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Patrick Finn’s Book “Literacy with an Attitude”

The problem of educating children from working or low-class families is actively discussed today. However, it is important to note that current debates were provoked by Patrick Finn’s book Literacy with an Attitude: Educating Working-Class Children in Their Own Self-Interest published in 1999. In his book, Finn discusses the complex concept of children’s literacy with the focus on their needs and in the context of such notions as social class, inequality, and power (Finn, 1999). The purpose of this paper is to examine the key concepts presented by Finn in his work and analyze how these ideas can be applied to real-life situations.

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The main idea explained by the author in Literacy with an Attitude is that the inequality in the American educational system prevents authorities from applying the principles of progressive education for all students despite their social status without contrasting functional and powerful literacy (Finn, 1999). As a result, the education available to those children who take lower social roles does not provide them with opportunities to develop their potential and focus on critical thinking.

According to Finn (1999), the school system followed in the United States creates conditions for developing more workers and representatives of a low class whose literacy is not enough to help them take higher positions in society. Moreover, according to the author, much attention should be paid to the idea of justice in the school system of the country. In spite of their provocativeness, these ideas formulated by the author of the book can be discussed as reasonable because they are supported by many examples and evidence from studies provided by the author.

According to Finn (1999), the problem is that curricula at school are not related to the needs of children depending on certain environments and social conditions, and when teachers try to adapt a curriculum to a diverse class, they usually face students’ resistance. Furthermore, in many cases, teachers even do not want to try to adapt curricula to the needs of students in order to provide them with opportunities to receive the important knowledge.

It is possible to agree with the author that the reason for students’ and teachers’ resistance to cooperation in this situation is in the fact that, focusing on functional literacy, students learn only how to follow directions rather than how to think and solve problems (Finn, 1999). In the situation when all students in the class are provided with equal opportunities to learn, there are also challenges. In the first chapters of the book, the author provides effective examples of real-life cases and studies to demonstrate how inappropriate attempts to guarantee equality at school also lead to negative consequences. When teachers cannot address class dynamics and students’ differences in the efficient manner, education cannot be viewed as effective.

The concepts provided by Finn (1999) in his work can also be applied to real-world cases. Thus, in many classes, it is possible to observe situations when teachers ignore “bottom” students because they do not demonstrate the pace of learning similar to “top” students. As a result, teachers focus on providing them only with the easiest tasks without stimulating their learning or, in contrast, on ignoring their needs and interests. On the contrary, situations when teachers promote equality while providing all students with adequate instructions and resources are examples of how the author’s concepts can be applied to practice.

While analyzing the effectiveness of arguments presented in Literacy with an Attitude, it is possible to state that the book is appropriate to make authorities revise the followed school system to address the needs of minorities, representatives of low and middle classes, and immigrants. The author successfully analyzes traditional and progressive methods to be used at school. As a result, his conclusions can be utilized for reforming the system.

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Finn, P. J. (1999). Literacy with an attitude: Educating working-class children in their own self-interest. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

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