The Janks and Gee articles got me thinking on many levels. In chp. 4, Janks writes about how difficult it can be to remain critical when we are an insider, reading with text. I think we read with text to affirm our beliefs and sense of belonging, so much so that we often cannot take a critical stance when reading what is all around us. We construct our realities and identities in this way. Janks says text is "positioned and positioning" (p. ). Gee et al. argue that there is no such thing as text with "no social practice" (p. 4).
I need to make a conscientious effort to "unlock ideology from text" (from class notes) in my social practice. Janks' critical linguistic tool for analyzing verb use made me realize how complex critical discourse analysis can be. I'm a student of higher education and I can hardly wrap my head around the idea that passive sentence structure infantilizes and objectifies a person or group. This got me thinking about the adult learners in my ESOL class (squirrel alert).
Many of the adult students served by my program are low educated, low literacy learners (passive sentence structure-ouch). They have little formal education in their L1 (native language) and have not yet learned to read and write. They have not yet acquired the vocabulary to read, much less critically analyze, written text in English. This does not mean they do not have other literacies and ways of knowing, rather, they are not yet deriving meaning by reading. Gee et al. argue that reading is more than making meaning from text, it is talking about it, socially interacting with it, living it, making it part of your world. While the ESOL students may not yet be reading, they are talking, socializing, and living in our community. They certainly have a social practice, and they are "reading" oral and pictoral text. Gee et al. describe this living process of literacy as Discourse.
We all belong to a Discourse, it shapes our identity (Gee et al., p. 15). Perhaps this explains why it is hard to be critical of text that we use to frame our world. Gee et al. describe a situation where a person becomes part of more than one Discourse, and Discourses are, by definition, at odds with each other (a concept of Gee that I can barely grasp). Consider an immigrant to the U.S. (an ESOL student). She is part of a Discourse with her L1; her identity, sometimes called language ego (e.g., Brown, 2007) is constructed and framed through this L1 Discourse. She studies English (her L2) in order to integrate into American culture and L2 Discourse. She becomes bi-cultural between her L1 and L2 Discourses. They are, by Gee's definition, at odds. Think about the L2 Discourse she sees and hears (because she is not yet ready to derive full meaning from reading) that may be shaping her new, L2 identity and language ego:
How does L2 Discourse work to make her want to become a citizen, engage in our community, and make a difference? It may foster resistance to learning English and adopting American culture; the L2 Discourse is clearly at odds with the L1 Discourse. On the other hand, the tension may serve as a catalyst to go out and fight for social justice. Gee et al. argue that this kind of bi-culturalism is one way to go about social change.
That must be one hell of a process! I can think of only a few ESOL students I've encountered that were able to demonstrate that way of knowing, or, as Gee et al. would say, that kind of literacy. I need to remember that taking literacy to the streets, as I like to say, requires a long and perhaps painful journey that I should not assume any language learner is ready to take. Of course, publishing student stories is a long way from marching for social justice, but it's a small step in that direction.
Squirrels be gone! It's time to get back to spring break. Thanks for taking the time to read this long post! Susan
Cervatuic, A. (2009). Identity, good language learning and adult immigrants in Canada. Journal of Language, Identity, and Education, 8, 254-271.
Brown, H.D. (2007). Principles of language learning and teaching. White Plains, NY: Pearson Longman.