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Literacy Learning and Economic Change

Deborah Brandt


In this article, Deborah Brandt discusses two cases from a larger study that documents the changing conditions of literacy learning as experienced by ordinary people in the twentieth century. Her discussion of the lives of two women, Martha Day and Barbara Hunt, is grounded in principles of oral history and life history research. She presents the analytic concept of a “sponsor” to identify any agent who supports or hampers opportunities for literacy learning in the lives of her subjects.  Her discussion of sponsorship in the lives of these two women highlights the relationship between literacy learning and economic change. Though these women were born two generations apart, they both witnessed, albeit from different points in time, the steady decline of a farm-based economy and its transformation by the forces of industrialization and consolidation of land under corporate control. Brandt argues that the accounts of these two women can aid speculation about how economic changes impact the processes of literacy learning. She also discusses how the concept of sponsorship can be useful to teachers as a way of helping students to recognize who is interested in their literacy, and why.


* Harvard Education Review, 69(4), p. 373, 1999.

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