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Historical and Contemporary Perspectives on Literacy

Few would argue for a single-focus approach to educating youth; a balanced education is preferred. The challenge, however, is in finding the balance between Reading Literacy and other curricula areas, and negotiating the complex conflicted view of this topic extends to the community as a whole. Industry would benefit from schools preparing future employees using taxpayer funds. Academia would benefit from schools preparing all students for potential enrollment in a postsecondary institution. The community would benefit from schools preparing future leaders, workers, and community advocates for both academic and technical career paths.

French Quarters 2011
Dr. Kimberly Handy
French Quarters
Dr. Kimberly Handy

Regardless of the subject matter, successful curricula focus on project-based and interdisciplinary learning, often forming partnerships with businesses and institutes of higher education (Edutopia, 2010). The pedagogical theories of constructivism, experiential learning, and metacognition can form a strong pedagogical foundation for all courses (Reinders, 2010). A solid curriculum will prepare students for whatever they may encounter in an uncertain future (Darling-Hammond & Friedlaender, 2008). A balanced curriculum, connecting both Reading Literacy and other curricula components, may provide the greatest benefit to students, educators, and the entire community.

Although a balanced approach to education makes intuitive sense, identifying or quantifying the success of any curricular approach is difficult. In many cases, the perception of a program’s effectiveness is an important component of measuring success (Corbell, Reiman, & Nietfeld, 2008). Perceptions of the value of any curriculum can lead to either a joined purpose or a disjointed set of opposing purposes. An understanding of the perceptions of the stakeholders in the school community is necessary before informed decisions can be articulated about how to improve, fully integrate, or harmonize the two curricular sets to benefit all students. In the local school district where the study took place, this curricular combination could further benefit administrators interested in harmonizing the curricula at the school. Harmonization of the curricula occurs when teachers, administrators, and counselors understand the preparations of the teachers, administrators, and counselors assigned to the different curricula and work together to unite the content of the curricula components, such that the students can benefit from the strengths each curriculum brings to the school.


Paulo Freire rise to prominence began the radical education movement of the late 1960’s and 1970’s bringing forth the new term “Literacy (Lankshear & Knobel, 2011). Prior to the Industrial Revolution of the 1800s, a school’s educational system provided curricula that reflected the current job market of the surrounding communities. As the United States moved from an agrarian culture to a culture of industry and commerce, school curricula reflected this change. Business leaders, legislators, and communities began to consider students’ abilities to compete in a global market. The United States industrial sector began to rethink its position on education and its membership in global commerce (Spring, 2008). That rising global competition continued as the United States prepared for its future.

Dewey had a vision for education, which viewed occupations as a vital component of educational activity. According to Gordon (2008), “John Dewey (1916) saw occupation as central to educational activity. He did, however, express concern about any form of vocational education that would continue the present forms of higher education for those who could afford it while giving the masses a narrow education for specialized occupations under the control of industry” (p. 29). Dewey did see the danger in narrowing the education of the masses and allowing a more unspecialized education to those who could afford it. Those that could have a more open education would have more of an advantage as a well-rounded individual. Those individuals would also have opportunities to move to other types of occupations because they have the capability to do so as oppose to the person who may only have to go to the next occupation that is in the same field.

Since the focus was on the workplace, many new theories were developed, and with the onset of World War I, many new changes occurred for the student, community, and school. Spring (2008) gave an example of Denver in 1923 having an average size elementary classroom of thirty to forty students. Washington, D.C. had segregated classrooms composing of blacks with average size classroom of 37.3 and whites 34.3. During this time, John Dewey (1859-1952) arrived on the educational scene and brought with him a stark contrast of previous educational practices. According to Spring (2008), “When Dewey founded the Laboratory School, he wanted to develop methods that would demonstrate to the student the social value of knowledge and the interdependence of society” (p. 282). Dewey saw students interacting and learning from each other. He wanted students to be seen as individuals and not inundated in-group mediocrity.

In 2001, President George W. Bush presented his plan for educational reform to Congress, outlining the NCLB Act. NCLB outlined four major principles in an education reform plan: stronger accountability for results, expanded flexibility and local control, expanded options for parents, and an emphasis on teaching methods that had been proven to work (U.S. Department of Education [USDOE], 2007).


As schools looks at its students leaving the classroom to become the frontrunners of passing on acumen, will the students in any education program have the wherewithal to bring real-life and classroom learning to life? Will students see the value in blending together an environment, which is conducive to experiential learning as well as critical thinking; are those skills, which can be taught in a classroom? Are teachers receiving the type of training, which will allow them to succeed as not only as an instructional leader, but also a facilitator of learning, providing the student every opportunity to see his or her future outside of the school walls? Along with that also including different levels of learning and different cultural backgrounds?


Corbell, K. A., Reiman, A. J., & Nietfeld, J. L. (2008). The perceptions of success inventory for beginning teachers: Measuring its psychometric properties. Teaching and Teacher Education, 24, 1551-1563. doi:10.1016/j.tate.2008.02.004

Darling-Hammond, L., & Friedlaender, D. (2008). Creating excellent and equitable schools. Educational Leadership, 65(8), 14-21. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier database.

Edutopia. (2010). Merging career tech with college prep: Insights from successful high schools. Retrieved from

Gordon, H. R. D. (2008). The history and growth of career and technical education in America (3rd ed.). Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press.

Lankshear, C., & Knobel, M. (2011). New literacies: Everyday practices and social learning (3rd ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Reinders, H. (2010). Towards classroom pedagogy for learner autonomy: a framework of independent language learning skills. Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 35, 40-55.
Spring, J. (2008). The American school: From the Puritans to No Child Left Behind (7th Ed). Boston: McGraw-Hill


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