People always talk about literacy acquisition, but what makes it so that the person is able to even achieve acquisition in the first place? Learning about someone’s background, or primary Discourse, not only gives one an insight into who the person is but also why they are who they are (Gee 8). Primary Discourses can give a view on how a student is able to acquire literacy in many ways later in life. Depending on your background or upbringing, it can make it harder for one to acquire literacy due to their race or gender. Even if two different people lived in the same area, one person may have a harder time with receiving an education, while the other gets through it with ease, all due to the two people’s different primary Discourses (Brandt 561). I believe that it is true that from person to person, the way one is able to acquire literacy, is through one’s primary Discourse, the way we first “make sense of the world and interact with others,” it “constitutes our original and home-based sense of identity” (Gee 7,8). In order to truly find out if this is true, I examined an archive of literacy narratives, pulling evidence from victim narratives and outsider narratives. Literacy narratives about race, gender, and overall background helped to discover more about how primary Discourses play a role in literacy acquisition. I have found that, in most cases, background and upbringing is the way that people are shaped, making it harder, or easier, for one to acquire such a Discourse. Taking these things into consideration, one could make an effort to be able to change the ways children are brought up to help them acquire things easier. Though certain variables about someone cannot be changed, other efforts could be taken up to compensate for such things.
Your upbringing and background affect literacy acquisition very much. From one person to another, each person has had different experiences with achieving literacy and education. Gee writes about primary Discourses. These Discourses are what we acquire in our early years of life while we grow up at home. They also include your race and gender and overall background (7,8). These key factors can be what constitutes how someone is able to acquire literacy in life. In the literacy narrative Mother Knows Best, Sarah Robinson was always fascinated with reading mystery books as a child. Her favorite series was The Boxcar Children. She would read the books over and over again. But once she started to get older, her mother took away this book series. Sarah was very upset at first, but no matter how much she kicked and screamed, her mother replaced the old book series with new, more advanced readings. “Turns out, I really did end up liking Nancy Drew and her mysteries. I was able to connect to her unlike the Boxcar Children, as we were almost the same age, gender and both loved solving mysteries.” Sarah gave these books a chance and she ended up loving these new books more than before. So Sarah’s primary Discourse allowed her to achieve literacy quite easily with her mother greatly encouraging reading in her life. She even encouraged her to challenge herself, and to keep challenging herself, strengthening her literacy skills. Sarah is able to take what she has acquired from her childhood and apply it to her later life when it comes to furthering her literacy.
Gender and race may make literacy acquisition much harder for those who are in the minority. Victim and outsider narratives could take this into account. Alexander writes “Outsider narratives portray a literate self who does not fit in and looks in on the literate activities in which others seem to participate as part of the norm…[the victim, rebel, and outsider] narratives demonstrate that anguish, loss, and hopelessness are also parts of the journey toward literacy” (627). This is true with the story of Dora and Raymond. Dora was “looking in” on the ease of life that Raymond had. Brandt writes, “For Raymond Branch, a university town in the 1970s and 1980s provided an information-rich, resource-rich learning environment in which to pursue his literacy development, but for Dora Lopez, a female member of a culturally unsubsidized ethnic minority, the same town at the same time was information and resource-poor” (561). Raymond and Dora lived the same town as each other yet had two totally different experiences with literacy acquisition. Though Dora has a harder time than Raymond, she was able to benefit from her experiences. Dora could be seen as a “victim” or “outsider” when compared to Raymond and people of his sort. She did not have the best experiences with literacy, she did not fit in. Though these people go through more struggle than normal, they can actually end up coming out on top. Dora was able to overcome her struggles and was able to get a job that actually required high literacy skills in two languages, not even just one.
Gee writes about primary Discourses. These Discourses are what we acquire in our early years of life while we grow up at home. They also include your race and gender and overall background (7,8). These key factors can be what constitutes how someone is able to acquire literacy in life. With Dora, she was born a Mexican American female. Her race and gender alone already make it harder for the “average” person to acquire literacy. “Dora Lopez undertook to teach herself how to read and write in Spanish… neither her brother nor her U.S.-born cousins knew how to do” (560). Dora’s primary Discourse has raised her into hardship, to know how to work with what she is given, and work for what she is not given. Primary Discourses set up a basis for all of the other Discourses and interactions in our life. Dora did not have easy access to literacy from a young age. Though she had struggled, she was able to take her early experiences and turn them into motivation to better herself.
Your background and environment have a huge effect on your acquisition of literacy. As Brandt writes in Sponsors of Literacy, “Literacy, like land, is a valued commodity in this economy, a key resource in gaining profit and edge. This value helps to explain, of course, the lengths to which people will go to secure literacy for themselves or their children” (558). Literacy is such a valuable thing to hold in your belt these days. One could go nowhere in life because they are not able to acquire adequate literacy. This situation can be seen in the literacy narrative Education by Daria Letcher. In this narrative, her family is told to be born and raised into a time of segregation, making receiving education very difficult, if not impossible, due to their race. “My family put a lot of pressure on education because of my family history… many of my family members grew up in a time of segregation when education was not easily accessible.” Because of this, Daria’s mother made sure that Daria never had a chance to miss out on a good education. Daria’s mother is doing just as Brandt describes. She realizes the value and importance literacy withholds, and she will do anything to “secure literacy” for Daria.
Deborah Brandt brings up the idea of sponsors in her literature Sponsors of Literacy. She writes about how sponsors are one of the main reasons why people are able to acquire literacy. Brandt describes a sponsor as “any agents, local or distant, concrete or abstract, who enable, support, teach, model, as well as recruit, regulate, suppress, or withhold literacy—and gain advantage by it in some way” (556). Though Brandt says that it is “any” agent which is “local”, just how local can it be? Can a sponsor be yourself if no one else? Many of my in the literacy narratives from Rising Cairn have shown that there is no specific sponsor, but there are undertones that there is. Where could it be? In Expect the Unexpected by Hannah D, she writes about how her brother died and later used this story to write her college application essay. She passed in this essay for her English class and had only received a B-, but was able to come out on top and realize that you must do what makes you happy, something that you could be proud of. “In the end, I have may not got[ten] the best grade on my paper, but that did not matter. I was so proud of my paper, no acceptance letter or B minus was going to change that. I did everything I could to go above and beyond.” She may have struggled emotionally with writing her essay, but nowhere does it say that there was an outside source supporting her other than herself. She was able to do things for herself like Brandt describes in her definition of a sponsor. She was able to teach herself this lesson on literacy. She gained an advantage by discovering a part of herself and being able to look at literacy in a more positive light. Is it just that narratives such as these are simply missing some information that could point to a sponsor that was not included for the fact that they wanted it to seem like they accomplished things on their own? Or are people like Hannah their own sponsor?
Literacy acquisition, to some, may seem to be pretty easy at first. But really, depending on your background (race, gender, class, etc.) literacy acquisition may be much harder than someone may think. On pages 559 through 561 of Deborah Brandt’s Sponsors of Literacy, Brandt tells of two real-life people: Dora Lopez and Raymond Branch. Especially in their day and age, Dora, being a female Mexican American, had a much harder time with literacy acquisition than Raymond, a Caucasian male. In the literacy narrative Education, Daria writes about how growing up, her family really truly pushed her to get her education and become as well-rounded as she possibly could. Once she was old enough, her mother even made her write about what she had read. “My family put a lot of pressure on education because of my family history… many of my family members grew up in a time of segregation when education was not easily accessible.” All of this, much like Dora and her family, is because she comes from a family born and raised in segregation. She comes from a family of color, so as history can tell, her family has faced many struggles and hardships when it comes to receiving a good (if any) education. Raymond was able to acquire literacy with ease due to his upbringing and family background, but it was much harder for the families of Dora and Daria. Dora and Daria’s families both had very hard times acquiring literacy; from Dora’s brother not even knowing how to read or write in Spanish, to Daria’s family having a brick wall of segregation in the way of having an education, literacy acquisition can become very difficult based off of one’s background.
According to Alexander, the success story cultural narrative could be so popular because the success story is “what teachers want to see” (624). If this is true, then are there certain key points that are missing from these narratives that point out an obvious sponsor? Since so many students write about what they think their teacher wants to see, then maybe a lot of them also want their teacher to think of them as strong, that they could do it on their own. So they simply exaggerated the truth, conveying themselves as the “sponsor” of their own literacy narrative. In the literacy narrative Blank Screen, Meghan has to write her college essay and pass it in to her English teacher. After handing it in, she had only received a C as a grade. She had struggled greatly with writing it in the beginning, but was able to overcome it and finally get the essay done. She worked hard on it herself. “The only time that I got the sense of reward from my writing was on my college essay… It was that I realized that no matter how much advice you can get from even the most brilliant person in the world there is nothing more important than listening to yourself.” Meghan claims to have done the work by herself, and says that yourself is what matters. But is there more to the story like Alexander suggests? When writing the literacy narrative, Meghan could have deliberately left out some details in order for her to seem like she was more progressive in her thinking and writing.
Can you really be your own sponsor? Gee says that in order to enter a Discourse, one must “apprentice” someone who is already in that Discourse. This means, that in order to become an apprentice, one needs a master. “By enculturation (“apprenticeship”) into social practices through scaffolded and supported interaction with people who have already mastered the Discourse” (7). Gee believes that in order to be welcomed into a Discourse of some sort, you must almost be trained like you would at a new job. You must learn how to be just like the people in the Discourse. Gee’s ideas on apprenticing with a master could directly correlate to Brandt’s ideas of sponsors. Brandt says that sponsors “enable, support, teach, model, as well as recruit, regulate, suppress, or withhold literacy… sponsors nevertheless set the terms for access to literacy and wield powerful incentives for compliance and loyalty” (556). From what Brandt explains what a sponsor is, sponsors sound much like the masters of a Discourse. The masters (and sponsors) are the ones who decide if you are welcomed into the Discourse (with sponsors, the Discourse of literacy). They are almost like gatekeepers, they are the ones who decide who and what can acquire what they have. Though these two types of people are the ones who hold the key, is there a way to sneak in?
Do you really need anyone else to help you acquire literacy? Brandt says that sponsors of literacy are “the causes into which people’s literacy usually gets recruited” (556). Brandt believes that the true way to true literacy acquisition involves having a sponsor. But what if you did not have to have a sponsor or a master? Well, in Literacy, Discourse, and Linguistics: Introduction, James Paul Gee talks about something called “mushfake”. Mushfake is used in prison culture, being used to describe someone making do with what they have. Gee describes “mushfake Discourse” as the “partial acquisition coupled with meta-knowledge and strategies to ‘make do’” (13). Many students within the Rising Cairn page write about how they were supposedly able to acquire literacy on their own, not needing the help of others (or sponsor). Though Brandt argues that one requires the use of a sponsor on their literacy journey, it could also be argued that a lot of these students from the Rising Cairn narratives just “mushfaked” their way through their literacy experience; they were able to make it on their own. So is it really true that you cannot make it on your own? That you really need to have a sponsor or master?
Sponsors are not always needed in order to be able to acquire literacy (or at least to appear as though you have). According to Alexander, the success story cultural narrative could be so popular because the success story is “what teachers want to see” (624). If this is true, then are there certain key points that are missing from these narratives that point out an obvious sponsor? Since so many students write about what they think their teacher wants to see, then maybe a lot of them also want their teacher to think of them as strong, that they could do it on their own. So they simply exaggerated the truth, conveying themselves as the “sponsor” of their own literacy narrative. This is similar to “mushfake” in Gee’s journals. Gee writes that “mushfake” is when one uses “partial acquisition coupled with meta-knowledge and strategies to ‘make do’” (13). He talks about how sometimes people just simply do not have what it takes to be able to be welcomed into a Discourse. These people then must fake their way in as they can. When students write these narratives where they appear to be able to succeed on their own, these students may just be “mushfaking” their way. They are not truly being one with the Discourse, they are making do with what they have in order to make it appear as though they truly belong.
Could not having a sponsor actually give one an advantage? This is in the sense that one instead uses their backbone to get through what is ahead. Gee talks about such a thing in Literacy, Discourse, and Linguistics: Introduction. He writes “when we come across a situation where we are unable to accomodate or adapt… we become consciously aware of what we are trying to do or are being called upon to do… can make “maladapted” students smarter than “adapted” ones” (12,13). Though the students who are not well suited in the subject tend to be expected to not do well, they can actually be smarter than those are are more suited for the subject. In the literacy narrative My Academic Nightmare: The Myth of Academic Dishonesty by Jordan Jawadt, Jordan does not necessarily do well in his english class. He results to looking up the answers to questions on quizzes. This puts him ahead of everyone else. Though this was true for a little while, eventually being “maladapted” caught up to him. “I’m kinda glad I got to realize that the road I was going down was the wrong one, and that there was other ways to get around and having to fake my intelligence would get me nowhere.” So really, in Jordan’s case, he was not able to stay ahead of those who were “smarter” than him.
As I have shown throughout my analysis of each literacy narrative, literacy acquisition varies a lot depending on your primary Discourse. From one experience to another, depending on one’s race, gender, and overall background, one person could struggle a lot worse than the person standing next to them. Though this is true, Alexander claims that a lot of the times, as we see examples as such with victim and outsider narratives, the hardships and difficulties throughout the literacy journey are actually just apart of such; they tend to build the person to be much stronger (and sometimes smarter) than those who did not face any struggles during their literacy acquisition. It is very important to recognize that each student has their very own learning style due to their primary Discourse. Just because one student does not present well, does not mean that they have not yet acquired literacy. Some teachers or professors could take a new approach to teaching their students, instead of just the way that the said teacher likes to learn or teach. Being able to reach out to your students is very important, understanding their needs could help each student immensely. What if all someone needed was just an alternative way of learning to fully learn the material– and eventually pass the course– because the way that they were brought up, did not allow them to have the skills or mentality needed to acquire what is trying to be taught to them?