Urban Literacies: Critical Perspectives on Language, Learning, and Community
reviewed by Chandra Alston - August 01, 2011
Title: Urban Literacies: Critical Perspectives on Language, Learning, and Community
Author(s): Valerie Kinloch
Publisher: Teachers College Press, New York
ISBN: 0807751820, Pages: 240, Year: 2011
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Kinloch introduces Urban Literacies by grounding the reader in the contextual complexities that face diverse and ever diversifying urban schools: immigration, globalization, shifting community patterns, structures, and members (p. 1). This edition takes on the monumental task of speaking to these complexities as well as shifting from solely school-focused research to work that speaks to the entire literacy experience of urban youth. Kinloch has brought together a cadre of young scholars who together speak to the ways urban youth use and need literacy skills in every aspect of their lives. Urban Literacies refreshes the conversation by infusing it with new voices and perspectives covering research on three overlapping and intersecting areas family and community, teaching and community, and popular culture and forms of multimodality. Each of the three sections includes a more complex focus on when, where, how, and why urban youth of color engage in varied literacy practices in the course of their daily lives and interactions in and out of school.
The first section, focused on family and community literacies, highlights cases of family and/or community literacies in order to consider how involvement with family and community literacies can create opportunities to bridge sociological distances (p. 3). Ek, Machado-Casas, Sanchez, and Smith challenge readers and teachers assumptions regarding linguistic ideologies held by bilingual educators and individuals. This work pushes beyond the assumptions that teachers of similar race or linguistic background have similar linguistic ideologies as their students and families, and encourages teacher education programs to include community research to support teacher candidates knowledge of the families and communities of their students. Hill nicely critiques public sphere theorys stance toward literacy and legitimate participation by presenting Rasuls bookstore, with its different curriculum, as a space for counterpublic literacies and literacy counterpublics, where urban youth of color develop the skills to challenge and revise canonical and dominant narratives. Martinez-Roldan and Malave argue for childrens agency in defining their identities in borderland regions. They advocate for culturally specific literature and dual language texts to support students and not forcing language loyalty to either the home or the dominant school language. Carter and Kumasi use Dubois double consciousness as a lens for viewing conversations by Black youth in a book club where they read literature by and about Black people. The authors give a compelling model of double reading, in which Black students are able to articulate dominant and nondominant ways of knowing and an awareness of tensions and consequences in a given context (p. 75). Student voices to support the authors claims regarding student intentions, motivations, and understandings would have given more support for the proposed model.
In the second section, on teaching and community, the chapters all investigate the ways in which teachers and students can develop critical literacy to challenge assumptions, texts, as well as others and their own characterization of urban youth. Souto-Manning investigates the process and potential of teacher culture circles as places for transformative in-service teacher education. This chapters use of teachers voices is compelling data regarding the power for inciting teacher awareness and classroom change via dialogic problem solving and community building. Haddix and Rojas argue for the need to assist teachers in analyzing curricular materials through a critical literacy lens, emphasizing the need to analyze the relationship of social, cultural, and economic power present in these texts. The authors clearly articulate the need for such questioning and the potential for both teachers and students in taking a critical stance toward textbook selections. However, ideas regarding how best to support teacher content knowledge as well as critical literacy development are lacking. Winn focuses on the development of critical literacies among adjudicated teen girls using playwriting and performance. Data are carefully presented to demonstrate how a women-centered theater company positioned adjudicated teen girls to take on various perspectives inviting them to question and critique these scenarios in order to view alternatives as real or possible (p. 140).
The last section, focused on popular culture and forms of multimodality, begins with Jocson and Cooks promotion of poetry use in ways that open up doors for young people to take an active part in shaping and representing their social worlds (p. 154). Kim presents one teachers use of a hip-hop infused curriculum to consider in more nuanced ways how hip-hop skills and strategies could be brought into the classroom to support the development of critical literacy and a more student-centered curriculum. Paris and Kirkland explore urban youth discourse, challenging oral/written and digital/embodied dichotomies. All three highlight the complex and multiple ways urban youth engage in literacy practices in their everyday lives and offer some insights into how these might be taken up in todays classrooms. These works compellingly argue for an expanded definition of text to support student literacy development.
Urban Literacies puts students and student outcomes at the center of the conversation, presenting expansive knowledge of the literacy worlds of urban youth in respectful and powerful ways. However, there are points where student voices are needed to ground and support the arguments and models presented. Overall, the compilation pushes the reader to refocus on the students, and, as Sonia Nieto writes in the conclusion, to reject the notion that students are to blame for the brutal outcomes and massive failure of urban schools, and instead to accept our responsibility to turn the situation around (p. 198). There are points where this reader and others will converge as well as diverge from what is written; however, Urban Literacies leaves us wondering, as JoBeth Allen does in the afterword, what if families, communities, schools, teachers, researchers, took seriously the literacy capacity of all youth and engaged and supported them in the kinds of critical literacy practices argued for in the text.