Definition of Literacy and Acquisition of Literate Discourse


Gee defines the literacy differently than how we used to know. He firstly describes a concept discourse as “identity kit” which based on how a person acts and communicates with others. Then he points out how those discourses are shaped by acquiring and learning. It is a good perspective to understand the importance of combining the acquiring and learning processes in becoming literate of any subject. Honestly, I should admit that the example is given about using  second language is so familiar to me because  I have been experiencing the differences between those two concepts at first hand.

On the other hand, Gee asserts that mainstream middle class children have the chance to acquire literacy through their family whereas nonmainstream children may not have. The latter class has the opportunity to experience this only at a school environment within very limited time. He concludes the article as follows:

The nonmainstream child will always have more conflicts in using and thus mastering dominant secondary discourses, since they conflict more seriously with his primary discourse and community-based secondary discourse. (Gee, pg. 58)

While I was reading the articles, I remembered Bloom’s mastery learning. I share the belief that if enough effort and time are given to people, they can gain higher metaskill levels regardless to their background, as in the case of Marge in Delpit’s article. Admittedly, those children may face more conflicts and obstacles, but they can handle them with the help of their devoted teachers as long as they believe that their circumstances are not limited and permanent. Delpit also shares some examples of people who can control secondary discourses in proficiency and came from nonmainstream families. The examples demonstrate that a little bit more effort could change those children’s  lives. Thus, even if it is challenging for the teachers, they should differentiate their lessons to the needs of students who have different backgrounds. By this way, nonmainstream students could have less conflict to overcome and better chance in their lives.

After reading the articles, the following question came up to my mind: Do new technologies have any effect on nonmainstream children to introduce secondary discourses for acquiring the skills which they can not experience through their families?


  1. Gee, J. P. (1989). What Is Literacy? Journal of Education, 171(1), 18–25.
  2. Delpit, L. D. (1992). Acquisition of literate discourse: Bowing before the master? Theory into Practice, 31(4), 296–302
  3. Image Credit:



5 thoughts on “Definition of Literacy and Acquisition of Literate Discourse

  1. Hi Erin,

    Yes I believe they are helpful.There are tons of educational tools online that educators can use to help students learn the various rules and standards of their Dominant discourse.

    I believe the first thing is exposure and training. If educators are not aware of what technology has to offer, how can they use it to their benefit. Also with exposure, proper training is very important as well. It’s one thing to have a working tool, it’s another to know how house it properly and to your benefit.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Greetings Erin,
    I have the same question after I finished reading the works of these two writers. I also strongly agree with Gee’s points of mainstream children being able to acquire discourse through their life experiences at a much better rate than non-mainstream children. Most discourse is acquired and absorbed through social interactions. These points all brought up by the authors and help me etch my understanding of Lieracy Asa whole and its overal relation to the system of education. Yo believe that yes technologies will no longer limit the experiences that expand the populations discourse. A variety of discourse primary and secondary will now exist in all areas despite socioeconomic status or race.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. First, Ameenat and Kip, you confused me. This is Filiz’s post (not Erin’s). It took a couple of up-and-down scrolls to make sure I had it straight!

    Filiz, thanks for bringing up the question of digital tools and digital literacies. I think that the prevalent digital and internet discourses are close to the dominant discourses of wealthy, white, western culture. Obviously, the internet is a big place and not a monoculture. Still, we walk to about powerful or transformative digital literacies, non-mainstream groups may face some of the issues that Gee and Delpit both address when they write about school discourses and non-mainstream students.


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