The article, “The Means of Production: Literacy and Stratification at the Twenty-First Century,” is actually the sixth and final chapter of Deborah Brandt’s book, “ Literacy in American Lives.” In this chapter Brandt discusses the correlation between literacy and socioeconomic status. Brandt delves into the lives of Raymond Branch and Dora Lopez, two young adults from contrasting backgrounds. Branch has all the resources and support he needs from his parents to be successful, and this is evident when his parents buy him a computer sparking his interest at a young age. Lopez also receives support from her parents, although they don’t have the same access to resources as the Branch family due to their socioeconomic status. By the time they both grow to be teenagers, Raymond and Dora have embarked on two very different projects. However, Brandt describes both projects as, “the learning of a second language.” Branch learns the “language” of programming so that he will be able to write computer software, and Lopez learns the literal language of Spanish- her family’s native tongue. This is where Brandt starts her argument on what it truly means to be literate. One can be literate in more things than just a language like English or Spanish. Like Raymond, one can literate in programming or math. Brandt’s main point in explaining this is that literacy in a certain language or skill is an economic resource and is treated as such. When a person becomes “literate” that literacy is either exploited by that person, or someone else, to their advantage. Brandt goes on to explain that some “languages” are more valuable than others depending on the situation of the economy. At the time, the “language” of programming was much more valuable than Spanish, especially in the town of Wisconsin where there was a very small Mexican-American population. So, due to their resources Branch and Lopez became literate in two different skills, one being much more valuable than the other. This supports Brandt’s argument that “just, as it seems, the rich get richer, the literate get more literate.” I certainly agree with the statement that literacy is a commodity because one’s literacy in a skill could lead to a job or meaningful relationships in that person’s life. But the question to ask is, which skill is more valuable today, programming or Spanish?
“Literacy in American Lives,” was published in 2001, and was received with mostly positive reviews. People who were interested in the subject of literacy thought it was a must read. However, some said it was a bit difficult to follow her argument at times and she has received criticism for the fact that all the people she interviewed for the entire book were from the same town. Brandt has been a professor in the English department at Madison for over 30 years and is best known for her idea of “sponsors of literacy,” these being, “ any agent, local or distant, concrete or abstract, who enable, support, teach, model, as well as recruit, regulate, suppress, or withhold literacy- and gain advantage by it in some way.”
Here are some other articles on the subject:
Brandt, D. (2001). Means of Production. In Literacy in American lives. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Brandt, D. (1997). The sponsors of literacy. Albany, N.Y.: National Research Center on English Learning & Achievement, University at Albany, State University of New York ;.