In "Literacies and Deficits Revisited," Jerrie Cobb Scott offers her definition of literacy as "ways of knowing, accessing, creating, and using information" (207). Though this is a rather broad definition—perhaps to the point of being nebulous—I find it valuable nonetheless in that it allows for the notion that all students come to the classroom already literate. Granted, many students are not literate in any ostensibly traditional or academic sense; but it is relatively safe to assume that every student has and employs ways of knowing, accessing, creating, and using information in his/her daily existence (per Scott’s definition), and is thereby literate. Understanding literacy thusly, Scott seems to suggest that the challenge—or at least one challenge—is to develop a pedagogy that not only acknowledges these kinds of literacies but also utilizes them as a means to academic literacy. This reminds me of an article by Gerald Graff ("Hidden Intellectualism") wherein he describes a similar scenario but with slightly different terms. Graff doesn’t speak to literacy or its various definitions per se, but rather argues that the root of the problem is the pervasive tendency of educators who, operating from positions of traditional pedagogy, fail to utilize or even acknowledge the implicit intellectualism their students have already developed as a consequence of their participation in non-academic, or vernacular, culture. In other words the problem is one of pedagogical theory and application since he believes that "inside every steet-smart student (which is to say, every student) there is a latent intellectual trying to break out" (23; emphasis mine). Thus the burden of responsibility rests firmly on the shoulders of educators to develop teaching methods that take advantage of "the extent to which adolescent lives are already often ‘steeped in argument’ and ‘critical theory’" by virtue of discussion and debate about so-called "philistine pursuits" (i.e. music, sports, film, fashion, etc.) (22). By using students’ vernacular knowledge as a vehicle for their acquisition of academic knowledge, Graff suggests that education will better facilitate the development of student voices that are both recognizable and effective within the public domain. Similarly, Jeffrey Duncan-Andrade advocates what Lawrence Grossberg refers to as a "pedagogy of articulation and risk" (334). This is a multi-cultural teaching approach that "values and learns from the cultural literacies students bring to the classroom and assists them as they expand those literacies and develop new ones" (334). In fact, Duncan-Andrade’s is a more comprehensive approach to solving Scott’s complaint about "the recycling of deficit pedagogy in basic writing," if only because it "believes that a rigorous multicultural curriculum should be a marriage of the student’s culture and canonical culture" (Duncan-Andrade 331-2), as opposed to Graff’s, i.e. merely flirting with the student’s culture as a means of seducing him or her into the canonical bed. I would encourage anyone interested in this subject to take a look at either or both of these articles, though both have their flaws.
Duncan-Andrade, Jeffrey M. R. "Your Best Friend or Your Worst Enemy: Youth Popular Culture, Pedagogy, and Curriculum in Urban Classrooms." The Review of Education, Pedagogy, and Cultural Studies 26 (2004): 313-337.
Graff, Gerald. "Hidden Intellectualism." Pedagogy: Critical Approaches to Teaching Literature, Language, Composition, and Culture 1.2 (2001): 21-36.
Scott, Jerrie Cobb. "Literacies and Deficits Revisited." Landmark Essays on Basic Writing. Mahwah: Erlbaum, 2001.