One of the first rules that I learned as a relocated American Northerner to the American South was a simple one: you don’t talk about religion. No one told this to me, nor did I read it on a website, and it is not like a secret society of Northern expatriates pass along insightful suggestions to newcomers while sharing beers at a local tavern, but it came from my general experience. To me, the pointlessness of speaking religion stems from the fact that you can never convince people away from their initial thoughts or leanings and many people are not interested in doing so. For the most part, people tend to believe what they believe as if cemented into floor, and it takes a large amount of force to budge them into any other direction other than the one that they hold on to. Conversion from one religious viewpoint does not stem from oral persuasion, but from a need for change.
Many literacy narratives found within the database prove that the same immobility holds true for literacy – a person’s depiction of literacy and the need for literacy equates to the stability and solidarity offered by a person’s religious beliefs. Many narratives stem from a sense of personal emergency, and the need to change a perspective of literacy, or the definition of literacy, originates from a moment of clarity when priorities change and questions the previously conceived ideas. The various swell of literary narratives read or sound with the same fervor of a person discussing religion or politics. Some narratives read as tellings of personal struggle and strife as if it belongs in a confessional booth. To the speakers and writers, the passion of defining their literacy bridges outward into other aspects of their life, personal revelations, confessions, and poignant moments. I believe that we hold onto our beliefs in literacy similar to the way we hold onto our beliefs in religion, that our literacy is a form of secular baptism towards what we perceive to be a higher level of enlightenment and, similar to religion, tend to look down our noses on those who did not have similar literary revelations.
Why do we equate literacy with the same level of fervor as we do religion, is a question that I have routinely asked myself since I started viewing database’s narratives. This equation coincides perfectly with what Sharon Crowley’s viewpoint of Freshman English in her article “A Personal Essay of Freshman English” citing that the way we define “correct” English stems from an economic and cultural base of influence (232), similar to the way we worship and practice politics. Beth Jorgensen, in her narrative titled “Get Your Nose Out of that Book,” treats her narrative as her confession of her sins. Her opportunity to discuss the concept of literacy leads to an exorcism of her own demons and the damnation of those who lead her astray from her own perceived path. Jorgensen, a first generation college student who holds a PhD, discusses her father’s misogynistic views towards women, his demand that she stop reading because it “puts ideas into her head,” and her three husbands who repeatedly abuse her both physically and emotionally (including a perplexing tale of her third husband who uses hypnotism to abuse herself and her children). The most telling portion of her narrative is her movement away from self-motivated learning as a child towards a fundamentalist Christian group who, as Jorgensen paints the picture, forced her to marry her first husband. The concept of replacing her childhood books to religion is quite telling to her narrative; Jorgensen is a woman who always searched for something larger than herself – whether it be the word-based ideas that her father warned her about of her childhood, or the fundamentalist religion who seemingly forced ideas in her head. This metaphor can be continued to her third husband’s manipulation through hypnosis, replacing the ideas in her head with his own, and to her ultimate conclusion that “a Bachelor’s degree was not enough, I needed to get my Ph.D.” Jorgensen’s literary narrative, rarely discusses literacy, but rather focuses primarily on struggle and strife of her lifetime and how the “ideas in her head” originated, and how her need to gain a PhD would somehow “fix” her struggles. Here, Jorgensen’s desire to achieve literacy somehow proves that her struggles were somehow worth the pain and suffering.
Similar to Jorgensen is Nazario Ramirez’s literary narrative simply titled “About Me.” While Jorgensen paints a tale of woe so deeply that it is easy to become apathetic to her life, Ramirez’s is much less complicated and less contemplative, yet holds true to the same ideals. Ramirez, a teenager who wrapped up his GED and was about to start an Engineering program at a local college, discusses how a teacher “got into his head” until he figured out what he had to do with his life. He discusses his time in jail stemming from an incident he withholds from the listener and admits his apathy towards education as a high school student. He admits that he does not read a lot, but enjoys math and science, but understands that he wants success in his life and sees responsibility in what he does for a living as a landscaper. Ramirez recognizes the same concept that something “got into his head” similar to Jorgensen and changed his ways (in his case, a girlfriend also got into his head) and caused him to move away from one viewpoint of the world to another.
I feel that Jorgensen and Ramirez both recognize literacy as a definer of personal achievement and truths; similar to the way we validate ourselves through religion and political standpoints. By using our own literacy and our approach to literacy, we become self-aware of what we hold true and valuable to life. Jorgensen’s literacy is her own personal savior, something that pulled her out of the misery of her life and brought her to a higher level of existence. She credits her reception of her PhD as the final severance between her and her past, while Ramirez does the same – his GED and his entrance into the Engineering program is a form of deliverance away from sins from their past.
Other literary narratives are similar to both Ramirez and Jorgensen. Natasha Gibbs gives her narrative at her own GED graduation ceremony. She cites her past being a troubled one where she jumps from job to job, trying to stay in school, and finally culminating into her GED program, a two-month course she cites as “easy” but worth it to pursue her future goal as a registered nurse (a path she has not researched to know her next step). Gibbs, similar to Ramirez, remains distant when discussing her success, but loses her composure a bit when asked by the interviewer what her two-month program entailed. While the question was obviously asked as more of an inquisitive statement of her actions, the question sits deep with Gibbs. The two-month period entailed far more than papers and presentations, but rather a burning of a past that Gibbs felt she was moving away from. In this case, Gibbs’ literacy deeply resides within her as a definition of who she is as a person, similar to religion. Tara Lockhart echoes the same ideas. Although Lockhart does not echo similar underprivileged socio-economic status as Gibbs, Ramirez, and Jorgensen do in their narratives, she does hold on to a moment when her definition of literacy and herself were questioned. She tells the story of how she lost her love of writing when she was accused of plagiarism in a statewide writing contest and was denied the opportunity to defend herself. Lockhart, a professional reading specialist and educator, recognizes that the positive experiences of reading far outweigh the negative, she admits that she “held onto this moment” as a defining factor of who she is, even stating that it “sticks with her beyond all the positive experiences of reading and writing” and that she fell out of writing from this one bad incident. To Lockhart, the moment stands out as a motivator for who she has become, it validates her profession and shapes her philosophy both professionally and personally.
Margaret Price’s “Access in a Troubled Space, Access in a Conflict Zone” assesses how a person defines the concept of access and how we hinder access to literacy sometimes benignly. A self-proclaimed disability scholar and activist, Price cites that disability of the body is not the problem of access, but rather inaccessible areas are the problem. She acknowledges how the concept of access is much more complicated than just a multimodal classroom or “just a ramp”, but rather exists in contradictions – it is conflicting and opposing. She passionately tells the story of how she herself was denied access to information when ironically attending a panel discussion on disability access, she embodies the disgust and anguish of being denied information. Although Price’s narrative discusses the paradox of access, she even added subtitles to her narrative to increase disability access, Price’s narrative exposes where our base origin of the literacy-religion metaphor manifests itself: when a person feels denied a natural path to knowledge, access to something bigger and better is closed on us by any social construct, whether physically as in Jorgensen’s case, socially as in Ramirez and Gibbs, or personally as for Lockhart, it creates a desire for redemption. That redemption removes us from the perceived metaphoric sins of our past and the metaphor sins done to us. Literacy, and the way we define and hold on to literacy, is created from the same economic, social, and cultural, as our religious beliefs. We reach towards literacy as a means to salvation, the same way we go to religion – continued literacy and continued growth in literacy works the same way we view our continuing faith in religion.
What do we do as educators with the “The Religion-Metaphor Towards Literacy”, and how does it best suit us in the classroom? I believe that literacy comes to us the same way religion does, through a slow process that cannot be implanted into our heads as if copied and pasted, but rather acts similar to a journey of experiences. We expect our students to be parishioners in our holy temple of a classroom and that their faith in literacy should be as strong as our own, and we often find ourselves begging the question, “How do we save students from illiteracy?” Perhaps literacy can’t be placed into a person’s head, but rather stems from the need for salvation away from illiteracy, something that originates from a need of salvation. We do not become loyal to our personal religious belief systems, whether believer or non-believer, nor do we move away from it from the actions or words of others, but from an inner-need for understanding. Our literacy is our salvation, but it comes from experience and our desire for it. It is the responsibility of teachers to be sure that the doors of literacy forever remain open to their students as if they were church doors, and recognize the difference between keeping them open for a lifetime versus forcing students through it.
Gibbs, Natasha. “Accomplishing My Goal.” 09 December 2008. 06 July 2012 <http://daln.osu.edu/handle/2374.DALN/872>
Jorgensen, Beth. “Get Your Nose Out of That Book!” 23 October 2011. 07 July 2012. <http://daln.osu.edu/handle/2374.DALN/2557>