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April 2005
264 pages  

6 x 9
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The Language of Experience
Literate Practices and Social Change
Gorzelsky , Gwen
Relying on Gestalt theory, this work describes the relationship between literacy and change in both personal and social situations. It presents historical and contemporary case studies, emphasizing the ways language interacts with perception.

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Gwen Gorzelsky, assistant professor in the Composition Program at Wayne State University, is developing a service-learning initiative that involves undergraduate students and their graduate student instructors in Detroit communities.
"One of the few extended treatments of literacy and social change available anywhere. From past to present, Gorzelsky connects the elusive dots among social movements, literacy, and personal change—and does so through an original and courageous mix of psychology, history, ethnography, and self-revelation."—Deborah Brandt, University of Wisconsin-Madison

"Gorzelsky has . . . produced a unique and powerful roadmap for teachers who believe the classroom should be a vehicle for social change."—Steve Parks, Syracuse University

"[A] smart and brave book, one that steps outside customary interpretive frames to explore a central question in the field: how can language and literacy practices promote individual and communal change? . . . Gorzelsky awakens our belief in the possibility of agency and reminds us of the human need to hope."—Glynda A. Hull, University of California, Berkeley

"[A] singularly insightful exploration of the rhetorical ‘deep structure’ of learning—a must-read for adult literacy educators interested in teaching for social change."—Julie Lindquist, Michigan State University

”A delightfully unusual book. It is also distinctive in the wide expanse of experiential and historical ground it covers in its treatment of change—so much so, that it’s nearly impossible to describe the work in such a way as to give an adequate sense of its scope and possible uses. Compelling.” —JAC

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Composition, Literacy, and Culture Table of Contents
Composition/Literacy Read a selection from this book

The Language of Experience examines the relationship between literacy and change--both personal and social. Gorzelsky studies three cases, two historical and one contemporary, that speak to key issues on the national education agenda. "Struggle" is a community literacy program for urban teens and parents. It encourages them to reflect on, articulate, and revise their life goals and design and implement strategies for reaching them. To provide historical context for this and other contemporary efforts in using literacy to promote social change, Gorzelsky analyzes two radical religious and political movements of the English Civil Wars and the 1930s unionizing movement in the Pittsburgh region. Charting the similarities and differences in the function of literate practices in each case shows how different situations and contexts can foster very different outcomes. Gorzelsky's analytic frame is drawn from Gestalt theory, which emphasizes the holistic nature of perception, communication, and learning. Through it she views how discourse and language structures interact with experience and how this interaction changes awareness and perception. The book is methodologically innovative in its integration of a macro-social view of cultural, social, and discursive structures with a micro-social view of the potential for change embodied in them. Through her analysis and in her use of the voices of the people she studies, Gorzelsky offers a tool for analyzing individual instances of literate practices and their potential for fostering change.


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