With Literacy and Justice For All

In 2020, the state of Michigan settled a case with Detroit school students after a federal appeals court ruled basic education and literacy a fundamental right.  The students claimed they were deprived of access to literacy via lack of books, instruction, and poor building conditions. The settlement agreement could result in around $97 million in funding for literacy initiatives in the Detroit Public School Community District.


Protestors advocate for Detroit Students fight for literacy


“Low-quality literacy education is a key component of the school-to-prison pipeline.” — Winn et al. (2011).




One of our course readings, Winn & Behizadeh’s The Right to Be Literate, emphasizes literacy as a civil right. They justify literacy as a new frontier of civil rights because of the consequences of denying the right to literacy. Being denied the resources to develop literacies can result in a significant detriment to one’s ability to fully engage with society. Their pedagogy of possibility places importance on creating “hybrid” spaces in which there are multiple means of accessing literate materials. Diverse methodological approaches are necessary to provide inclusive access to literacy.

Agency is an important concept in education, specifically when it comes to acquiring and practicing literacy. In her discussion on disability in the academic writing center, Kerri Rinaldi points out that, “If a student has a disability, we treat the disability as an obstacle or shortcoming instead of a contributor to their agency” (2015). Winn situates agency in engagement with education and thus the ability to act for themselves and critically engage with their communities.

“Reading and writing critically are essential tools for survival in a current educational system in whcih students of color are disproportionately in special education, suspended, and expelled, which all contribute to a higher likelihood of incarceration.”

–Winn, et al.

Disabled students are more likely to be referred to juvenile justice than students without disabilities; these rates are even higher for non-white students. Collaborative efforts with students such as performing their work, conducting research, and having forums where their voices are heard are imperative in efforts to disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline.

To deny literacy is to effectively attempt to prevent the acquisition of justice, equality, and civil rights.


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