In Jerrie Cobb Scott's article about literacy deficits she says that deficit pedagogy exists because "It is reasonable to assume that we have either failed to get to the root of the problem or refused to accept the explanations offered" (LE, 205). She says this in reply to Mike Rose’s ideas about “students on the boundary.” However it seems to me that her statement is a little too restricting, which is odd because she takes great pains to point out that the definition of literacy is too narrow. “The root” and “the problem,” as she states in her quote, imply that there is only one problem and if we could just find the answer, all would be well. She also implies with this statement that we might already know the answer, but we have decided to not accept the explanations offered.
In writing this argument, I see that scene from Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy where Deep Thought tells the beings that the answer to life, the universe and everything is 42. There was only one answer, but they didn’t like it and went in search of something better; the ultimate question. Perhaps we have not asked ourselves the right question yet. Are we coming up with answers for which we do not know the question?
Scott says that there are two reasons we are still teaching “deficits” when it comes to basic writing. First, is our narrow definition of literacy and second is our resistance to changing our ways of instruction (205).
Her argument about the narrow definition of literacy is that we tend to define it in simplistic terms such as “the ability to read and write.” She broadens the definition to something along the lines of one being able to function within society or “the act of socially transforming oneself to the level of active participation in and creation of a culture” (206). I pose this question: Is it essential for one to be able to read and write in order to be able to actively participate in a culture?
In our culture, the answer is: absolutely. How do you function, let’s say, in a grocery store without knowing how to read the prices on the shelf, without knowing which bill is which denomination (the colors help a little, but that isn’t always the case), how would one write a check? Participation in and creation of our culture requires a minimal literacy of the “restrictive" reading and writing definition.
The person shopping for groceries must not only be literate in the reading and writing sense, but must be literate in societal ways in order to successfully get groceries. Thus, we need BOTH kinds of literacy. Especially in a society and culture that depends so much on written communication that is has even developed mores to go along with written communication (such as sending out invitations, RSVP-ing, sending thank you notes, etc).
In a classroom, we focus on one kind of literacy, the ability to read and write. Why then does Scott feel the need to take literacy outside the classroom? Is it not the classroom in which we seek to develop the literacy of reading and writing? Her argument seems to be taken out of context in order to "broaden" the definition of literacy.
Scott’s other point, which I will touch only briefly, is that we are resistant to changing the ways in which we instruct. If we do not have the answer, why should we blindly change our instructional ways? Scott says we, “know more about the negative attitudes than how to change the,” (208). In this, she is correct, we can see the attitudes, but we just aren’t sure how to change them. She does give us a few theories on how to create a better learning environment and states that we need to create a “comfort zone that facilitates interactions across groups” (211). However, can we truly do this if our students are unwilling? For every teacher out there with a negative attitude, there is a student to match. Perhaps our students are just as resistant to change as we are.
The final question that Scott’s article left me to ponder is this: How then, do we change our thinking and ideas so that students and teachers alike can see literacy as more than just reading and writing, and what steps can we take to begin merging the definitions as well as changing attitudes?