Depending on the context, we play different roles in our lives, which affects how we relate to others. At times, we can assume these roles automatically without any conscious thinking; therefore, it is important to be aware of how our role affects our relations with others, whether we find ourselves in a correctional setting or in a classroom. This is particularly important in literacy work when we are working with writers from different backgrounds and skill levels. We want to make sure that while our role is one of guidance and teaching it should not be authoritarian to the extent that it dis-empowers those we are trying to help. For instance, in Wright and Mahiri’s “Literacy Learning Within Community Action Projects for Social Change,” the literacy program “Positive Youth Development” (PYD) has a unique approach for increasing academic literacy skills. It differs in the sense that it crafts literacy learning within the context of real world problems, which in turn helped increase engagement and empowered the student. The PYD approach is in stark contrast to authoritarian relationships found in traditional schools.
The roles we assume and our preconceived notions accompany them, will directly affect the way we act and treat others. In the SpeakOut program, we do not aim to be authoritarian or hierarchical. While it may not seem like much, the mental assumptions we have surrounding our roles have huge impacts. An extreme example is the Philip Zimbardo’s Stanford Prison Experiment, where random, everyday people were assigned to either be a prisoner or a guard. Even though neither group had previous experience in either group, their ideas surrounding those roles soon overpowered their relations with each other. Guards were increasingly abusive towards prisoners and the prisoners, in turn, developed in-group solidarity.