This article contrasts the reading pedagogy inspired by the “talking book” and the reading pedagogy described by Frederick Douglass. The talking book offers literacy as a thing to be acquired that can be traded for freedom. “Literacy as a gift” inculcates in students a view of education as a commodity in the marketplace. This promise, education as a gift of freedom, fails—it fails to speak to students today, fails to remedy racial and gendered disparities, and fails by giving students tests to pass that fail to make them think. Douglass, by contrast, sees literacy and freedom as practices, learning to read not as a gift but as theft, and education not inculcating social values but orienting students to resist social structures that would oppress them.

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