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Challenging Eurocentric Perspectives and Practices in Literacy Education

By Etta Hollins
 | Jun 11, 2020

Etta HollinsWe received this letter from ILA member Etta Hollins, who granted her permission to publish it on Literacy Now. Thank you, Professor Hollins, for your thoughtful contribution and call to action.

The police killing of George Floyd has brought discussions of systemic racism to the forefront. Colleges, universities, professional organizations, major companies of every description, and regular citizens have acknowledged the presence of systemic racism in the society and many have written letters to students, colleagues, and employees supporting the protests and making a commitment to equity and social justice. It is time for educational practitioners, scholars, and researchers to engage in introspection regarding systemic racism in teaching practices, teacher preparation, and educational research. We can begin this discussion by acknowledging barriers in African American people’s struggle for literacy.

African American people’s struggle for literacy in the United States has been long, difficult, and framed by the barriers of systemic racism in pedagogical practices, educational research, and legal authority. During slavery, it was illegal to teach slaves to read. Yet, out of slavery came such notable individuals as educator Booker T. Washington and scientist George Washington Carver. The often-inferior facilities, resources, and materials provided in segregated schools after slavery produced notable scholars and leaders of the Civil Rights movement including the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., Congresswoman Barbara Jordan, Congressman John Lewis, and many education practitioners, scholars, and researchers. In the face of this historical background, many education practitioners, scholars, and researchers make the claims that African American children are unable to learn to read because they lack the necessary home environment, role models, access to printed texts, and vocabulary. These are nonsensical claims given the fact that many children learned to read while experiencing the trauma of slavery.

Today, the struggle for African American children’s literacy is as challenging as its difficult history. Teachers are trained in recently mandated Eurocentric perspectives and practices that dominate research in reading instruction. Several familiar national panels, commissions, and committees have determined that the only proven way to teach early literacy is by using a Eurocentric code-based phonetic approach. The corollary to this conclusion is that those children not learning to read using this approach have either a learning disability or deficit and deprivation in the home or community. Consequently, African American children are disproportionately identified as learning disabled, placed in special education, and denied opportunities for developing full literacy. This fits the definition of systemic racism.

I am proposing that we [in the field of literacy education] begin a serious discussion of systemic racism in literacy practices and research and that we take responsibility for our contribution to systemic racism in the society.

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