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“Literacy With an Attitude” by Patrick J. Finn Review

During the course of recent decades, the quality of educational standards in American high schools has been undermined to such an extent that, even upon being graduated, many of today’s students still have a hard time while trying to locate America on the world’s map. This statement correlates rather well with the fact that, during the same period, the operational status of many high schools has been transformed from being the places of learning into ‘adult kindergartens’ or even ‘academies of crime’, where students are being searched on possession of drugs and guns before they can enter the classroom. Such situation is a direct result of the fact that, during the course of the last twenty years, neo-Liberal ‘sophisticates’ were in charge of designing the country’s educational policies, while firmly believing that students’ chances to attain social prominence are being defined by their understanding of different forms of ‘oppression’, rather than by the rate of their IQ.

In his book “Literacy with an attitude: Educating working-class children in their own self-interest”, Patrick J. Finn defines the conceptual essence of the Liberal approach to education: “What will most inspire the learners in discussion and reflection on his or her own experiences, particularly his or her own oppression… Many children in urban America are oppressed by a few key institutions: school, family, and community” (2009, p. 174). Therefore, it comes as no surprise that, as time goes by, the effectiveness of America’s system of education continues to be progressively undermined, which provides individuals like Finn with yet another chance to turn their talent in whining about ‘inequality’ into the instrument of generating a commercial profit. In this paper, we will aim at exploring this thesis even further, while referring to the motifs, contained in the 2003 movie “Radio”, as such that reveals the utter conceptual fallaciousness of the neo-Liberal approach to education.

The audience of “Radio” is best defined as consisting of bored and sentimental housewives, who derive great pleasure from being exposed to cinematographic interpretations of how ‘underprivileged’ individuals struggle with institutionalized racism, sexism, male chauvinism, etc. This explains this movie’s popularity among marginalized individuals, despite the fact that it promotes the essentially nonsensical idea that mentally and physically healthy students might benefit enormously from socializing with retards. What also attracts this kind of audience to “Radio” is that its producers had made a point in portraying masculine virtues of health, rationale, and intellect as being inferior to feminine virtues of sappiness, spirituality, and irrational tolerance.

The movie “Radio” has been used to justify the process of America’s system of education being ruined. It is a well-known fact that the dropout rates among Black and Hispanic students in American high schools account for as high as 45%, which has to do with these students’ genetically predetermined inability to operate with highly abstract categories. Yet, the mentioning of this fact is now considered taboo, which is why Hollywood moviemakers try their best to promote the idea that it is namely ‘institutionalized poverty, which explains earlier mentioned categories’ of students’ intellectual inadequacy. This is exactly the reason why movie producers strived to emphasize Radio’s low social status, even though his inability to enroll in Hanna’s High had solely to do with his mental retardation.

“Radio” belongs to the cinematographic genre of drama. It is being designed to inspire cheap sentiments in the hearts of liberal-minded female moviegoers. However, it is highly doubtful whether mentally adequate White males might feel emotionally comfortable while being exposed to film’s motifs, simply because, as it is being rightly noticed by Finn: “The male chauvinist discourse and the feminist discourse are each defined in many ways in contrast or opposition to the other” (2009, p. 109). In its turn, this explains why Coach John’s male friends did not think of his attraction to Radio as being entirely normal.

The historical theme, explored throughout the movie’s entirety, appears to be concerned with the legacy of America’s racism. Nowadays, students are being taught to believe that, even as recently as thirty years ago, evil White racists enjoyed an undisputed authority in the field of education. This suggestion corresponds rather well to Finn’s insistence that, during the course of the seventies: “A number of White students were surprised by the varieties of racism Black students encountered” (2009, p. 180). Thus, there can be very little doubt as to the movie’s high degree of politically motivated ideologization.

The commentary, promoted by “Radio”, in regards to the theme of racism, can be articulated as follows: In order for White students to adopt ‘tolerance’ as the integral component of their existential mode, they need to remain utterly ignorant towards the issues that can hardly be considered tolerable. Moreover, they must also be willing to sacrifice their chances to attain social prominence in the future, so that mentally retarded but ‘unique’ individuals would be able to hang out with these students for no particular reason, whatsoever – thus, increasing the levels of tolerance within American society. This kind of commentary resonates with what represents the foremost Liberal agenda in the field of education, promoted by Finn in his book with utter frankness: “Basic literacy does not lead automatically to higher forms of thinking, either in societies or in individuals(!)” (2009, p. 123). Apparently, the author firmly believed that one’s ability to indulge in constant whining about ‘inequality is being so much more socially valuable, as compared to one’s ability to solve complex mathematical equations.

The movie’s actual importance can be best assessed from a historical perspective. Apparently, “Radio” provides viewers with insight on technical aspects of how hawks of political correctness strive to undermine students’ chances to obtain a high-quality education. When the process of designing the country’s socio-political policies will be adjusted to correspond to the notion of sanity again, the movie “Radio” would be increasingly resorted to as an example of what happens when existentially inadequate people find their way into governmental offices.

The readings we have completed for the course have a largely supplemental role, when it comes to understanding the movie’s actual significance, simply because this significance is being self-evident. “Radio” promotes the idea that the strength of one’s intellectual powers is of no importance, whatsoever. Yet, the objective reality points out to something entirely opposite – the fact that America continues to be associated with the world’s highest standards of living, has nothing to do with the country’s citizens’ ‘spirituality’, ‘tolerance’ or ‘multicultural progressiveness’, but with their ability to act as facilitators of cultural and scientific progress, while solely relying on their sense of rationale, during the course of the process.

The conclusion of this paper can be summarized as follows: The watching of “Radio” did not bring us closer to the realization of how should educators address their professional duties. On the contrary – it showed that the lack of teachers’ professional adequacy is being exponentially proportionate to the strength of their willingness to defy the notion of rationale as euro-centric, and therefore ‘evil’.


Finn, P. (2009). Literacy with an attitude: Educating working-class children in their own self-interest. New York: State University of New York Press.


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