It’s interesting to see the definition of literacy develop and how they vary, whether within my own definitions, external definitions, or dictionary definitions. The definition of literacy in its most basic and most well known meaning is: “the ability to read and write”. The definition on my computer goes on to note a second explanation: “competence or knowledge in a specified area”.
My own working definition that I wrote down in class on Tuesday was, “the way we interact with one another, how we communicate and understand each other”. In a way it seems that there are two distinctive forms of “literacy”, as the ability to read and write are very specific skills, but broadening the definition to include competence in any area makes the former definition seem redundant. Part of me continues to work out a definition for “literacy” that makes sense within our discourse. But maybe it is that the class will be incorporating literacy in all its forms.
The revised definition that came out of our small group discussion was: “a way to manipulate secondary discourses to give one agency”. In a way it reverberates my original, working definition but also expands on it. This definition also seems a bit removed from that which sees literacy as simply “the ability to read and write”, all of which serve to complicate and clarify my understanding of literacy as we discuss it in class.
When I was working at Haffner the other day, I was making Nigerian Banana Chicken. While I was scooping banana mush onto the chicken, several different full time staff passed. The chef I was working with talked to another full time staff member who was from Africa, though not Nigeria, if he recognized the use to bananas with meat. This staff member found the concept foreign as well. Later on, the staff member approached the manager asking why we did not have African soup for the African bar. He complained that the African bar had no foods that he identified as African. He said that these were still American foods. We found out further on in the conversation that the recipes are found on the Internet for the African bar at Haffner.
"...if our option is for (wo)man, education is cultural action for freedom..." ---Paulo Freire Saturday, I began my first day on the job as a MAST writing tutor to high school students excited at the chance to be a resource and mentor to four brilliant, students of color. Not wanting to impose, as Ivan Illich would say, my views around education, teaching, and, of course, literacy, I gave my students the freedom to design the writing curriculum and classroom space.I was very pleased with the outcome! My students wanted to learn how to write resumes, research papers, SAT prompts, and to write poetry! I was extremely impressed, not because their answers were not expected, but because I definitely did not worry so much about these things my freshman year of high school. Before the start of class, I had been instructed by my superiors to collect writing samples from my students. And so, on a topic of their choice, they each wrote a one page argumentative paper. However, when reading their writing samples, I became incredibly sad and discouraged as a tutor. My kids, who knew what was expected of them academically and even professionally, did not know how to write "well." It was more than grammar and spelling (these areas could be worked on easily), it was the style, the flow, the tone, the words used in their writing that I knew would be looked down upon in higher education. They had not mastered what one of my students had labeled as, "white writing."
Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find any more Dagbani language learning videos than the ones that Allison already links in her blog post (and it looks like you watched in class this week).
UCLA phonetics lab has an audio archive entry for Dagbani, but it is geared toward documenting the language not teaching a non-speaker.
I did find print resources that might be helpful... with the hefty caveat that since Dagbani, like many sub-saharan African languages, is tonal you really need to physically hear the spoken pronunciations to make progress with the language. In any case, here they are:
Sorry I wasn't able to locate more!
Just to follow up on some of the posts here and on Twitter about music as a form of literacy... here are some references that might be of interest to anyone who plans to write on this topic in future.
If you missed my Tweet this weekend, I posted a link to an All Things Considered interview with the director of a new independent film featuring the music of the Bayaka pygmies: http://n.pr/wmrAhh
The film, Oka!, is a fictionalized account of ethnomusicologist Louis Sarno's experience living with the Bayaka, who create music ingeniously from all sorts of objects. Certainly we should be wary of the film's old familiar theme: "...man from economically developed, formerly known as civilized world, goes off to live and find meaning in traditional, formerly known as primitive society...", as well as the idea that any society is more "ancient" or "pristine" than any other... but, still the film looks interesting or at least fun and the library will acquire it when it comes out on DVD. Here's a link to the trailer: http://imdb.to/y5r16G
After listening to the TED talk about the dangers of a single story and reading about the dangers of damage-centered research I found myself reflecting upon my experiences from my teaching abroad in China this past summer.
For the TED talk, I agreed with a lot of what the speaker said. Even traveling around China for only two months I was able to see that there are a variety of different stories to be told of the Chinese people. There are vast differences between the urban dwellers and the people in the countryside of China. Thus it was easy for me to understand the dangers of a single story - how it create stereotypes and limits people's understanding of one another. I thoroughly enjoyed this talk because I felt it confirmed a lot of my thinking about how stereotypes get started and how people gain pre-convieved notions about others. It also confirmed my belief in the importance of seeing and experiencing things first-hand.
Discussing language use particularly in the public education setting, I never feel fully comfortable with how I speak and my interaction with language within the classroom. This is relevant both for my method of speech in the classroom in college and also how I speak to students in the public school classrooms I work in. We all code-switch, speaking differently at work than to our friends than in the classroom. We learn in the classroom, as Lemke discusses, Standard English or “correct” or “proper” English as dictated by the dominant group in power and their normal speech patterns. Lemke pushes this concept to say that Standard English could be called Corporate English because not many if any people actually use this specific form of English in day to day life. In school students speak a variety of dialects of English, but are told that only is correct and are even graded on their ability to master Standard English. I struggle with speaking in a less formal way to students, which is something that I think puts myself and my students at ease, yet I worry about setting a “bad example” for later moments in which they are scrutinized over their method of speech. Working in almost 100% working-class African-American public schools, I constantly think about language and the way students use and interact with language in the classroom. I hear teachers make fun of and imitate students’ method of speech and constantly correct their students. I also see and feel the trust and respect students give to me when I speak in a form of English they feel more comfortable with.
I am so excited to be taking this class this semester. One of the things which really interested me about the class was the international perspective on literacy. As we touched on in our last class, it often feels as if we focus on issues primary to the United States. I find this in my sociology classes as well, that the major issues and topics are U.S. centric without an international perspective. In many ways it reminds me of Chimamanda Achide’s concept of a “single story.” I’m definitely not trying to say that we shouldn’t learn about issues in education or educational practices prevalent in the U.S. but especially as we become more dependent on digital literacy it’s important to know another story, a global story. To unpack that statement a little bit, allow me to explain. This class is relying heavily on what I would consider digital literacy. We are using resources such as Twitter and these blogs, Google docs, e-mail – all of these things are part of our digital literacy. Now, more and more people internationally are using these tools as well. I have been fortunate enough to travel quite a bit and have noticed that it is increasingly easy to stay in touch with people I meet abroad through the means of Facebook, etc. As difficult as it is for me to use Twitter and write a consistent blog, I do think that these are valuable tools which can really give us new perspectives on how education is changing and what education looks like outside of the U.S.
Throughout this first week of classes and the 360, one book keeps coming to mind as I have read the readings. In Teaching the Postcolony, we read a speech by Ivan Illich called “To Hell with Good Intentions,” which was a commentary about white middle class Americans going to “help” other countries. While I was reading it, I wondered how to reconcile this power relationship between middle class Americans and the Mexican population that the Americans were trying to help. Illich suggested that Americans go to study and enjoy new cultures instead of trying to help. An example came to mind from the book The Help by Kathryn Stockett on how to somehow equalize these relationships. The book is about a white woman in Mississippi in the 1960s writing stories about African American maids by interviewing them. When the white woman, Skeeter, asks Minny, one of the African American maids, to tell her stories for this book, Minny has the same reaction as Illich. She does not understand why a white woman of power and standing would want to write about African American maids. Minny completely disregards her good intentions to change attitudes and does not believe she can help at all. However, throughout the book, Minny and Aibileen both become close with Skeeter as they work on the stories of the maids in Jackson, Mississippi. These women who seem so different by society’s standards become friends who love and respect each other.
Check out this youtube!
This video immediately made me think of Adichie’s “The Danger of a Single Story.” As a homeschooler, I’ve encountered many of these questions (most of all, the pajama question). Although at times I liked getting attention for being an anomaly, overall, I felt very judged and limited by other people’s perceptions. I remember that, as a self-defense method, I would describe myself as “weird” so as to claim a description for myself rather than having it forced on me.
So this video was great. It didn’t capture my entire experience, but what I liked about it was that this guy – Blimey Cow – questioned certain beliefs merely by repeating them back. Rather than say outright, “homeschoolers are like this,” he repeats statements that might be said about us, as a sort of mirror effect. As if to say, “hmmm, did you really mean that?”
I love this word – debunking. “Let’s unpack that” – Let’s actually question those assumptions that we’ve accepted as realities. Because in order to truly respect other people, we must eliminate finite assumptions and be more open to complexities and details.