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“To Be Part of the Story”: The Literacy Practices of Gangsta Adolescents


by Elizabeth B. Moje — 2000

Despite a recent emphasis on conceptualizing literacy as a tool for changing thought and experience, when people–whether the popular media, school personnel, or educational scholars–speak of the literacy practices of marginalized adolescents, they rarely talk about such literacies as tools. Instead, the literacy practices of marginalized adolescents are often referred to in terms of deviance or resistance. Gang-connected youth, in particular, are routinely represented as engaging in acts of villainy or resistance, but are rarely represented as meaning makers, people who are expressing their beliefs, values, and interests. If literacy theorists want to claim that literacy is a tool for transforming thought and experience, however, then we need to extend that theoretical claim to all literacy practices by asking what unsanctioned literacy practices do for adolescents. Are these simply acts of resistance? Or do adolescent gang members, who are often placed outside the possibility of school success on the basis of physical characteristics and social affiliations, also use literacy as a way of exploring possible worlds, claiming space, and making their voices heard?

This study uses data from three years of research with five gang-connected youth to illustrate how they used their literacy practices as meaning-making, expressive, and communicative tools. The data show how these youth used literacy practices “to be part of the story,” or to claim a space, construct an identity, and take a social position in their worlds. The paper concludes by arguing that literacy theorists, researchers, and practitioners need to acknowledge the power of unsanctioned literacy tools in the lives of marginalized youth and develop pedagogies that draw from, but also challenge and extend, these practice


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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 102 Number 3, 2000, p. 651-690
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 10517, Date Accessed: 5/25/2017 7:45:37 PM

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About the Author
  • Elizabeth Moje
    University of Michigan
    E-mail Author
    Elizabeth B. Moje is assistant professor of literacy, language, and culture at the University of Michigan. She is interested in the sociocultural contexts of literacy teaching and learning, particularly among adolescents and their teachers. She is the author of All the Stories That We Have: Adolescents' Insights on Literacy and Learning in Secondary School (International Reading Association, 2000) and is the co-editor of Constructions of Literacy: Studies of Teaching and Learning In and Out of Secondary Schools (Erlbaum, in press).
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