“The reading wars in situ”

James Collins


Engaging Raymond Williams’ argument (1977: 112) that “[a] lived hegemony is always a process ... [that] can never be singular,” this paper examines contrary tendencies toward domination and autonomy in national debates about education, classroom-based reading practices, and students’ formation of literate identities. In particular, I explore the dynamics of inequality and reflexivity through an ethnographic-and-discursive analysis of a US urban middle school undergoing pedagogical reform. The school presents a balance, roughly 50/50, of students living in poverty and not living in poverty and from majority and non-majority ethnoracial backgrounds. Because of statewide pressures to “improve test scores,” the school has agreed to an ambitious English Language Arts curriculum initiative which encourages reflexive self-guidance among teachers and students. The paper presents analyses of public debates about literacy and of classroom interactional dynamics as well as case studies of ‘struggling readers,’ that is, young adolescent deemed unsuccessful at school literacy. The analysis of literacy debates focuses on the displacement of class and race “effects” in discussions of pedagogical reform. The classroom analyses focus on conditions of pedagogical inclusion and exclusion and the apparent role of class, race, and gender in such conditions. The case studies focus on the articulation of school and non-school literate identities and the role of class, race, and gender in those identities and their articulation.

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