The presence of older learners with limited formal literacy and schooling in U.S. high schools constitutes an intense and unique instance of the encounter of contextually oriented oral indigenous culture and the distanciated culture of high literacy and digitacy. Drawing on the work of Walter Ong, Marshall McLuhan, and others, I describe the distance between the noetic lifeworlds of orality and literacy as a semiotic abyss across which interpretation is difficult but necessary. The scholarly stance required is one of humility--to fail to engage the alterity of orality with sensitive attunement is an act of continued imperialism, which is morally unacceptable, epistemologically naïve, and ecologically suicidal in cognitive and natural terms. Following Marie Battiste, Enrique Dussel, David G. Smith, and others, this philosophical study locates the phenomenon of initial literacy development by high school English language learners within the history of Western epistemology, colonialism, and globalization, in particular the legacies of Kant's logic of emancipative reason, transformed in school contexts into a logic of sacrificial reason wherein the primitive ways of orality are sacrificed to hyperliteracy in the environment of reified, standardized education in the United States. Illustrative anecdotes, poetry, and assertorial argument are used to evoke instances of the encounter or orality and literacy in school settings. Refuting the primacy of both idealism and positivism in society and education, the study is inspired both topically and methodologically by hermeneutics, the ancient art of interpretation, as a way of articulating the fusion of horizons between severed hyperliteracy and oral ways of knowing in context, so that a conversation regarding the role and instruction of literacy remains unforeclosed and capable of sustaining a common future in which oral and literate noeses are respected. A pedagogy of reciprocity between orality and literacy is proposed as a path to the practical survival of older oral newcomers who must acquire the artificially-toned manners of representational culture, and to the ontic survival of the hypostacized Western self trapped in triumphal determinacy.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. July 2010. Major: Education, Curriculum and Instruction. Advisor: Dr. Martha Bigelow. 1 computer file (PDF); x, 284 pages.
Watson, Jill A..
Interpreting across the abyss: a hermeneutic exploration of initial literacy development by high school English language learners with limited formal schooling..
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