The gendering of literacies: the reading and writing practices of adolescent girls in rural Appalachia.

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Corey, Jean
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Middle Tennessee State University
The purpose of this dissertation is to examine the literacies of adolescent girls in rural Appalachia. This study focuses on the literacies of six girls, two girls each from sixth, ninth, and eleventh grades. Representing the span of adolescence, the six girls were chosen as acknowledged leaders by classmates and teachers. Over the course of a semester, these girls were observed and interviewed both in and out of the classroom. Parents, teachers, and administrators were also interviewed. The girls' literacies examined in the study include the reading and writing practices sanctioned by school, as well as those that usually go unnoticed by teachers and school administrators.
The findings of this study suggest that the writing and reading required in school often dismiss the experiences and aesthetics that rural Appalachian girls bring with them to school, thus cutting them off from the strengths and potentials of their cultures at home. The literacies sanctioned by school limit the girls' ability to think critically about the roles and scripts available for women in their culture. Examination of the girls' unsanctioned reading and writing practices, however, reveals the political possibility of these literacies. At the same time that girls seem to embrace their prescribed roles as women in their culture, they also resist and talk back to both school and home cultures in their underground practice of writing notes. In this literacy practice girls shed the "nice," "sweet" personas constructed within their schools' sanctioned literacies and engage in imaginative and creative forms of writing that are important for staying connected to the confidence they knew as younger girls.
Girls find their experiences as adolescents validated through reading teen magazines and are offered a subjectivity, however limited, that they do not find elsewhere in their culture. Through reading these magazines, they are offered a window to cultures beyond their own; cultures where girls are often allowed more cultural agency than the girls of rural Appalachia.
Finally, this study underscores the importance of making room in the classroom for all the literacies students possess. As girls are empowered and their voices are made audible, it is crucial that we make places for their voices to be heard.
Adviser: Ayne Cantrell.