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Battaglia 1

Daniel Battaglia
Nancy Roche
Writing 1010-018
30 September 2014
The Literacy Myth
Perhaps, James Gees Social Linguistics and Literacies is, not only his most popular
work, but one of the most popular works in academia. Gee states that the Literacy Myth is a
method of classism and a way of gaining power. However, Gees opinion is that literacy is more
complex than that. Throughout his essay, he uses many examples such as Plato and Oakes as
well as the Catholic Church to prove the Literacy Myth. While Gee doesnt necessarily argue
against the authors he uses in his essay, he uses their examples to find a way to explain how to
get around the Literacy Myth.
Gee uses religion as way to explain the Literacy Myth. Relating to Plato, Gee talks
about how the Catholic Church was reluctant to put the Bible and other sacred texts into the
hands of the people, for fear they would not interpret them correctly. (Gee 54). The Catholic
Churchs goal was to leave the interpretation to the oral instruction of Church authorities
(Gee 54). As mentioned in his essay, this was the same concept as Plato, giving all the power to
the literate. As expected, Catholic countries tended to be culturally and economically
behind (Gee 54).
On the other hand, Sweden, during the 18th Century, made literacy available to everyone
because Teaching was done on a household basissupervised and reinforced by the parish
church (Gee 54). Sweden, at the time, was a Protestant country, which focused on the
promotion of Christian faith and life (Gee 54). At the time, Sweden was ahead of the Catholic

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countries in terms of economics and culture because just about everyone was literate and literacy
was not exclusive for the church officials.
Gee uses Platos perfect society as a support for the Literacy Myth. Gee first talks about
Plato when he talks about Platos thoughts about writing. Platos thought that writing led to
the deterioration of human memory (Gee 48). Plato relied on defending his work as Gee says,
For Plato, one knew only what one could critically and reflectively defend in face-to-face
dialogue with someone else (Gee 48). Writing is seen as authoritative and final (Gee 48) since
they cannot be edited after they have been written down.
Gee even admits to making Plato sound like a progressive educator defending
discussion (Gee 51). Plato drew a blueprint for a utopian, perfect statewhich he wished
to put in the place of the current order (Gee 51). This is how Gee shows the Literacy Myth in
action. By having this perfect state, Plato would have a given hierarchy, with philosopherkings (i.e., Plato or people like him) at the top (Gee 51). This supports the Literacy Myth in
which Gee is trying to destroy because it is giving everyone who is literate all the power.
Gee uses interviews with students done by Oakes to give more examples of the Literacy
Myth. Gee talks about how in which two quite different sorts of literacy are being taught,
one stressing thinking for oneself and suited to higher positions in the social hierarchy and one
stressing deference and suited for lower positions. (Gee 56). The Literacy Myth says that
literacy is a method of classism, which is exactly what is being displayed here through an
educational perspective. Parents want their kids to be in higher classes to solidify the social
hierarchy, empower elites, and ensure that people lower on the hierarchy accept the values,
norms.of the elites (Gee 57).

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Gee wants to defy the Literacy Myth by allowing new discourses into literacy and, in
turn, allow people with different powers to fractures the class system. Gee credits Plato by
saying he had a perspective and a strong one (Gee 61). Gee brings up Plato many times
during his essay, never directly arguing with him, but showing what happens if everyone
believes the Literacy Myth. Literacy, by itself, enforces class distinctions, but if a society
allows for other discourses to play their parts, the classism from literacy will be destroyed.

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Works Cited:
Gee, James Paul. "The Literacy Myth and the History of Literacy." Social Linguistics and
Literacies. New York City: Falmer Press, 1990. 47-62. Digital file.