The Literacy of Power

My master wanted me to read a book and come up with a little activity to go with it since he was busy with other stuff. The book is called We Make the Road By Walking, and it is by Myles Horton and Paulo Freire. It’s not terribly difficult or deep. Nevertheless, if you are a teacher… then perk up your ears.

Early-on in their talked book, We Make the Road by Walking, Myles Horton and Paulo Freire begin by talking about the Citizenship Schools that operated in the Deep South from 1953-1961.

These schools, a spin-off of the Highlander School, had a stated purpose: to educate black human beings in the South Carolina Sea Islands to read and write so that they could pass the voter registration requirement exams that effectively barred the blacks from being able to vote due to the structural barriers restricting their access to education.

Education leads somewhere.

The point of the Highlander School—and the focus of both Horton and Freire—is that, as social beings, humans learn about their world as they learn, period. Teaching the abc’s, no matter what language, cannot be separated from making meaning of life.

So, where does it lead?

Education is the process of becoming human. Like many other symbolic interactionists, Horton and Freire knew that, as human capability for communication grows, so does the capability to construct meaning. The two are inseparable. It’s a law of human science.

Eventually, becoming more fully human means that you learn others are capable of becoming more fully human. You learn that justice is not a myth. You learn that you don’t have to be a part of a situation that perpetuates injustice. In short, you learn about power.

The literacy of power goes much deeper than “just” the power of literacy. When I say deeper, think plate techtonics. Power is the moving substrate beneath our feet. It is represented physically by communication.

Learning power is learning the word, the world.

Learning the word is learning the world, learning power.

So… if that is the conclusion that humans can come to (and the new beginning)?—

then where are humans right now?

Horton and Freire surmised at the time of their talking this book, We Make the Road by Walking, that on this road the current mile marker suggested there is quite a ways yet to go. “I don’t see a possibility today for a national campaign,” said Freire (p. 93).

Horton concurred, “From reading or talking or hearing anybody talk, I don’t see any place now that I would say you could build a radical program… I think the potential is there, but I don’t think we’ve found it” (p. 95).

The major problem he cites? “History gets in the way” (p. 95). Horton says humans realize that “reforms don’t reform. They don’t change anything” (p. 93).

And there’s always a but.

BUT, both Freire and Horton suggest that the literacy of power can again come into play—as it did in revolutionary and/or post-revolutionary Cuba and Nicaragua—if only there were only something that humans “know out of experience,” then they could “possibly bring about a change.”

There’s more: they say it is a process of being involved and being close, and that the subject matter for motivation must be incredibly closely tied to hope that structural changes can be brought about in society.

“Now if you could come to them with a radical idea…where they see something significant, they’d become citizens of the world,” said Horton specifically about trying to counteract the reality that reforms don’t reform (p. 93, emphasis added).

Simply put: You’re not going to get a movement unless there’s something to move about. The more radical problems become in our world, the more potential exists for society to move to confront them.

And where does that leave us?


Questions for discussion:

1. What do you think about: for pages 90ish through the end of Chapter 2, we just go ahead and substitute their talk about the potential for a national literacy campaign to (nowadays) talking about the potential for a national #literacyofpower campaign? i.e., literally the geopolitics of energy generation and consumption… does this fit the requirements of something “radical” enough to motivate learners?

2. What do you think about the early epiphany of running out into the clover field and crying with no one to hear about it? The phrase that is connected with this epiphany is that “life had to go out, not turn in” (p. 52). Self-pity, it seems, just causes the center to implode. I was thinking about how that is literally true on a galactic scale (i.e., galaxies expand).

About adamaecompton

just a three-legged rescue dog, bloggin about critical citizenship, the environment, and all sorts of literacy.
This entry was posted in Citizenship and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Literacy of Power

  1. Heidi says:

    Ada Mae, I’d really like to meet you. I’m in tioga county till wednesday, email me, please! Thanks, Nisha Colvin.

  2. anon says:

    thanks for the articulation!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s