Frederick Douglas Theories Differ on

Graff Asserts that literacy played a less significant role in the industrialization of American than was one thought. He argues that training people to read and write was not enough. Literacy alone was not enough to advance the industrialized nation (Cattau).

Douglas did not need to know how to read to perform his job in the shipyard. He only needed to know how to write four letters. He did not need to how to read and write proficiently. The workforce may have needed little bits of knowledge to perform their jobs, but this is different from being able to read and write fluently, which supports Graffs ideas on the importance of reading and writing to the industrial age. It relied more on the availability of a workforce, rather than the need for a literate workforce. The only ones that needed to learn to read and write were the managers and business owners. Literacy was not necessary for the average laborer.

Scribner and Cole analyzed the affects of three literacies, English schooling, Quran studies, and traditional Via script on various cognitive skills (Scribner and Cole, 1981). This study found that each of these literacy skills affected a different type of cognitive skill. One of the most significant findings of Scribner and Coles work is that school learning is not dependent on the ability to read and write (Scribner and Cole, 1981). Most of the slaves in Douglass time were unable to read and write, a privilege that had been intentionally denied them. However, they still had the ability to learn many tasks that were complicated and required great cognitive skill. The labor force of the 1800s was able to perform their job without the ability to read and write. Another example is the number of non-English speaking Chinese who build the rail system. They did not need to know how to read and write to do their job / Yet, collectively they built the infrastructure that gave America the edge.

Brandt felt that written language led to social and cognitive literacies. However, Akinnaso felt that culture could have a significant impact on textual literacy. The difference in these two opposing views is the direction of the relationship between culture and literacy. Where Brandt believes that literacy builds culture, Akinnaso believes that culture builds literacy. Brandt adheres to the sociohistorical explanation of literacy where oral and literate traditions are blended. Akinnaso did not feel that these traditions were always blended, but felt that culture was sometimes separate from literacy.

Regardless of ones position of the interconnection between culture and literacy, looking into the world of Douglas makes some significant points. Douglas would never separate himself from the African traditions and the slave culture that were his world. However, when he learned to read, he entered the world of the slave masters. He became exposed to a side of white culture that had been hidden from him when he was an illiterate slave. Illiteracy created cultural and social isolation between slaves and whites. One could agree with Brandt in that the ability to read and write led to social and cognitive literacies. Through learning to read, Douglas opened his mind to another culture that existed within a society. He learned about the abolitionists and about the ideals that Anglo-centric slavers held about Blacks. Through reading, Douglas gained a new level of social awareness. The culture of the slave, and many other ethnic groups, existed without literacy. Cultural literacy was gained through the act of reading, but literacy was not necessary for the existence of a certain culture.

One could also find support in Douglas story for Akinnasos theories as well. Akinnaso believed that culture built literacy, but did not necessarily believe that oral and literate traditions were blended. In Douglas writing, one can see elements of black culture and the attitudes held by slaves, particularly the hopelessness and despair. However, elements of African oral tradition are absent in his writing. Douglas mimics the writing of white authors, which served as his only example from which to learn. Douglas did not have access to black writings, therefore his tone and style are more like that of whites at the time. The African dialect and oral traditions are absent, but slave attitudes and ideas are still intact. The writings of Douglas are formal in tone, with long sentences and a flowing style.

Miriam Sved debates the role of creative writing and its importance in academic circles.

One of the most hotly debated topics is the relevance of art to politics and social forces that are alive in society, arguing against the stifling of creative and expressive forces (Sved). The account of Douglass journey to beat the system and to learn to read justify this position. The ability to read, and perhaps write, provided the means for the slave to express themselves. They had a means to communicate their ideas and their plight. Literacy gave slaves the ability to transcend their own situation and to strive to achieve something higher. Douglass essay supports Sveds argument that stifling creativity is a form of social repression.

Defining the Strategies that Douglas used to read and Write

Frederick Douglas went against ideals of society that forbid blacks and other ethnic groups from learning to read and write. His master and mistress violently opposed his desire to read and write. His first efforts to read were through a nurturing tutoring relationship. However, after this opportunity was violently taken away from him, he had to resort to secrecy. He had to sneak a glance at the newspaper whenever he could, learning what little he know to extrapolate meanings. Douglas had to use extreme cunning to learn to read. He had to resort to bribes, such as bribing schoolboys with bread. He had to resort to trickery, such as taunting the school boys so that they had to “prove” to him what they knew.

He learned to read through repetition and practice. His first efforts were through memorization of the alphabet. Douglas does not go into detail about how he was taught the alphabet, but extrapolating what we know about learning during that time, it was likely with rote memorization. Douglas gives clues as to some of the methods that he used to learn to read and write, even though he does not explicitly state them.

Once Douglas mastered the alphabet, some rudimentary word recognition skills, and the alphabet through rote teaching, he then could use these skills to sort out the context of words that he did not know. Douglas obtained a book and bribed school boys to sneak in quick lessons whenever he could. Douglas had to learn to pick up little bits and pieces of information and then practice until his next chance to learn. Practice was his key tool in learning to read. Douglas learned to write in much the same manner, he had to learn to write four letters in order to perform his job at the shipyard. He learned to write these first four letters through repetition and practice. From there he learned by copying the writing of another, practicing until he got it right. Practice and repetition were the keys to learning to read and write. Douglas journey teaches us the value of repetition and practice in the ability to read and write.

The most relevant point about Douglass ability to read and write, in the context of literacy theories, is that both the ability to read and the ability to write requires the intervention of someone else. Douglas had to have a tutor to teach him the alphabet. The first tutoring relationship was a formal arrangement between the mistress and him. The second tutor was informal, his boss at the shipyard. One would not normally consider the boss at the shipyard to be a tutor, but he had to teach Douglas to write the four letters before he could do his job. Douglas had to have someone start him out, even though he learned on his own after that.

The necessity of this relationship is often underestimated in the learning environment, but it stresses the social element in the ability to learn to read and write. This is the same element present when a mother reads the first book to her child and teaches the child that reading is a positive social experience. The child associates reading with cuddling and social interaction. Douglas had much the same social experience with his first tutor. They would spend time together interacting in a positive manner. When she was tutoring him, she treated him as human. When the tutoring stopped, so did the humanity of their relationship. The relationship degraded when the tutoring ceased. This supports the existence of a social aspect to literacy.

Once the groundwork was laid, Douglas had to learn much on his own. He learned to read the.


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