Weekly Featured Writers

Each week, 1-2 people will curate the ideas and writing from our class into a featured blog. We will use these blogs to connect with colleagues outside our course.

Dr. Kim Jaxon

Website: kimjaxon.com/me

Office Hours Fall 2022 by appointment.

Email: kjaxon@csuchico.edu

Category: updates

Brooke Kenney: Curated Blog for Week 5

Brooke Kenney: Curated Blog for Week 5

Have you ever recommended a book for someone to read? Have you ever published or posted some aspect of your writing? Have you even re-tweeted a political opinion? Congratulations! You’re a literary sponsor. I know this seems like a huge responsibility and that’s exactly what our class discussed this week as we dove into Deborah Brandt’s “Sponsors of Literacy” and Bruno Latour’s “Third Source of Uncertainty: Objects too Have Agency” inspecting who counts as a literary sponsor, how the objects we use shape our experience with literature, and how sponsors use objects to their advantage (consciously or not). 

Let me rewind the tapes a bit so we can look at how sponsors began to evolve due to the ever advancing technology around us. Well, way back when, there was a great defeat of the printer as we know it. The mighty steam press came in and slaughtered the printer, wiggling its  flag down and taking over the economy of the print industry. With the steam press came capital outlay and with that: the death of the independent press. This shift in working conditions moved to reflect literacy as a consumer product. While reading and writing were valued as a skill of expression and connection, it soon became valued for capital gain. So, this push in schools to obtain “basic literacy skills” is really a hidden agenda for getting a contribution to the economy. As the saying goes: Ask not what literacy can do for you, ask what you can do for literacy . . . or something like that. The steam press allowed for print to be made more accessible (because it made publishing more profitable) and therefore, the form of literacy sponsorship had been altered. 

What is a literacy sponsor anyway? Brandt defines a literacy sponsor as “any agents, local or distant, concrete or abstract, who enable, support, teach, model, as well as recruit, regulate, suppress, or withhold literacy. . .” and this is the most important part, “. . . and gain advantage by it in some way,” (166). Brandt also has a great analogy to understand this by comparing sponsorship to TV. Just like how tv shows are sponsored by companies and corporations for their own benefit, so do sponsors of literacy. So, literacy became valued for monetary gain instead of helping society at large. This leads to Brandt’s second definition of sponsors as “delivery systems for the economies of literacy, the means by which these forces present themselves, to and through individual learners,” (167). Sponsors = delivery systems.

Brandt acknowledges and calls out these sponsors through her research on the “ordinary” American and their journey through reading and writing. The way we are taught to read and write shapes us as individuals and how we then in turn, become sponsors ourselves, even if it is just to your own child. The lengths people will go to “secure literacy for themselves or their children” really props up literacy as a tool of power, (169). This naturally creates competition, each individual fighting for a space in the world, a place to wiggle in their flag and declare their voice be heard for some sort of reason of gain. This kind of competition however, has shown the crucial need for access to the right kind of sponsors. Brandt looks at this through various case studies, one being the case of Raymond Branch and Dora Lopez. Both living in the same Illinois town, Raymond had copious amounts of sponsorship access with his dad being a professor while Dora had to fight tooth and nail to even keep hold of magazines to learn about her heritage. While Raymond had access to more evolved tools and more powerful sponsors, Dora was resource poor as an ethnic minority female even though they were in the same town at the same time. Their experience with literacy looked a lot different due to access to money and people. The main idea around this is that each individual’s literacy practices are functioning in different economies, which yield various degrees of sponsor powers and therefore, different monetary worth. 

The effects of sponsors can be put simply: 

  1. Facilitate access and opportunity to literacy 
  2. Create competition for literary advantage 

Brandt concludes on the idea that while we study individuals “in pursuit of literacy, we also recognize how literacy is in pursuit of them,” (183). So, the agency of sponsors plays a role in the given success of the learner. 

But what else has agency? Latour argues that objects in fact, hold a lot of it. If you read Cassidy’s blog last week, you know this was a rather large debate in our classroom. We looked into Latour because Brandt and Clinton were using him as an example to paint literacy as a thing and show its “thingness.”

I’m going to use Latour’s definition of ANT (Actor Network Theory) that describes it as “an association between entities which are in no way recognizable as being social in the ordinary manner except during the brief moment when they are reshuffled together,” (65) but I do prefer Tim’s reference to The Big Lebowski that he used, “it’s like . . . all fluid man.” Humans and objects are fluid in the world together, one not being able to exist without the other. 

Latour is reminding us that we would be nothing without objects and to not neglect their importance in our system of literacy practices and events. It is “always things. . . that lend their ‘steely’ quality to the hapless society,” (68). If objects are not actors in this space we live in then we would be able to solely act in society by the magical force of society alone. An example Latour uses is that “railings help keep kids from falling” meaning that if a kid is about to fall, they will grip the railing to stop that action. While we are the actors of agency, the objects around us are also actants of agency because without the railing, the kid would fall. We are reliant on objects as they are to us because they need us to use them in order to hold agency. This is a gray area where “there might exist many metaphysical shades between full causality, and sheer inexistence,” (72). So, ANT is not saying objects replace human actors but rather “no science of the social can even begin if the question of who and what participates in the action is not first of all thoroughly explored,” even if that means “letting elements in which . . . we would call non-humans,” (72). Ultimately, pay attention to the objects around you and appreciate them a bit more! 

Sitting in chairs centered around six tables pushed together and eating pizza, our class discussion began. There was a heavy weight of defeat as the class surrendered to Latour’s argument on the importance of objects. Alondra brought up how when she gets home, she chooses a specific spot in her home to do homework at. The objects in the spot ultimately are the deciding factor for where she is to sit and focus on her work. Travis read aloud a poem “Shirt” by Robert Pinsky that traced back the origins of where the shirt came from, displaying the agency of the clothes you wear. Hayden brought up an idea from another class where the only information about animals that we know is from humans. We don’t actually know what it is like to be an animal and this idea helped him look at Latour’s argument.  Kim brought up the fact that if objects didn’t matter then we wouldn’t care about what kind of classroom we were in. 

Of course funding plays a huge role in the learning environment one is in because the access to specific sponsors is a huge part in what we are able to accomplish in our classroom. Alondra asked for a definition of “social viability,” leading to a discussion on how sponsors are an asset to society and how we as students at this point in time are a sponsor for our english comprehension classes. Hayden mentioned the type of readings we supply to our students open up specific pathways but might disclude others. Cassidy mentioned how she is enforcing MLA in her class while acknowledging that there are other essay forms besides that one. Then,  Ben came in with the question: Is there a thing of truly altruistic teaching? Is every sponsor actually  benefiting somehow? How are we benefiting as teachers? What does a sponsor gain? Some of our answers: 

  • Experience
  • Contributing to the economic exchange and getting a paycheck
  • It feels good inside!
  • Power and feeling smart
    • ex) an older sibling watching their younger sibling play well in a soccer game and thinking “that’s all because of me! I taught him that!”
  • Learning as a learner 
  • Tenure promotion 

Hayden brought up an episode from “Friends” in which Phoebe and Joey discuss whether it is truly selfless to help someone else if you feel good afterwards.

We then talked about Literacy as an agency. “Having words to describe something is power,” Hayden mentioned. Travis asked if graffiti counted as having agency. Yes, the class decided. It has power and creates identity. It is performative and evokes emotion. Larissa’s friend brought up that in her art classes she is taught that when art is displayed it needs intent. With intent comes agency. 

Then we split off into groups and shared our literacy interviews we conducted the previous week. I got to hear from Hayden and Travis, both with great examples of how literacy has affected the lives of their parents. Hayden interviewed his dad who when asked about literacy in his life, immediately referenced sports and how we would take down stats for the local highschool games and was offered a job for writing articles about sports. This was an identity for him: a sports writer. There was also an aspect of being sports literate. In baseball for example, each position has its own literacy. The pitcher is reading signs from the catcher and each player is viewing the game from a different perspective. Hayden then acknowledged watching his father write about sports probably influenced him subconsciously with the way he viewed writing (His dad and sports as a sponsor). Travis interviewed his mom and learned that his mother viewed literacy as a function after being taught to read signs on the road while on car rides with her father. She also saw how organized her mother was throughout her graduate school and noticed how she was “always making lists.” Handwriting was a big thing in her house from lists to letters and she admired her father’s handwriting especially and believed good handwriting to be important. Both the interviews picked up active sponsors in their life as well as objects being used to facilitate this learning. We can’t escape either of them! It truly is all fluid, I guess! 

Here is an acrostic poem I wrote based off of Brandt’s “Sponsors of Literacies.”

Steam press began to 
Pave the way for the 
Only motives now
Nestled under literacies:
Self-advancement in the
Over-indulging economy. Gosh, 
Read a book, would ya? 

Here is a poem I wrote based off of Latour’s “Objects too Have Agency”

Ode to Pencil

Blood, sweat, tears
Displayed onto paper
Through your thin lines 
Of lead. To lose you,
Would be to lose my thoughts
As fast as I can speak them.
You are what roots me
To paper, a way for me to stay
On this ever circling planet. 

Some questions I have gathered from these readings and our class discussions:

  • Does the definition of “agency” play a vital role in discussing its importance? Do all arguments that surround literacy ultimately come back to our definitions of it? 
  • How do we start ensuring equal access to sponsors in the early stages of literacy learning? (K-12 education)
  • Do sponsors gain more out of literacy practices than the learners or is it an equal reciprocative relationship?

Author’s Bio: Brooke Kenney is a first year English Graduate student at California State University, Chico. Her focus is in creative writing and more specifically, poetry, where she writes about self identity and the effect traumas in life can have on the outlook of oneself. If she’s not writing, you’ll find her at her Barista job, meditating, or enjoying a nice mixed drink on her balcony. Just kidding! Probably just a beer. 

Welcome to English 632: Fall 2022

Welcome to English 632: Fall 2022

Hello everyone!

You’ve found our course website: welcome to Theories of Literacy (English 632) for fall 2022. I look forward to reading and researching together. Some thoughts about our work this semester:

decorativeIn one of the texts we’ll read, “Sponsors of Literacy,” Deborah Brandt offers a compelling and complex look at the concept of sponsorship. Through case studies, she demonstrates how literacy learning and usage is brought into existence by sponsors, and defines the term to mean “people, institutions, materials, and motivations involved in the process [of learning to read and write]” (167). Brandt’s essay provides a lens through which to think about “who or what underwrites occasions of literacy learning and use” (166). Because sponsors have the power to both encourage and discourage access to literacy practices—and the power to choose which practices are valued—sponsorship can lead to both positive and negative experiences with access to literacy and its uses. As Brandt points out, “Sponsors are a tangible reminder that literacy learning throughout history has always required permission, sanction, assistance, [or] coercion…” (167). Her observations point to the power institutions and educators hold over those attempting to gain access to literacy practices and to become active agents in the world. Brandt’s essay becomes particularly useful in examining and critiquing my role as a literacy sponsor, particularly as I design literacy experiences.

I’ve blogged about course prep before. I love designing learning spaces. But I also know that every time I design a course, I will most likely—even with the best of intentions—get in the way of students’ cool ideas. Every time I choose a reading, create an assignment, plan for the day, I know that I am both potentially opening up and limiting students’ literacies. As one of my former students, David, articulately shared in a draft: “I’ve learned to be more compliant with hoop-jumping in other classes. But beyond that, I’ve come to understand that even a situation like that may yield little nuggets of insightful gold if I approach the course with a more open mind, and regulate my own inquiries to the margins for further exploration when there is time, and the teacher isn’t looking…and certainly never on a test.” David makes a stunning statement. His willingness to imagine his own goals for literacy as marginal and “time allowing” can’t be the best he can hope for. And literacy sponsors, particularly college faculty, should consider how our assignments get in the way of fruitful, student-driven inquiries.

In our graduate course on literacy studies this semester, we’ll wrestle with the problems of literacy: valuing students’ right to their own language, thinking about how we push on the conservative nature of literacy learning in educational settings, and considering our own compliance as sponsors in institutional spaces. As much as I like to believe that I can open up possibilities for literacy learning, I’m very clear that I pick the readings, shape the conversation, and frame what and how we read and write. My hope is that you see our course as a possibility space: a place to pursue your questions, to see the readings and assignments as heuristics to play with, not algorithms to follow.

To start, I’d like to invite you to join our Perusall group. Perusall is a platform that allows us to read together collaboratively. Before we meet on Aug 25 (so we can jump into ideas), please read and annotate Sylvia Scribner’s “Literacy in Three Metaphors” in Perusall. Instructions for joining are on the Assignments page. Short walkthrough that explains how to comment below (created for the undergrad course, but how to comment is the same):

Please feel free to reach out with any questions: kjaxon@csuchico.edu. See you Thursday, Aug 25, 5:00-7:50, in Arts 206b. Kim

Luke Scholl: The Rise of Writing (Chapter 4/Conclusion)

Luke Scholl: The Rise of Writing (Chapter 4/Conclusion)

The fourth chapter of Brandt’s The Rise of Writing, “When Everybody Writes,” focuses on how writers and writing work in relation to other writers. As Brandt states, “Proximity to other writing people—ample, ongoing, routine proximity—plays myriad, formative roles in the development and calibration of writing, writing skill, and writing consciousness” (158). Early in the chapter Brandt discusses the “scenic” nature of writing (137-139). She notes that due to the fact that writing is scenic, that is something that takes place and can be witnessed, people are more acutely aware of how it works in the world. Brandt explains, “Seeing and being seen, knowing and being known—these everyday events form a broad undercarriage for awareness about how writing fits socially, politically, economically, aesthetically” (139). She then connects the scenic quality of writing to how writers interact with other writers. Because writing is scenic, writers are acutely aware of the writing that exists in the world: “Proximity to other writing people invites, and often requires, close attention to their habits, working conditions, and potential attitudes” (144). She also brings in the concept of mentalities and examines how it applies to her study of literacy. Brandt acknowledges how reading has historically disseminated information and thus contributed to establishing “shared understandings” (135), among the people of any given time and place within literate societies. However, she notes that as our literacy practices become more and more writing based, rather than reading based, the way we form these mentalities may be shifting.

In her concluding chapter, “Conclusion: Deep Writing,” Brandt co opts her nemesis Nicholas Carr’s phrase “deep reading” and reworks it to form her own concept of “deep writing” (159). She contends that the evidence provided her book suggests that we are “entering an era of deep writing” (Brandt 160). She argues that our literacy practices are no longer typified by prolonged and intense reading of texts but instead that “more and more people write for prolonged periods of time from inside deeply interactive networks and in immersive cognitive states” (Brandt 160). She ends her conclusion by examining the how these changes in our literacy practices present exception challenges for education as our schools are “growing increasingly out of step with the wider world” (Brandt 165).

During our discussion in class, Dr. Jaxon asked the students if we thought of each other and our professors as writers, and whether or not we really ever collaborate on writing or just give each other feedback. To me it seemed that the general consensus wound up being that we had not really seen at each other as writers until graduate school. This sentiment extended to our experiences with collaboration; I believe it was Kelsey King who stated, “the collaborative nature of writing is definitely something I’ve learned about through school.” I think when asked about our feelings toward collaboration in writing, many of our minds jumped to the concept of ‘group work.’ And like most sane individuals our knee jerk reaction to ‘group work’ is to say, “I hate group work.” I found it interesting that, for many of us, the concept of collaboration in writing was immediately conceived of as group assignments in school, and indeed our discussion did primarily revolve around collaborative writing within school. I couldn’t help but wonder how negative experiences with group work in school might contribute to the persistent stereotype of the solitary writer; even though, the form collaborative writing takes in these types of scenarios rarely reflects the level of professionalism, commitment, and responsibility that one might find when collaborating with a colleague in a professional environment.

I also find it interesting that the knee jerk, “I hate group work,” reaction has always seemed to be so pervasive. In my own experience I have been part of groups that were pure nightmares, but also groups that worked extremely well and which provided me with incredible amounts of support; yet, I still stand firmly in the “I hate group work” camp. I can’t help but think this attitude has something to do with the nature of school and grades. As students we are keenly aware that we are constantly being assessed. Despite that grades are just letters they failure to live up to a certain standard could, like writing, have significant and very real consequences in the world and their lives. The sociocultural significance and pressures of grades heavy influence the nature of group work in school. If you feel one person is not contributing enough you are angry that their lack of commitment will have an adverse effect on your grade, and, on the flip side, if someone is doing a large amount of the work you become concerned about whether you are contributing enough.


Amanda Rhine: The Rise of Writing (chapter 3)

Amanda Rhine: The Rise of Writing (chapter 3)


Writing is the Right Thing to Do for Literacy

In chapter 3 “Occupation: Author” in The Rise of Writing, Deborah Brandt starts off by stating “The belief that writing ability is a subsidiary of reading ability runs deep in American society and schooling. You can only write as well as you can read. The best way to learn how to write is to read, and read some more. Reading is the best way to exercise the mind” (89). These were all (almost verbatim) proclamations that I heard growing up, so I think Brandt really taps into the typical old school American literacy mindset here (not surprising since she’s Deborah Frickin’ Brandt). However, as Brandt discovered with Evan, reading and writing don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand––which is not a bad thing.

Evan had a well-known exotic animal website that “attracted the attention of a major publishing house for pet care books” (92) and published a book. As a result, Evan identified professionally as an author and has gone on to write magazine articles, etc. While Brandt was interviewing him about his literacy development and the role reading had, Evan confessed that he did not like to read, stating, “I’d rather be writing than reading” (92). This is not uncommon, in my opinion, since I can relate and know many authors who feel the same. Brandt was intrigued by Evan’s declaration and his literacy development being connected to broader industries of writing rather than reading (93), so she set off to do some research.

I won’t go into the details of Brandt’s literacy development research study, because there’s a lot of it in this chapter, but the main takeaway from Brandt’s arguments is that she advocates a “full return to the heritage of mass writing as a basis for advancing a genuinely writing-based literacy” (133). Brandt’s idea of this heritage is not based on the American idea that writing is dependent on reading––essentially that literacy theory has become obsolete. Brandt’s arguments are based on the “evidence drawn from the testimonies of thirty young adults who pursue literacy predominantly through writing; individuals who elect to write on a nearly daily basis and in genres long considered bulwarks (defensive walls) of a thoughtful reading literacy; individuals who have found ways to orient to writing even when the environment around them tries to orient them otherwise” (133). So while the notion of reading being a catalyst in writing advancement may still present be in teaching and sponsorship, writing is a significant player in literacy development by itself. It promotes a motivation for self-improvement that isn’t restricted to someone’s reading ability. Therefore writing-based literacy and reading-based literacy should not be lumped into one literacy development practice in order to be considered beneficial.

*Side note: I own the Kindle version of The Rise of Writing, so my page citations might differ from those of a physical copy.

Meredith Murrietta: The Rise of Writing (chapter 3)

Meredith Murrietta: The Rise of Writing (chapter 3)

Brandt starts out the 3rd chapter, “Occupation: Author” with the task of trying to differentiate between a reading-based literacy and a writing-based literacy. She claims that writing has taken a shadow to reading with regards to importance in our culture. Brandt seeks to argue that writing-based literacy is its own and does not necessarily stem from, rely on, or play second fiddle to reading. On page 96, Brandt discusses the concept of writing over reading. She stated that her research participants “would abandon the expected duties and pleasures of reading and begin writing in their minds as they sat over a text written by someone else,” and that this act “requires deliberate separation from the rules of reading.”

Although I can respect Brandt’s research and theories, I cannot personally relate to them and thus have a differing view. Brandt says that “learning to read is an expectation and a rite of passage for children in this society. But the idea ofbeing or becoming a writer has more profound aspirational power” (98). I couldn’t disagree more in my own walk. I found (and find) reading to be the motivation behind my reading-based literacy. I love to soak up information, to experience that lightbulb moment when reading others words. When it comes to my own writing, I hit constant roadblocks. I shared with the class about a webinar I recently attended through work, and how the speakers of “Thriving in Chaos” started out discussing brain research and how our brains react. The first priority of the brain is safety. If the brain does not feel safe, it will not progress past the first priority. It will be looking for ways to get back into safety. Fears, anxieties, etc. can cause the brain to lag in this danger zone. Unfortunately, if you are living in this state of fear, then you wont make it past the first priority on to the second, which is experiencing “something interesting”. This was a big wake-up call for me in all aspects of my life, and in this case, my writing. As I had discussed in my earlier blog post, there is fear of judgement when it comes to my writing. I believe this fear has hindered my ability to effectively write. We see this in many examples through this chapter with Brandt’s research participants. Whether it be individuals not posting on social media for fear of the implications, or a daughter who does not want her family to find her diary: the consequences of writing can absolutely cause hindrance.

On the flip side, I thoroughly enjoy my reading-based literacy, not only because I don’t feel hindered, but also because the words I read and apply from others have significantly changed the courses and actions of my life. Towards the end of the chapter, Brandt states that “what matters in writing is its rhetorical value, its projective and transactional value, its effect on others. Even in writing, then, reading is what counts” (128). Ultimately, as we have seen quite often as a foundational piece in literacy, it comes back to the human connection. Literacy is built and truly sustained through social means (even if not explicitly social). As readers and writers, we are communicating. We both have something to gain from this interaction.

Several other questions were raised in class, the following are a few:

-If our culture really values reading more than writing, why is it that we pay writers and call that an occupation?

-Do boundaries in writing, or being told to write, take anything away from creative writers?

-Is there really a difference between writing masters and writing sponsors?

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