14 December 2012

(Part 2 of 3) Making Literacy Connections Via Street Lit: One Scholar's Incredible Work

In last week's installment of Dr. Joseph Richardson's interview he talked about the need for educators to support the reading public with literacy practices from early ages. This week, Dr. Richardson discusses actual titles that his teens have requested and read. He advocates for educators to (re)perceive children as "scholars in their own right". Read on:

StreetLiterature.com: Have your young adults suggested any authors / titles / themes for the reading program in your research study? If so, what are they? If not, why do you think this is so?


The kids actually suggested The Autobiography of Malcolm X probably because they saw the film and have heard a lot about the book on the street. We cannot forget that the streets talk. You have older guys or old heads within their families and their neighborhoods that have done time. They will pass down in conversation books they read during their bid. So surely Malcolm’s book will come up as well as other books, like The 48 Laws of Power and Sun Tzu's The Art of War.

I also found that films and videos were a better medium to introduce youth to books, and not vice versa. For example, many kids were introduced to Malcolm X via the movie and not the book. The movie tie-in of a book often opens the door for them to be interested in reading the actual book. The kids suggested films as well. For example, they wanted to watch the 1971 Italian pseudo-documentary, "Goodbye Uncle Tom", which was crazy to me, because I had no idea they even knew that film. Once when I screened the film to a group of juvenile inmates, as I reached to take the movie with me when I was packing to leave, they pleaded with me to leave the movie, so they could show the film to some of their friends who were on lock down. That was amazing!

The majority of the kids are really sharp and scholars in their own right. They are victims to a dysfunctional world and set of circumstances which by no choice of their own, adults have created and brought them into. That may sound cliché, but it’s true. Some of the young brothers in my group were far more insightful and perceptive than some college students I have encountered.

StreetLiterature.com: In what ways has Urban / Street Literature impacted your teens’ reading tastes and habits?

Once they get the information and are able to digest what is relevant to their lives, they want more information. Again, these young brothers spend the majority of their days doing absolutely nothing so they are hungry for knowledge. Now some will not be interested, of course you have those who do not want to read, probably because they can’t read, so they are going to try to disrupt the energy of the group. 

But I’m realistic, I’m not there to save everybody, some will not want the information and that’s cool, maybe someday in the future they will have an epiphany and a moment of clarity where they realize how much they missed. I cannot worry about those kids because that small minority can impact the larger majority of those who want to learn. I’m not going to force anyone to participate in our group, participation is voluntary, you have to want it or else if you’re forced to do it, more than likely that kid is going to be a detriment to every else and I cannot afford that. 

We’re only in the jail for a couple of hours once a week so we have to make the most of our time. Anybody who has ever worked in this setting can understand what I am saying. I think we often set the bar too low, coming in with preconceived ideas about what they can’t read or don’t want to read. 

You have to understand that all people whether they are children or adults have multiple intelligences, and as an educator you have to tap into those strengths. You have to deal with the strengths first if you want to improve their self-esteem.  In short for those who love reading I believe that my mentorship has increased their breadth and range of what they will read and that’s a good thing. For others, they may be more visual, actually I respect that because I am more visual. That kid may be the next Cle Bone Sloan. So I have to tap into his strengths as well. That young brother may be more inclined now to make a film that documents his hood and how structural violence has caused the direct violence he witnesses around him.

--- Please post your questions and comments to this interview, below. We'd love to get a meaningful discussion started about Dr. Richardson's work. Next week's final installment for this interview series concludes with Dr. Richardson's discussion of the scholarly thinking of inner-city youth (yes, you read that correctly). --- 

1 comment:

  1. Dr. Richardson, what is your opinion of boys reading comic books? There's much controversy surrounding this subject and I'm curious if you have observed this trend while working with teens.

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