“The Advantages of Knowing How to Read and Write”: Literacy, Filmic Pedagogies, and the Hemispheric Projection of US Influence
During World War II, the US Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs (OIAA) and the Walt Disney Company produced a series of educational films promoting literacy, hygiene, and American (US) values for distribution across the Americas. Through these films, literacy was to move across borders in service of inter-American cooperation. That movement, however, also reinscribed the distance between a modern, powerful, literate United States and a stagnant, resistant, illiterate “other America.” The program’s insistence on film as a pedagogical tool imagined the United States as a site of technical modernity in contrast to its American neighbors. Working in light of recent scholarship addressing how literacy controls and constrains movement, this essay considers the effects of literacy for literacy's others—in this case, the population of what the OIAA termed the “other American republics.” It highlights the American assumptions that circulated within the literacy films and became enmeshed with the reading and writing skills they claimed to provide. Examining how film moved literacy practice and ideology across national borders, this essay demonstrates how thoroughly the contexts and the media of literacy's movement shape the consequences of its transmission.
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