English 90ls. Literacy Stories

Instructor: Deidre Lynch
Thursday, 3:00-5:00pm | Location: TBD
Enrollment: Limited to 15 students

This course investigates literacy, literacy instruction, and literacy movements past and present, in theory and practice. Engaging with recent fictions and memoirs by authors such as Elena Ferrante and Ocean Vuong, with African-American slave narratives, laboring-class autobiographies, and other texts from the 19th century, and with materials from the history of alphabet books and children’s literature, “Literacy Stories” investigates the rich, ambivalent ways in which literature has depicted the literacy needed to consume it. Given under the auspices of the English Department and Harvard’s Mindich Program for Engaged Scholarship, “Literacy Stories” also involves collaborations with, and volunteer work for, various community organizations devoted to literacy advocacy and instruction.

This class will give us the opportunity to reflect—something we’ll do in part by learning from our community partners about the many ways of relating to texts that flourish beyond campus—on the contradictory ways in which we value reading. We’ll consider, for example, the friction between solitary and social reading: how the pleasures of this activity lie sometimes with how it separates us from others and sometimes with how it connects us. We will be thinking about literacy’s long-standing association with individual self-determination and thinking about how that association is put into question whenever people’s reading matter gets weaponized as an instrument of their domination. Literacy, the literary and theoretical texts on the syllabus will alike remind us, has a politics. Learning to be literate often involves experiences of unequal power relations and exclusion. Reading with (rather than “to” or “at”) others is an ethical challenge—one that humanities concentrators especially ought to explore.

The writing assignments you will do for “Literacy Stories” will join together academic analysis with personal narrative and social reflection. They will likely encompass regular short responses to the assigned texts, journal entries that reflect critically on what you have been learning from your volunteer work beyond Harvard, and interviews with literacy advocates and community organizers. The capstone project for the seminar will be a memoir—your own literacy story-- reflecting on your own memories of reading instruction and integrating those memories with your experiences in the community over the course of the semester.

Note: this course can be credited toward the Graduate School Education’s secondary field in Educational Studies.