Movement, Stagnation, and wait… Ownership!

In the world and work of an academic, readings and research are dropped into your lap. Sometimes the words come in the form of a textbook, appropriately purchased from the University Book Store because they, the professor of said class, would like you to buy their book from the book store to support this process.

Movement. The simple act of this knowledge passing from one brain and impacting another involves a series of steps that imply movement and transfer. University to professor, professor to publication, publication to print, print to university, and university to student.

Stagnation. When this knowledge has spent time within a space (universities policies, or professor’s computer/data collection) it begins to build. The process of ownership grows, and the “value” of the knowledge festers into a living and breathing monstrosity. It is at this juncture that Sheller’s idea of temporalities within mobility studies begin to connect with my own.

Sheller states,

“Along with spatiality and materiality there is also a growing interest in temporalities. Temporalities of slowness, stillness, waiting, and pauses, are all part of wider sensuous geography of movement and dwelling in which human navigation of embodied, kinesthetic, and sensory environments are crucial. Thus mobilities  research ranges from the individual body up to the most complex systems” (Shelly 797).

If I were to focus on the stage in which the research for this textbook of knowledge is curing inside the laptop of the professor, I must take into consideration the reasons and value of the stagnation. The professor could be gathering more research. Research that they would physically need to conduct and gather (whether by primary studies, interviews, experiments, or secondary studies) would be held to a specific level of cross examination and potency. While the physical data is gathering, the methods of the research must also be recorded. University standards would also apply to this research, and as the composition of a well organized and disciplined conclusion arises, the professor in question has claimed a specific set of ownership of this process.

But wait… Was it merely the countless hours of hard work and painstaking dedication to their work that merits ownership? The stage of stagnation has now become a pivotal plot point in this series of mobility. Simply by focusing on the accumulation of research, under a specific standard and qualification, I can attempt to gauge the level of ownership attributed to the professor who has undoubtedly labeled this process “my work”.

I find the act of understanding and placing value upon the stagnation of the series of mobility relating to the transfer of knowledge through textbooks to be essential to my research. Describing, dissecting, and pausing to dictate (or remove) levels of ownership can help understand the “value” that our society places on knowledge.

There are other various examples within the textbook industry relating to this idea of ownership and value. Sheller’s explanation of the value of mobility studies moves me to seek out these examples. I hope to grasp a few of its complexities and utilize this new field of study as I continue my own work.

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I AM: Sponsorship Evaluation

I have previously read Deborah Brandt’s Sponsors of Literacy. This reread took me to an entirely different place, due mostly to the goals and aims of our Literacy Narrative assignment.

This time, I focused my attention internally. I needed to deepen my understanding by cutting into my levels of sponsorship and reveal complicated interwoven paths to my current situation. As Brandt stated, “…everybody’s literacy practices are operating in differential economies, which supply different access routes, different degrees of sponsoring power, and different scales of monetary worth to the practices in use” (Brandt 561).

I am… a critical thinker. Not by practice, but by influence.

When was in elementary school, my teachers described me as a “handful”. I would consistently question the rules and the lessons of the class. At first, this was due to necessity. Our family was moving constantly and knowing the curriculum and lesson plans early in the year would be essential to my success in a class. However, I soon realized that many of my classmates rewarded this questioning with terms like “smart-ass” and enjoyed the fact that my interruptions would lead to a break in the monotones of the teacher’s lectures. Although I would be burdensome in the classroom, my report cards would generally result in “A”s, due to my critical analysis of the standards and my ability to meet and exceed the grade requirements. This positive encouragement by my peers and praise from my teachers reinforced my literacy practices throughout my grade school career.

I am… a writer. Not by choice, but by construction.

“There once was a man/ who lived in a land/ where he could do nothing.” This was the first line to my first published poem, written during my 5th grade year.

“I see all/ I hear all/ I feel the love all around./ Yet in the shadows/ lies the evil/ creeping from the underground.” This was the first line from my first recorded song, written during my 6th grade year.

All writing that took place in between these creative works were standard preparation for the dreaded 5 paragraph essay format (book reports, article reviews, summer vacation short story…). I noticed that every piece of writing, creative or academic, drew the same set of sponsors. My parents. My teachers. A grade or prize. Or in other terms. Family, Institution, and reward. Looking back I realized that this framework began to shape my writing depending on the position that each sponsor was placed on my personal hierarchy. My personal hierarchy was based upon my beliefs at the time, and moving forward into my career, they shifted based on the external values placed upon them by society. As Brandt described, “…the course of an ordinary person’s literacy learning- it’s occasions, materials, applications, potentials -follows the transformations going on within sponsoring institutions as those institutions fight for economic and ideological position” (566). This struggling and balancing of my literacy hierarchy brought me deeper into my chosen career…

I am… a teacher. Not by definition, but by function.

I love to teach, because I love to learn. My own sponsorship of literacy is navigated by my choices within my love of language and knowledge. It is the reason why I chose to continue my education, and it is the reason why I love reading this article… Even if it is the fourth time 🙂

Issues with Functional Literacy

Both of these readings prompted the same questions in my mind based around a problems with standards. Where do we draw the line in literacy? If there is no line how can we begin to discuss its effects with society?

In Sylvia Scribner’s Literacy in Three Metaphors, we gain an insight into the struggles between practical literacy and academic literacy. She also includes issues of regional standards versus universal standards. Scribner describes that, “…public discussions fluctuate between narrow definitions of functional skills pegged to immediate vocational and personal needs, and sweeping definitions that virtually reinstate the ability to cope with college subject matter as the hallmark of literacy. On the other hand, adopting different regions or communities would ensure the perpetuation of educational inequalities and the differential access to life opportunities with which these are associated” (Scribner 17). My immediate understanding of this struggle stems from my own experience with students entering into “academic” composition classes with “regional” literacy. One of my students wanted me to help him with his project because he was ashamed of the way he spoke. He also claimed that he knew his speaking and writing sounded “ghetto” and that this was not acceptable for an academic course. My response to this student was to assure him that the quality of work expected from this course was contextual. I wanted him to be able to derive meaning from, and added discourse to, his sources found in his research. His “ghetto” manner of speaking should have nothing to do with the results or the process of writing. And yet, he still felt ashamed to finish his voice over (a requirement of the particular RSA style format he had chosen for the assignment).

I witness this struggle with my students on a day to day basis. Their confidence in their own authority, and self confidence in their intelligence, is diminished by their particular vernacular. Why do we hold them to particular standards? Are these standards fair?

These questions took shape within the second reading for this week.

Sylvia Scribner and Michael Cole’s Unpacking Literacy, the authors compare writing practices of the Vai language of northwestern Liberia. One particular section of the literacy that was called into question was the rarity of formal poetic and rhetorical writing practices.  “There are two types of text rarely found thus far, Britton’s (1975) two polar – the poetic, concerned with exploring personal experiences and feelings, and the transaction or expository, basically concerned with examining ideas of presenting a persuasive argument” (LaCS: Scribner and Cole 132). I found this compelling due to the fact that there was no indication of what constituted a poetic or argumentative form of writing. This once again brings me to my understanding universality of standards within genres of literacy. This may be explained in more detail with further research, but it leads me to believe that we may be too concerned with what defines literacy instead of how does literacy function? The ability to read and write has organized thoughts into a cohesive and complex act of sharing. At the center of this wonderful thing called literacy there is a light within its ideals. The sharing and spreading of knowledge. So far, this is the only universal claim that I feel safe asserting.

Literacy in Historical (and Biblical) Context: Goody and Watt

This week my mind was refocused into a series of symbols. This was the beginning of a thought that was iterated into a string of sounds that were interpreted by others as language. The words on the page that I am currently typing are commonly known symbols of a phonetic alphabet that has been adapted (and adopted) over several centuries. When discussing language and literacy in a historical context, my mind immediately jumps to the Old Testament of the Bible and the implications of the variations it has stemmed through the ages.

In Jack Goody and Ian Watt’s “The Consequences of Literacy” the authors explain that the adaptation of writing within a culture can take several generations to formulate. For example Hebrew took six centuries to adopt Semitic writing as a recognized text that was published and available for all to study through the Torah.

What surprises me the most about this claim is the idea that the authors describe the Hebrew (phonetic) alphabet as a “democratic” script. There is a culturing and choosing of sounds that will be represented within the alphabet (around 40 sounds). According to Goody and Watt the alphabet is a socially-conventionalized pattern, and it is through “symbolizing in letters these selected phonemic units the alphabet makes it possible to write easily and read unambiguously about anything which the society can talk about” (316).

This means that for six centuries there was a negotiated arrangement of sounds and symbols before the culture was considered by historians to be “literate”.

The years of adaptation and variance of Biblical context could be as simple as calling into question the amount of sheep or goats used in an offering, or it could be as relevant and all encompassing as shifting and negotiating the meaning of the word “day”, “time”, or “age”.

My questions of this article as it reflects upon other historical text are mainly focused on the social implications of changing language.

Do we as a culture have negotiated meanings that could have serious ramifications in the future? Does contextual evidence always give historians/anthropologist the whole story, and what do we assume as a society if we all agree upon these contextual relationships?

What is Literacy?

When I think of literacy my mind immediately jumps to signs. I mean physical signs in Europe that I could only read because of the pictures, not the words. The words on each sign gave me a clue that they were streets, but what street was I on right now? This is why in Venice, you travel by water. Every street is part of rat maze that winds around and around until you are crossing another bridge that reminds you of the last, and you are wishing that you had paid more attention in your Italian 101 class three years ago.

Sono di…

Literacy in a sense is much like being a mouse in a maze where signs are your only answer and the only way to communicate with the rest of the world. Without a concept and constructs of a language, you are unable to share your psychological and social view of the world. You are forever lost.

This idea of literacy is similar to Barton’s views of “Literacy as communication” in his work titled, The Social Basis of Literacy. In this section, Barton explains that written and spoken language are entwined with such frequency that it is almost impossible to separate the two. In my experience in Venice, I was constantly reminded of this fact. Although I could read the language and point to certain areas on the map, my lack of oral communication led many Italians baffled from my belligerent questions. Having very limited understanding of the language, I also had a difficult time understanding their responses, which led me roaming in crisscrossed alleys and random neighborhoods.

ven1

According to Barton, communication is reporting the world to others through symbols. The written language is fixed in time and space. This was helpful as a reference point (finding streets to navigate north and south), but because I was lacking in the oral communication, my literacy of the language was incomplete. I witnessed first hand how critical it is to understand all aspects of literacy.

Also, if I do see Venice again… I will be in a boat.