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Literacy and Discourse In Our Society
Something often overlooked in the world around us is the effect literacy has on people’s lives. Literacy is often defined as someone’s ability to speak, read or write, however I recently learned it means much more than this. Throughout everyone’s life there are countless people, opportunities and events that shape the way we grow as individuals and ultimately impact our
literacy. Similarly, personal discourses play a huge role in this development as well because it takes this concept even further to how those people or events shaped us from a very young age. These impact not only our literacy, but even how we perceive the world and go about solving problems. This is something I had never put much thought into, however looking back there are several key moments in my life that made me who I am today.
Discourse is a very dynamic word that many people can mean many different things. James Paul Gee explains in his article titled “Literacy, Discourse and Linguistic” that “A Discourse is a sort of ‘identity kit’ which comes complete with an appropriate costume and instructions on how to act, talk, and often write, so as to take on a particular role that others will recognize.” (Gee 7) He goes on to explain that what influences people’s life and personality starts at the early stages of their lives and sticks with them for the rest of their life whether you try and suppress it or not. James Paul Gee aso breaks down the term “discourse” to dominant and non-dominant discourses which I believe that most people can relate to. Someone may have grown up a certain way, but due to a change in lifestyle or financial success have improved on their situation for the better. This also goes along with my personal believe that people can work to change their mindset, and could even overcome bad disourcourses that they may not want. To get there it just takes the right people to motivate you and keep you in their best interests.
My discourses began when I was born in Atlanta Georgia, but at a young age moved to Birmingham, Alabama, where I spent most of my time with friends and family despite them having many differences. Looking back, I can see the divide between being raised in a very non-southern family while at the same time having very southern friends who for the most part were as southern as it got. During my time living there what influenced me the most was attending a private middle school. It’s almost difficult to explain how different it was from the middle school I went to later on in the midwest. It felt like the school had its own culture, since most of the kids attending were raised from families who have all been in the area for generations. Kids almost seemed too mature now that I think about it and most of them acted knew too much at a young age. Even in first through third grade most of my friends would swear all the time around each other, talk about very adult topics and had developed strong southern accent from their families. Looking back today, it’s almost funny how strong some of their accents were at such a young age. With due time I began to form a slight southern accent of my own, using words such as “y’all” and adding a slight draw to other particular words. However, this was something that never made it back home with me since no one in my family spoke that way. My family ingrained in me that southern accents sound “unintelligent” and often made fun of them. This is the subconscious part of discourses that amazes me because at the time I never noticed that there was a difference between how I communicated with my friends versus my family, but I just did what felt natural. Another key part of living in the south that made up my discourse is how up-front and opinionated most people are. It was just something that came natural to most people there and other knew not to take offense to it. Publicly making fun of people, politicians and media was just a part of life, but not always a good one. I grew up with this mindset that I don’t need to be very careful with what I say, which was one of my biggest regrets moving forward in life and even today I have a bad habit of saying what first pops into my head without thinking about how that may affect people. However, this was how I was raised and would go on unnoticed until I met new people. Nicki Cole, a sociology doctor from the University of California explains that “The power of discourse lies in its ability to provide legitimacy for certain kinds of knowledge while undermining others; and, in its ability to create subject positions, and, to turn people into objects that can be controlled”. (thoughtco.com) This perfectly summarizes the mindset I saw commonly used in the south, especially when talking about topics in politics. When the time came to move to the midwest I was probably at the lowest point in my life. I had transferred schools midway through fifth grade and never felt like I fit in. There were no friends to go hang out with, and even my siblings were now moved out and living their own lives. It felt like everyone in the midwest was raised differently and that their various forms of discourse differed from mine in a way it made it hard for me to get along with others. It wasn’t until towards the end of middle school that I had finally adapted to how people acted and spoke, which overall boosted my confidence in myself and made me a much more social person.
Another key part of my literacy where the certain individuals that affected me the most. In the article “Sponsors of Literacy” by Deborah Brandt, she describes these people as “Sponsors, as I have come to think of them, are any agents, local or distant, concrete or abstract, who enable, support, teach, or model, as well as recruit, regulate, suppress, or withhold literacy — and gain advantage by it in some way.” (Brandt 4) This concept got me thinking and it really helps to bring everything together. In her article she describes two different kids Raymond and Dora who grew up at the same time and place, but due to different sponsors and opportunities lived completely different lives. Raymond came from a wealthier family and grew up in a good education system where he learned coding and computer skills that ultimately made him a skilled software engineer. He had many “literacy sponsors” on his side with his high economic status and great education to name a few. Dora on the other hand came from a lower income family where she didn’t have the same education. Later in life she started working for a cleaning company and became a translator. She didn’t have the same sponsors as Raymond and lacked the funds necessary to reach a better education. (Brandt 5) Looking back on this story, I fall somewhere in the middle. The education system in the south was far from the best and led to a lot of issues when the time came to move to Missouri. After moving to my new school I quickly realized my reading and writing knowledge was behind, and I was reading at a lower level than most other students with math being by far the worst. Looking back, I have always been behind in math and I found myself taking lower level classes and struggling all the way through them. Like the two people in this story at some point I had to take it upon myself to catch up with everyone else. To solve this issue my senior year, I ended up jumping math classes just to be caught up for the first class needed to become an Engineer in college. In a way this makes me my own sponsor since I had to take a lot of time outside of the classroom to try and catch up. Another aspect of Literacy Sponsors is a person’s wealth or economic status. Thankfully I come from a middle class which I don’t take for granted. It helped open doors for me to find some new and very influential sponsors during my life. The first of these important sponsors were my tutors. I met with several a week over throughout my summer breaks and they helped me catch up with my classmates. The next sponsor is college itself which unfortunately is far from cheap, but will play a large roll in my future in four years. Without these important literacy sponsors I wouldn’t be where I am today in my education and ultimately be further away from my ideal career path.
After my journey through Middle School came High School where literary sponsors played the biggest role in my life and I finally thrived in classes I struggled with. In the past reading and writing was never my favorite subject due to me being behind, but after meeting my freshman year english teacher Mrs. Faron I finally enjoyed it. She made me realize that since I have the knowledge of how to write it’s just a mentality of thinking its a chore. In reality if you drop that mindset the words flow and the process becomes much easier. She also helped me find books that I enjoyed reading and pushed me to pick up and finish high level books. Later on in school I flew through English Two and Three always keeping my favorite Literary Sponsor in mind whenever I felt lost. When the time came to choose my classes for my senior year of school I decided to take English Four which wasn’t required and a class called Contemporary Lit that Mrs. Faron taught just to have her as my teacher one last time. English Four was always thought to be a hard class with several research paper, and lots of old english literature mixed in. However, my literacy had improved by this point to where I felt very confident in myself to tackle the class and get a good grade. Mrs Faron wasn’t the only big sponsor during that time and there would be many more influential people in my life to come.
Discourse and Literacy Sponsors play a large part in your future and what you do with your time. Personally, I have always had an interest in business and marketing. This was and still is my backup plan to Engineering after all, so in high school I set out to take every business and entrepreneurship class I could. All of these classes were taught by Mr. Oliva who quite honestly taught me more real life knowledge than anyone else. On top of his business and marketing knowledge (that made him quite wealthy) he also wanted people to live and happy life financially free and with the knowledge to seek out good opportunities and take them. He inspired me to take my passion for technology and create it into a company that I still run today. All though I may have been his favorite student he never made it easy for me. Forcing me to learn business proposals, marketing, and the financials behind running a business. To me this is who I feel best represents sponsor. Someone who sets aside their time purely to help others succeed in life. At this point in my life I couldn’t agree more with James Paul Gee’s quote from his article, “”Discourses are not mastered by overt instruction, but by enculturation into social practices through scaffolded and supported interaction with people who have already mastered the Discourse.” (Gee 6) This continued when I got accepted into the CAPS Program my senior year of highschool. This was a program for business minded people like me to have the opportunity to go out and speak with business owners, entrepreneurs, economic advisers and dozens of other people that I would have never had the chance to sit down and talk to. This impacted my literacy more so than anything prior, because it taught me business etiquette and how to sound or look intelligent when placed in that type of setting. Since then talking with adults, professors, even in front of large groups became a breeze and helped shape me into who I am today.
Through all these experiences my discourses have over time become more and more complex in my opinion. I started as a kid growing up in the south in a very rural area and I always loved to go outside and explore in the forest. I spent almost no time inside and rarely even watched TV, but instead spend entire days outside camping. That drastically changed when I moved to Missouri into a suburban area where I no longer had forests or the friends to go exploring with. At the time I absolutely hated moving but now I understand that each new social groups I went into I took something with me. Coming from a very southern background to something the polar opposite was daunting, but gives me a broader view on the various types of people and the discourses they have. I learned different forms of literacy and what the intricate details of the various people i’ve met over the years. Even the education was different and the levels of overall literacy in terms of reading and writing varied between the two regions. This is something that has helped me become more social and understand people better in general. I believe going out meeting people from different areas is something a lot of people can benefit from.
Overall, literacy and discourse are something that most people should look back and reflect on. It shows details about someone’s life in so much detail and allows them to look back at what exact literacy sponsors and events impacted their lives. The articles “Literacy, Discourse and Linguistics” by James Paul Gee and “Sponsors of Literacy” by Deborah Brandt help to shine light on a topic that many people would benefit from reading. Whether it was for the best or worse each person in their life did something to change their mindset or outlook. For me, I had to overcome many challenges between moving and changing schools at a young age, however, now that I look back on it the impact it had on my literacy it made me more motivated to use those strengths to my advantage.
- Brandt, Deborah. The Sponsors of Literacy. National Research Center on English Learning & Achievement, University at Albany, State University of New York, 1997. Print.
- Cole, Nicki Lisa. “Introduction to Discourse in Sociology.” ThoughtCo, ThoughtCo, 7 Aug. 2019, www.thoughtco.com/discourse-definition-3026070. Accessed 5 Sept. 2019.
- Gee, James Paul. “Literacy, Discourse, and Linguistics: Introduction.” Literacy, Discourse, and Linguistics: Introduction, Boston University , 1989. Print.
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