Screen into the world
What pages are we all on?
Tools for creation
Power, access, tools
They are useless by themselves
Do you have the tools?
What blocks your pathway?
Barriers to creation
You make the meaning
I found the discussion of the poem "Cinderella" in class on Thursday extremely valuable, particularly in the small group discussions. My favorite part was discovering and discerning all of the initial "first readings" of the poem. For some, their first readings and imaginings followed the traditional fairy tale, for others the poem raised connotations sex trade and for me personally, I set the poem in a modern sense--thinking of the business world, cultural capital, etc.
As my group of three began devising a form of lesson plan, we kept circling back to these multiple readings. We decided then, that a great initial part of our lesson in a workshop would be to have everyone free write on the poem individually first, only later sharing their initial readings with a larger group. The purpose of this, while of course meaning to promote personal reflection, more importantly shows another example of multiliteracy.
By showing that people can interpret the same poem in so many different ways, within different contexts and deriving different meanings from it, eccentuates the point that people come from different backgrounds with different forms of literacy. I think that understanding and validating various interpretations of one story can help people in the process of learning to understand and validate various forms of literacy as well.
The component of my group project on Ghanaian children's literature that I found most provactive returned to the notion of identity that we have already touched on throughout the semester. In researching the growth of children's literature in Ghana, the same emphasis on the necessity of familiarity came up. For too long, Ghanaian children, if exposed to age-appropriate literature at all, were confronted with stories of white children, apples, rain and snow--stories that in no way related to their own experiences. The content was irrelevant to their lives. Beyond the simple misfortune of this fact, I am sure such books were entirely confusing as well.
I tried to convert this issue of identity and accuracy to my own life. But as a white, middle class girl, the content of the literature I read was never an issue. The characters looked like me, talked like me, lived in houses like me and even faced the same challenges I did. The stories I read as a child acted as an affirmation of my life, proof that my appearance and experiences were shared and "right."
I wonder then, just what the impacts of irrelevant literature have on children. On the one hand, as mentioned, I think the affirmation of experience is entirely important at a young age. On the other, exposure to other lifestyles is beneficial. Ultimately, I think it can be agreed upon that a mesh of both is ideal. Yet for too many children in Ghana this was not an option.
Exploring the exhibit “Image Africa” sparked the realization that I have in fact become an entirely critical academic. On the one hand, I was excited by the nature of exhibit—writing on the walls, participating in a focus group and generally enjoying the hands on experience truly engaged me in the exhibit and made me think far more actively about the content than I would during my typical museum visit. Yet I left “Imagine Africa” deeply confused. Just what they were trying to get at? It seems to me that the creators of the exhibit had failed to develop a clear conception of the purpose of the exhibit.
To me the title “Imagine Africa” conjures up images of the future, questions of what will Africa become.
For my fourth class this semester, an independent study with an anthropology professor revolving around the topics covered in the 360, I have explored in the last week a series of pieces of literature delving into the differences and paradoxes between oral-based cultures versus those that have developed systems of writing. Specifically, my studies started by looking at Jack Goody's theory on the "technology of writing" in which he essentially argues that societies that have developed a system of writing have created a new tool or "technology" which has enabled them to be cognitively more advanced. The argument has been widely critiqued and problematized and I think the literature in general raises some critically important, provoking ideas.
I will summarize here a few of the contentions I found most stimulating. The first is the presence of logic and the potential way writing enables various ideas and works from different authors and different times to be consolidated in a way that is more logical and thus helpful than what can be done via oral tradition only. A second contention is that of audience. Whereas oral tradition requires, at least seemingly, an audience, written works can be written and transmitted without knowledge of a specific audience. I find this idea particularly interesting because it feeds directly into a third point about variability. Written works are stagnant to a certain extent, copyright and authorial presentation are limited to the page, lacking change with time, speaker or audience.
In thinking about, expanding and revising my current conceptions of literacy, I have come to question just why it matters so much, or more specifically where the necessity came from. Obviously in this day and age it matters. It matters who speaks the “dominant” language; it matters who speaks it in the “right way;” it matters who will not ever have the chance. As we have learned, literacy and power, colonialism, patriarchy and oppression are all interrelated, always. You cannot separate “cultural capital” from the conception of using language “correctly” and thus effectively. During class we have begun critiquing the power structures and hierarchies that are so intrinsic within our system, the mentalities that are so central to the debate over literacy and the need to define one particular “right” way. We acknowledge that such necessities exist. My question is—why? Where does this need to hierarchize come from? Is it a western, white, patriarchal ideal—simply because those are the people who benefit? Something that these people devised and managed to convince the rest of the world to buy into? Or is the competition somehow more central to human nature universally? Perhaps harkening back to the survival of the fittest mentality. Today we live by a series of rules, constraints that determine who has power and who does not. But who originally had the ability to decide that their way was the right way? Who came up with the definitions in the first place? I have no answers to these questions but I am curious.
Chimamanda Adiche’s talk “The Danger of a Single Story” spoke to the discomfort I have recently wrestled with in terms of my own upbringing as a middle-class, white girl; my battle to acknowledge the single story the media, my teachers, our government, religion and so many other facets of my life have taught me unintentionally. Whether it be on a global scale such as Adiche’s experience with expectations of a single African story and the token “third-world woman” too often noted by anthropologists or at the local level, one school to the next, via class or color, the single story does exist and is used to create structural barriers, while simultaneously allowing those in power to happily claim moral neutrality at the hands of a biased system. Lemke’s reading spoke to this juxtaposition, showing how language standardization has been assumed both necessary and desirable, creating a means to attain and justify power that is neither fair nor essential: “The policy of language standardization seems culturally and politically neutral only if we deny that differences in linguistic codes have evolved to reflect differences in the lifeways, social practices, and interests of different communities and social groups” (Lemke, 2). Lemke’s point here and throughout the article is critical, acknowledging that an emphasis on written standard English, a strain that is not spoken or used by anyone, creates a divide and gives an unfair advantage to those whose dialect is closest to the written word—typically those already in power.