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Melissa Wolfe
Nancy Roche
Writing 1010-013
December 11, 2014
An Interpretation of a Writing by James Gee
The traditional notions of literacy which Gee views as myths are that literate people and
countries with higher literacy rates are better developed, behaved, and more modern. Also that
literacy freed some of humanity from a primitive state, from an earlier stage of human
development, and that if language makes us human, then literacy makes us civilized (50). Gee
explains and argues that literacys power is much more specific than this traditional notion in that
it leads to logical, analytical, critical, and rational thinking. It builds general and abstract uses of
language, skeptical and questioning attitudes, with a distinction between myth and history. With
literacy comes recognition of the importance of time and space, complex and modern
governments with separation of church and state, also political democracy and stability. There is
greater social equity, a lower crime rate, a lower birth rate and better citizens, as well as
economic development, wealth and productivity, and urbanization (50). In chapter four,
Literacy Myth and the History of Literacy of the book Social Linguistics and
Literacies: Ideology in Discourses written by James Gee, one can see that literacy which
is taught in the traditional sense, perpetuates the hierarchical view of societys political, social,
and economic statuses but shouldnt through religion, tracking in school systems, and the
metaphor of the gun.
One way Gee explains that literacy in the traditional sense empowers political, social, and
economic figures is through the history of literacy in religion. He talks about how Sweden

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became one of the first countries to achieve near universal literacy. In regards to the literacy
myth, this should have made Sweden a model to the world of modernization, social equality,
knowledge, and economic growth. However, he explains that Swedens universal literacy not
only happened at a time of widespread poverty but through a political power, the Protestant
Church. This level of literacy was a result of The Church Law of 1686 which stated that people
of all social statuses should learn to read the bible with their own eyes and see what God
commands. This was a way for the church to gain more political control over the people of
Sweden not a way to truly educate or give them the real power of literacy which is what literacy
should do in the way that Gee describes it. Comparable ideas of educating a population can be
seen today through tracking in school systems.
Another example Gee uses to further his argument of the power of literacy and how it
should be viewed is through the tracking system that schools sometimes use. Gee uses a study by
Jeannie Oakes to show that a students race, class, or family based knowledge about college and
career routes had more to do with what track the student ended up in than did inherent
intelligence or actual potential (56). He explains that literacy has not, for the most part been
directed primarily at vocational training or personal growth and development, which it should,
but has actually associated certain behaviors and attitudes with individuals of specific social
classes. The way that literacy should be taught according to Gee is, in my opinion, best shown
through his metaphor of a loaded gun.
Gee wraps up his idea that literacy in educational settings needs to be taught without the
traditional notion but rather with his description of how literacy is empowering. Gee says that a
text, whether written on paper, the world, or the soul, is a loaded weapon. The person, in this
case an educator, who hands over the gun (information), also hands over the bullets (the

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perspective), and must own up to the consequences (61). If literacy is taught with the traditional
notion which goes hand in hand with the hierarchical patterns of society then it is perpetuated
through the generations.
Through religion in Sweden, tracking in school systems, and the gun metaphor, Gee
explains in chapter four, Literacy Myth and the History of Literacy of his book Social
Linguistics and Literacies: Ideology in Discourses, that there needs to be a way in
which literacy is viewed and taught so that literacy in the traditional sense will no longer
continue to perpetuate the hierarchical view of societies political, social, and economic statuses.
We can help in this process by gaining knowledge and reflecting on the Discourses, with a
capital D, in which we are a part.

Works Cited

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Gee, James Paul. "Literacy Myth and the History of Literacy." Social Linguistics and Literacies:
Ideology in Discourses. 3rd ed. New York: Taylor and Fancis, 2007. Print.