“I am a Parrot”: Socialization into Literacy and Epistemic Ideologies through Rote Learning in India

Lecture | November 3 | 11 a.m.-12 p.m. | 33 Dwinelle Hall

 Usree Bhattacharya, University of Georgia

 Berkeley Language Center, Center for Ethnographic Research

Pervasive in rural and poorer schools in India, rote practices have received widespread criticism in educational literature for constraining the learning of English as well as educational content (e.g., Annamalai, 2004; Bhattacharya, 2013; Mohanty, 2008). Less studied, however, has been how rote practices 1) shape what students in such schools construct as learning, and 2) inform how they see themselves as learners. Using a language socialization theoretical lens, this study reveals how rote practices socialize marginalized children into oppressive literacy and epistemic ideologies, and captures how they resist them. Specifically, I illustrate, on one hand, how such children are socialized to accept limitations placed upon their learning through rote practices and, on the other hand, how they articulate and enact resistance within this context. These findings emerge from my decade-long ethnographic investigation of the language and literacy practices of young boys who live at an anathashram (orphanage) in suburban New Delhi and attend a nearby village school. The analysis of these entangled processes of socialization are finally tied to the reproduction of socioeconomic inequalities in Indian education. Within a high-stakes language political context where English is a gatekeeper for socioeconomic mobility as well as higher education, this work calls for a more critical consideration of how socialization into problematic learner subject positions occurs through English literacy practices, and to question why.