt to think of myself as a sponsor. Specifically, her assertion that “Sponsors set the terms for access to literacy and wield powerful incentives for compliance and loyalty” (emphasis added, p 19). After reading this sentence initially I had to take a few moments to let the totality of it set in. Compliance felt like such a heavy word and in this context carried a very negative connotation for me. After more reflection, I think this comes back to concern over how much agency has already been stripped from the women at the Larimer County Jail, and, moreover, how uncomfortable I am with further contributing to that.

    My experience with creative writing has been one of freedom, of exploration and the search for authenticity. An avenue and a commitment to finding my own personal truths. As such, it is hard to reframe this thing I see as so liberating into a force of indoctrination and complicity. Perhaps with academic or more rigid (and less inclusive) forms of discourse, but certainly not with my beloved creative outlets.

    Thinking critically, however, that is certainly not the case. By virtue of the ideas we present, the readings we quote, and the framing of prompts we are highlighting certain ideas and deflecting attention away from others. And, thus, we will be favoring certain worldviews and conceptions of what writing is and what it does. The centering of these constructs (and the absence of others) will naturally encourage compliance and inspire loyalty to the representations offered.

    Admittedly, this makes me extremely uncomfortable, and yet I am very thankful for Brandt’s assertions here. This discomfort will likely serve an important guiding force while navigating how to present information in workshop. The crux of the issue does not need to be on whether compliance is good or bad, because regardless of its morality compliance will be. Rather, we should concern ourselves with whether or not the things to which we comply are deserving of our assent. Are the ideas we sponsor deserving of this loyalty and are we aware of the frames we are constructing?

    In light of all this, here’s an incomplete list of questions I’ll need to ask myself as a sponsor of literacy: Am I engaging with as many different genres, voices, and worldviews as possible? Am I adequately highlighting access to available resources such as the library and outside publication opportunities? Am I centering and honoring the interests and goals of the writers so that their compliance and loyalty will ultimately be to their own needs and curiosities?

  7. What it might means to me to sponsor the literacy of writers at my site is to support the kids and their creativity. I want to encourage their creative thoughts and empower the voices. Writing can be really healing tool and it’s something that you, yourself as a write is in charge of. A lot of the writers I work with did/do not have control over their situation, but they do have control over what they write and how they feel. Writing can be a special place where nobody can tell you what you are feeling is wrong. It’s your thoughts your feelings and lets take those emotions and run with them. Every situation and every moment is perceived differently to someone else. As writers we have the ability to share that with others and open new perspective on a situation. Also, want my writers to feel that they have a safe place and make share it is free of judgment. The implications I can anticipate is the negative attitude associated with writing and school. I can anticipate that the youth does not have the best experience with writing and that they think it is boring. I think challenge will be to establish that the workshop is not a school setting, but a place where you can be yourself and be creative. I think my own literacy might be sponsored in when participating in the writing activities and sharing my own work out loud. When reading my writing out loud I can actually hear what I am saying and being able to actually process my emotions/feelings. I think I will realize how much power is contributed when actually hearing someones work verse just reading it. I think my writers can sponsor me by providing me space to focus on my own experiences, being to heal, and to learn even more about myself. Also, to learn the impact we have on one anther and how we all impact each other growth in some way rather that be positive or negative. I hope to be the person that have positive impact on others and be able to be the best version of myself.

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