So, I’m panicking. And, that statement… in and of itself, does a pretty accurate job of summing up my whole life story. Well, go ahead and add “walking contradiction” and you’ve got the whole picture. Except, that it isn’t (do you get the whole “walking contradiction” part now?).
Growing up as a first-generation “American”, I have constantly, grudgingly, followed the pressure of quickly picking a path, getting the appropriate education, and doing it. So, for years, I had decided–much to my family’s dismay–that I would study International Relations and be a Foreign Service Officer and eventually, become the next Secretary of State (AKA – I’m a wannabe Hillary Clinton). And then, it happened. My life was ruined by Dr. Nandi and her Sociology of Gangs class. I fell in love with the world of sociology and, in turn, it’s ambiguity in specific job prospects. And then, it happened again. “My life got flipped-turned upside down.” (Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, anyone?) I spent these last two semesters studying abroad in South Africa and fell in love with traveling and immersing myself in a different culture. I fell in love with listening to people’s stories. I fell in love with putting myself in uncomfortable situations and experiencing something… new. So, once again, I’m currently in a state of panic because I no longer have the same aspirations I had my entire life. Aaaaand, as much as it pains me to say this… That’s okay. I’m okay. I’m a fourth year student staying for a fifth year, double-majoring, and getting a TESOL certificate. I’m not entirely sure if I’ll end up in Japan teaching English or if I’ll beg some non-profit organization to hire me as a professional protester (seriously, is that a thing?). I’m taking my first upper division English class, surrounded by eloquent speakers and amazing writers, but that’s okay. I’m much more comfortable being surrounded by my fellow pretentious polysci / sociology peers debating controversial issues and discussing abstract ideas, but that’s okay. Long story short: I’m still panicking… but bear with me. As for “fun” stuff? I sing, albeit terribly, all the time, I’m obsessed with hot cheetos, I spend an embarrassing amount of time thinking about which fictional universe I would most succeed in–Star Wars, The Hunger Games, Harry Potter, etc., and I love to write to inmates in my spare time.
So, yet another reason to panic (this may be an overreaction). When I first heard we would have to trace our literacies, I immediately planned to go to the library after class to rent a book so that I could claim that I read in my free time. Because, in my ignorant mind (2 classes ago), literacies meant the traditional book you read or academic writing. Which, is funny, because isn’t that the point of the article? That, when we use the term “literacies” we make it seem so unattainable and therefore, close its doors or accessibility to people who aren’t scholars of literature. So, this activity really helped me interact with the points of Szwed’s article. But back to my own literacies, I didn’t end up going to check out a book at the library because I then remembered I have about 6 books sitting on my desk that I have yet to sift through–also, I’m a part of a book club… I should really catch up on that reading. On a typical day, however, I answer an insane amount of messages–mostly from my sorority sisters since it seems I somehow have the answer to everything, an occasional chain message from my 12-year old sister, and various game invites from friends who live in different towns. I also do the occasional, AKA most of my time, goes to pointless, brain damaging scrolls through endless feeds on Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat, and my multiple G-Mail accounts. However, isn’t it interesting I claim that to be a source of brain damage and yet, here I am recognizing that it is in fact a literacy, despite, as Szwed points out, our narrow categorization of literacies (another point for walking contradiction!). On Facebook, however, I am exposed to a ridiculous amount of links to articles about our current political atmosphere and international events–which speaks more about the kind of people I surround myself with than anything–and I do actually end up reading the majority of said articles. Then, around the same time every day, as I’m sitting on my couch eating the typical rice bowl or fish dish, I write in my Q&A a Day journal. In this, I respond to a simple question each day and continue this trend for 5 years, which allows me to look back on how my responses have changed and how I’ve progressed in my life (I actually highly recommend it). As mentioned before, I like to write at least one letter a day to my inmate pen pals and attempt to catch up on my book for book club: Memoria Del Silencio. And, if I’m feeling extra artsy, I’ll catch up on my scrapbooking, which usually includes writing what I think are witty captions and slogans. AND, arguably the most important, my academic reading. This week I noticed my reading wasn’t as intense as usual as it was everyone’s favorite two words: syllabus week. However, I did spend about 2.5 hours each day reading for the 7 classes I’m enrolled in. One last thing that I hesitated to mention was my recent obsession podcasts, and of course, the political/economic/sociological ones. And while listening to podcasts may not be considered a literacy (or is it?), the time I invest in reading and sometimes responding to comments and or tagging people in them is insane.
The more and more I continue to think about the term “literacy” and how we’re all guilty of having such a narrow definition of it, it’s hard to imagine a second in my life when I’m not interacting with various literacies. It’s there when I’m driving down the street and stopping at the STOP sign or reading the speed limit. It’s there when I’m journaling or attempting to do spoken word. It’s there when I send my little sister a “Hey” with a cute little mushroom emoji. It’s there when I’m reading the microwave instructions for heating up my beloved pizza rolls. It’s innate. It’s everywhere. And yet, we have this assumption that it’s only accessible by academic scholars. And guess what? We created and socialized it to be that way. Something that really stood out to me was this idea of “functional literacy.” Is that even a thing? Functionality is such a fluid concept and differs from person to person. Who’s to dictate a “correct” type of literacy for anyone? That just perpetuates the stigma of pretentious literacy. A student may not be as enthusiastic or engaged in reading Hamlet, but, as Szwed points out, could be a kickass programmer. Who’s to say that isn’t their form of functional literacy? Who’s to say that skill isn’t significant role in that person’s life? By trying to define such a fluid concept, we are forever expanding that gap between those who have a medieval definition of literacy and those who engage in a diverse array of literacies. I personally can relate to this as I believed I would have nothing to talk about in this blog post because I don’t spend my whole day reading Lord of the Flies at the Naked Lounge. But, as this activity made me realize, I engage in my own literacies that are important to me and I identify with–which is awesome, because it brings more of a “humanistic” (?) quality to the already intimidating world of literacies. Perhaps this is the sociology coming out, but I hope for the sake of the future of accessible education, we can move toward different ways of conceptualizing literacies and how we assess them, as well as creating a culturally empathetic classroom–especially in regards to balancing the positive qualities of TESOL and the underlying privilege of teaching English as the main means to get ahead in society.
*P.S. – David, (well, and I guess anyone else reading this so… Hi Kim!), I’m sorry I’m the worst and published my blog post a bit later than expected. Read the first sentence and remember that I’m 100% the Type A personality and probably put way too much thought into this. I’ll get better.