In this article, Alfred Tatum argues that the current framing of the adolescent literacy crisis fails to take into account the in-school and out-of-school challenges confronting many African American male adolescents today, particularly those growing up in high-poverty communities. Using the metaphor of literacy instruction as a human body, he argues that in the absence of sound theory about the importance of texts for African American male adolescents, even the best instructional methods will fall flat, like a body without a head. He offers a more anatomically complete model in which instructional methods are governed by theories about how literacy can help young men of color respond to their immediate contexts, and in which professional development gives legs to these methods by preparing teachers to engage all students. Finally, in a case study of one Chicago youth, Tatum illustrates both the power that relevant texts can hold for young men of color and the missed opportunities that result when students do not encounter such texts in their schools.

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