"The whole movement of life is learning" (Krishnamurti). "To be an act of knowing, then, the adult literacy process must engage the learners in the constant problematizing of their existential situations" (Freire). "Once you learn to read, you will be forever free" (Douglass). "I can learn anything I have the desire to learn" (White, S.G.).

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Pushing Literacy

At the risk of raising a discussion that I’ve already covered, I’d like to consider the power that text can hold with some freshly colored perspectives.  While I know that the conceptual relationship of power and the written word is not something new to all of us at this point in the semester, I am amazed and inspired at every turn in just how many ways one can find this to be so.  Since this semester began, I have discovered the power that text can have over our assumptions, beliefs, perceptions, understandings, desires, emotions, convictions, resistance, decisions, inspirations….I am constantly amazed at how often we have uncovered the use of text to influence an entire nation of people, or even just one.    
Consider first Push, and the POWERFUL story of Precious’s life.  In the pages of this book I found myself becoming lost in grief and hope.  I cried for a fictional character, wondering how a parent could treat a child in such a way.  Yet the text also told another story for me as well; how many others live in the world around us-perhaps even at times shares the same space-and have similar stories?  My heart breaks at the thought…as the mother of a daughter, someone else’s child and a tremendous believer in the power and right one has to their own education.  So many sufferings this character faced were unnecessary; sufferings that were written in such a way that it is not a story that I will soon forget.
Pondering this, I also consider the text Sapphire chose to tell such a story.  The vulgarity repeatedly used to describe even simple things…yet a Discourse that I perhaps am just not familiar with.  Were the words chosen meant to convey the emotions that resulted for me?  Or did I take away unintended meaning because of the experiences that I lay upon her story?    Such a realization did not even occur to me until our class discussion and the discovery that Sapphire had herself experienced her own injustices as a child.   Forcing myself to look at the text more critically, I wonder how much of her own story is a part of the painting of Precious’s world.    Is this instead a story that is meant to stay with the reader in hopes that we will always consider the possibility that education can provide?  While Precious’s experiences can never be erased, she does seem to discover herself through the use of literacy practice-uncovering perhaps even a hidden power within.
I would be remiss to not also consider our readings from this week, most notably Mazak’s study of the literacy practices of Puerto Rican Farmers.  While the push to adopt the English language was a clear power move, the resistance that came from it can be seen as one as well.  The teacher’s that resisted teaching the English language when no one was looking; the adults that chose not to speak it; the farmers that still to this day chose to go to Chucho for translations instead of ‘giving in’ and learning it for themselves.  Some may argue that they are simply delaying the inevitable, but consider Chucho’s interpretation of his position of community leader.  Although “English literacy, in and of itself, gives them prestige.  It is because of the way that other farmers can access information in English through them, and thus can bypass the English language struggle themselves.”  Now who can deny the power in that?  But then, one may also wonder, do they resist only to the avoidance of seeing the push a helpful one? 
One thing is certain, what you read and understand is colored by the experiences and stories that make you who you are.  Whether it fuels your resistance or your desire, text and the way it is used can truly be a vehicle of power.    ”Written texts get their meanings in the way speakers do-by embedding their words within the contexts, conditions, and constraints of experiences one has had in the world.” (Gee, pg 4)

1 comment:

  1. Man o man, Holly, this is an awesome meditation on power and text. So many ways to think about this relationship! So many scales of oppression, so many forms of agency! Thanks for helping us gain a little perspective on it!!
    Also, you wrote, "Were the words chosen meant to convey the emotions that resulted for me? Or did I take away unintended meaning because of the experiences that I lay upon her story?" Whew....You are now plunging into the thorny world of semiotics (theory of signs). How things like words point to other things. And to what extend the meaning is found in the author's head, on the page (or the body or the side of a building), or in the readers' head. Remember the exercise we did on day one of our class about what reading is? Well, you now have a very savvy appreciation for this mystery: how our projects are an inescapable part of reading the world, as the world is an inescapable part of our selves. (Still, your question is ethical and important, because we need to do our best to manage our subjectivities and hear the voice of the other. (It's hard.)
    Thanks for a super provocative post! B.


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