Literacy in American Lives

This book traces the changing conditions of literacy learning over the past century as they were felt in the lives of Americans born between 1895 and 1985. The book demonstrates what sharply rising standards for literacy have meant to successive generations of Americans and how they have responded to rapid changes in the meaning and methods of literacy learning in their society. Drawing on more than 80 life histories of Americans from all walks of life, the book addresses critical questions facing public education at the twenty-first century: What role does economic change play in creating inequality in access and reward for literacy? What is the human impact of the economy’s growing reliance on the literacy skills of workers? This book gets beyond the usual laments about the crisis in literacy to offer an often surprising look into the ways that literacy is lived in America.

• Offers new insights into the effects of economic change on literacy learning • One of the most comprehensive treatments of lifelong learning in America • Uses life history methods and studies literacy across generations and across time


Introduction: the pursuit of liberty; 1. Literacy, opportunity and economic change; 2. Literacy and illiteracy in documentary America; 3. Accumulating literacy: how four generations of one American family learned to write; 4. ‘The power of it’: sponsors of literacy in African American lives; 5. The sacred and the profane: reading vs. writing in popular memory; 6. The means of production: literacy and stratification at the 21st century; Conclusion.