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Literacy, Discipline, and the Complaint of Exclusion

California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Latest update: June 24, 1999
E-Mail Faculty on the Site.

Act One: A Writer's Workshop
Review of article in L.A. Times on writers acquiring the literacy of their craft.
Link added June 23, 1999.

The Social Construction of Functional Illiteracy
Notes on functional illiteracy as learned incompetence.
Link added June 22, 1999.



Act One: A Writer's Workshop
Acquiring the Literacy of a Craft

Brief comments by jeanne curran and Susan R. Takata
Part of the Narrative of Learning Identity Series
with emphasis on new ways to look at arrogance, hierarchy and control
Copright June 1999. "Fair use" encouraged.

L.A.Times article by Howard Rosenberg, "Scripting the Work of the Lord," p. F1, June 23, 1999.

Describes Act One, a writer's workshop for Christian writers, "the under-represented majority" in Hollywood. What the writers are trying to promote is not the "cheap grace" of easy fare like Touched by an Angel, but scripts that would uphold Christian moral values. Unfortunately, given the times and the "Littleton" incident, perhaps we could settle on some spiritual values, period. Barabara Nicolosi, the screen writer who's running the workshop, had this to say about today's writers: "Christians think they deserve the extra credit because they are writing about deeper themes. They don't do their homework. They don't bother to learn how to format, how to structure, how to create characters that are compelling. If it doesn't work as entertainment, it's not going to get a chance to work as anything else. They disdain Holllywood. There's this arrogance that they can compete in an industry from the outside, that Hollywood is the enemy."

Seems I heard those words before. Around a university campus, with under-represented minorities as well as majorities. And I've certainly heard that exasperation before. Sounds a lot to me like what we call functional illiteracy, the failure to understand the tools of our trade and the hard work necessary to wield them.

And it sounds a lot to me like our willingness to blame the students, blame the young Christian writers. This article left me with the feeling I was reading about the Christians and the lions, just that the lions were going to whip the students into shape instead of eating them. Nice touch of modernity there. But I think we should make a try for the leap to postmodernity. Let's forgive them, and encourage them to join us in our professional tasks. Let's work as hard as we're asking them to. Let's look back reflexively on our own arrogance and recognize the time and space that separates us from the "good old days" that puffed up memory whispers were our learning days. I think "humility" was once a Christian virtue, too.

I do not personally know the dilemma of the Christian writer. But I certainly know the dilemma of the dedicated professor. I have heard Barney Glaser, Hubert Blalock, Duncan Kennedy make essentially the same complaint: "They" are not disciplined. "They" are not adequately motivated to what is truly hard work.

Perhaps we need to forgive them and forgive ourselves for having damaged them, for they are the successors, and we are the professionals, the seniors. Perhaps Barbara Nicolosi is doing the right thing, gathering them into a workshop to teach them. Now, if she could just forgive them and love them, too. 'Twould be a good Christian ending.


Every discipline seems to need to force its young to take the time to learn the craft, and still to struggle with the arrogance of the hierarchy. Duncan Kennedy wanted the young to rebel at the arrogance of the hierarchy. But perhaps that is not only asking more of the young than we should, but also not productive. What is it, besides arrogance, we gain from this never ending pattern of dominance and control? Perhaps we need to turn our research concerns to this more precisely. Perhaps the young need this struggle, despite our lack of charity and humility in attempting to maintain control. We have known for ever so long that we teach many things other than the three r's in school. What is it that we teach with the arrogance of the hierarchy? Why should that pattern persist? Could we learn the interdependence of control, if we stopped focussing so much on the control itself??