Learning to Read is Political

When the Guttenberg Press first put words on paper, religious leaders, controllers of knowledge, were outraged and out of work. After all, they believed that informed peasants, workers or supplicants were undesirable. Women, slaves and non-elites were denied access to information.

So began the politics of reading — actually education.

There is no need to know antiquity to understand how and why the rich and powerful promulgate ignorance. Making it illegal to teach African Americans to read and its legacy is prototypical. So, too, is the history of subjugating women to cooking and making babies. When the printed word ushered enlightenment to the ignorant and unwashed, controlling who got educated became a political imperative for royals and owners of blood wealth.

Myths and theories justified denial of education opportunity—intelligence quotients, character flaws, gender difference and superiority claims. All have been debunked, yet the politics of who gets educated persists. In contemporary discourse you can hear school board members and legislators questioning why technology would be made available when, "your people cannot read…” or when money is available, “those people do not know what to do with it…” or even that universal education has dragged our country down.

In 1959, James Conant punctuated the politics of education when he proposed, and the nation adopted, the development of the comprehensive high school for the purpose of preparing white boys for higher education and everyone else for vocational careers. Currently, the ladder to social mobility is without steps because, where there are poor people, chronic under-funding of public education is policy or practice. In legislative chambers, one hears the bellowing about the cost of public education. Resources get slashed, which shackles practitioners and denies access to opportunity.

Resist. Organize. Education, like reading, is political and essential to freedom.

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