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The good mother: a critical discourse analysis of literacy advice to mothers in the 20th century Smythe, Suzanne

Abstract

Often presented as a means of communicating the latest in scientific research to parents, literacy advice is a key strategy used by educational institutions to address persistent gaps in literacy achievement across socio-economic groups. The rationale for creating and disseminating literacy advice is that if families adhere to it, their children will become literate, succeed in school, and become productive members of society. Drawing on Foucauldian approaches to discourse analysis, feminist theories, and the concept of mothering and literacy as situated practices, the study explores literacy advice to parents as a gendered practice of power rather than an institutional truth. Based on the analysis of over three hundred literacy advice texts published in Britain and North America since the Nineteenth Century, the study demonstrated that contemporary literacy advice to parents is deeply rooted in the cultural ideal of the “good mother.” Discourses of domestic pedagogy, intensive mothering, and the “normal” family normalize middle class domesticity and the ideal of the good mother as essential to children’s literacy acquisition and academic success. The findings suggest that reliance upon women’s domestic literacy work to promote children’s academic success not only reproduces gender inequalities, but has implications for equity in literacy learning opportunities among diversely situated children and families.

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