Recognition is a political act. We cannot talk about it without talking about power. Like other systems of power, who is recognized in literacy education is defined by who is seen, and who is seen are students who are well fed, compliant, come from homes saturated in print, have loving parents, and possess confidence and previous good experiences in school.
By flattening literacy to this idealized (for some) identity, literacy teaching imagines a very narrow version of us—a version that is incomplete and favors privileged identities over vulnerable ones. The farther away students are from this identity, the less likely literacy classrooms will work for them.
When students do not come packaged the “right” way, too often our systems decide we cannot teach them. Instead of adapting to them, our systems label them, suggesting that something is wrong with vulnerable students. They label them as lazy, unfocused, misguided. In a sense, they blame their families, their genders, their socioeconomic circumstances, or anything else about vulnerable youth that deviates from the ideal. Our systems fail to see them, and thus our systems fail them.
There is clear evidence that this inability to see some students drives educational outcome disparities. The problem is not necessarily the unseen but our assumptions about what we see. Seeing is not neutral.
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