Research shows that early literacy experiences shape students' level of academic and career motivation and development, along with future interactions with teachers and peers. As indicated by new research from one recent UNLV graduate, early literacy skills applied to academic contexts for some students foster what he terms as literacy confusion. What is most paramount in his research is the need for educational experiences to be located socio-politically to prevent the School-to-Prison Pipeline (STPP).
Dr. Tarryn McGhie, a recent Ph.D. graduate of the Cultural Studies, International Education, and Multicultural Education (CSIEME) emphasis in the Department of Teaching and Learning, coined the term literacy confusion from his dissertation research, "Forecasting the School-to-Prison Pipeline: A Generative Case Study of the Early Literacy Experiences of Black Male Youth." In this research, McGhie focused on how six Black males' early literacy experiences at home influenced their educational trajectory; he identified that literacy confusion as a phenomenon concerns how teachers interpret/misinterpret students' literacy skills- causing both teachers and students to react in ways that conflict with some students' educational progress. More specifically, literacy confusion and related teacher communication, or lack thereof- coupled with unfair school policies- disproportionately leads Black male students into educational default. This finding indicates that early literacy is a key factor in further understanding, and in seeking to dismantle, the STPP.
Dr. Christine Clark, UNLV Professor and Senior Scholar in Multicultural Education, notes the significance of McGhie's work: "As [his] faculty advisor, I have been fortunate to bear witness to his extraordinary development from a master's student into a post-doctoral scholar. Inspired, in part, by his own educational biography, Dr. McGhie's powerful generative case study examined the educational challenges that black male youth in U.S. schools faced as a result of their divergent, conflicting experiences of literacy development between home and school. As a result of these experiences, these youth confronted what Dr. McGhie's study coined "literacy confusion"-recognition that when they spoke at home and among peers, they were easily understood, but when they did the same in school, their teacher's expressed an inability to comprehend them. Dr. McGhie's study design-generative case study-was both unique and complex; it combined elements of multiple case study and grounded theory, enabling emergent themes to surface, and for the possibility that Dr. McGhie's theory of literacy confusion would be grounded as one of those emergent themes. Theoretically complex and conceptually rich, Dr. McGhie's study engaged Critical Race Theory and was informed by the research bases in Stereotype Threat, Adolescent Development, Critical Literacy and Multicultural Education, and the School-to-Prison Pipeline."
In essence, McGhie's research revealed that participants did not find connections with what they were being taught in public school and their "real world," largely due to the lack of criticality in their learning experiences (e.g., the absence of teacher critical pedagogy, inadequate focus on developing student critical literacy, instructional confinement by scripted standardized curricula). Further, the lack of criticality in participants' school experiences negatively impacted their racial identity. For example, they reported they rarely felt affirmed in school because there was a lack of positive racial/ethnic images of themselves in learning materials or school personnel, and they had limited culturally relevant interactions with teachers, through classroom pedagogy, or in the school culture at large. As a result, the participants found little motivation to succeed in school and left school.
McGhie's research has significant curricular and pedagogical, as well as policy, implications. These involve the manner in which teachers interact with communities of color in multiple contexts, creation of classroom and school cultures that are "identity safe spaces" for students and families, and development of rigorous curricula and pedagogy that equitably affirms all student identities and are relevant to all of their out-of-school experiences. Clark adds to these implications: "Perhaps most significant, Dr. McGhie's study identified a widespread illegal practice occurring in juvenile detention center-based high school programs that has serious negative consequences for the youth in his study and others like them. Fortunately, Dr. McGhie has already been contacted by educational policy makers to support their efforts to eliminate this practice. Dr. McGhie's research is ground-breaking in that there are very few scholars currently examining these issues; thus, his research will substantially augment the paucity of literature currently available in these areas and, in so doing, will facilitate the continued growth and development of the knowledge bases in multicultural, cross-cultural, and intercultural education, among many others."