In "Literacy with an Attitude," Finn discusses the evolution of literacy and education in America. He explains why literacy of the working class is not seen as dangerous because we have developed two kinds of education, empowering education and domesticating education. Finn believes that empowering education leads to powerful literacy, which leads to positions of power and authority, while domesticating education leads to functional literacy which makes a person productive and dependable. Finn feels that working class and middle class receive domesticating education while the rich receive empowering education. He goes on to state that when working class students experience empowering education you get “literacy with an attitude,” hence the title of his book. The videos below highlight some of Finn’s points about literacy.
Anyon's study examined fifth grade classes in five public elementary schools, ranging from working class to wealthy. The study illustrated Finn’s point that type of education a child receives will shape the type of adult he or she will become. Anyon found that the theme in the working class school was resistance. The students were taught to obey. They were given little decision making opportunities. Students were told what to do but not why they were doing it. This teaching created the resistance. The schooling prepared them to perform working class jobs. The middle class school had a theme of possibility. The students viewed the priority in school was to get good grades in order to go to a good college, and ultimately, get a good job. Creativity and self-expression were not deemed important. These students developed the skills needed to perform middle class jobs. The affluent professional school had a theme of individualism and humanitarianism. Creativity, thinking for one’s self, and the process of discovery were valued. The teaching style involved negotiation rather than direct orders. The work was not mechanical and repetitious. The students developed skills that prepared them for creative, intrinsically satisfying jobs with high salaries. Finally, Anyon found the theme of excellence in the executive elite school. These students were taught self-discipline. They were prepared for life at the top, taught to become “the master’s of the universe”.
In “Literacy with an Attitude,” Finn focuses on the discrepancy in education that the various social classes are receiving. Finn feels as though not all children in America are being provided with the same opportunities in life, due to the type of education they are receiving, and this education is determined by class. Working class students are provided a different type of education than their wealthy counterparts. In this lecture “Making Literacy Dangerous Again,” Finn answers the following questions from his text: “Is education different for the working class than it is for those who are expected to achieve powerful status in the community?” “Is our current educational system an institution designed to maintain the status quo of social inequality?” and “Is education neutral?”
"Literacy with an Attitude" and Finn's examination of Anyon's study were again eye-opening to me. Finn looks at class and its effect of education, which is just one of the many social issues in education today. I look forward to learning about the social issues and becoming part of the solutions!
Interested in books by Finn: