Literacy experiences can be different for everyone. This drives many questions on how these experiences shape the way people approach writing a reading. Literacy Narratives which are personal stories about literacy experiences can help give an insight and try to answer these questions. Literacy experts such as James Paul Gee, Lesia Delpit, Deborah Brandt, and Kara Poe Alexander study literacy and have made many important findings in the field. Alexander for instance did a study on literacy narratives using groups of students and comparing and organizing their narratives to analyze and find answers to her questions on what are common tendencies in the narratives. Alexander’s research and methods are much like what is being done with the Rising Carin archive. The Rising Carin archive is an archive of first year college student’s literacy narratives at the University of New England. The archive is able to give a person a larger insight to the variety of experiences that people go through with literacy. The archive gives a researcher the chance to look through a large amount of essays to try to answer some of their questions. Initially reading the archive I had a few questions I wanted to find answers to.
While reading stories my first time through the archive I wondered why experiences with literacy at home and in school were so different for people? It to occur many times in narratives where the narrator had empowering experiences with reading and writing at home compared to poor experiences at school caught my attention. In my reading of Alexander she brings up the concept of master and little narratives she sees in the students narratives and I wondered if in my readings I could find similar results. I also wanted to figure out if people’s perspectives on literacy came from more than just past experiences. With these set goals I found intriguing results through more research of the literary experts and by reading more narratives in the archive.
Alexanders research and work with literacy narratives had interesting results and findings that made me think about my readings in the archive again. Alexander brought up the concept of master narratives which is defined in the paper as “Master narratives as limiting because of their normative, institutionalized, legitimizing, and canonical tendencies.” What Alexander is trying to say is that master narratives are like the framework for all narratives. After reviewing the essays done by her students she was able to point out that the master narratives in the literacy narratives were success stories. When I was going through the narratives before reading Alexander I thought most of the stories as victim stories. Alexander though defines a success story as “improving reading and writing invokes optimistic and future looking rhetoric”(615). With this part of the definition I noticed most of the narratives that I thought were victim narratives had a positive ending looking at the future in a hopeful way. My initial thought was that these stories could be both victim and success narratives. The more I got to think about it though the majority of them were like this. While rereading her description of master narratives as a framework or basis for all the narratives the thought of the master narrative success story might have been forced into the endings of their essays. If the stress of the success story is the only reason it made its way into these narratives that means the narratives were just victim narratives. Whether the optimistic hopeful ending were forced by the stress of the master narrative of the success or if they were genuine there was a clear struggle in the transition from literacy at home to literacy at school.
When Reading the narratives for the first time I noticed right away that people’s experiences with literacy at home and in a schooling were drastically different. For the most part in people’s narratives reading and writing at home was a far more positive experience then at school. Trying to figure reasons out for this difference I went back to read some of the papers by the literacy experts. When I began to reread Gee and his work on Discourse which he explains as “saying, doing, being valuing, believing combinations.” (6) I wondered if Discourse had a role in the difference between literacy at home and at school. When Gee explains the concept of primary Discourse as “primary socialization early in life in the home and peer group acquire (at least) one initial Discourse. This initial Discourse which I call our primary Discourse”(7). Rereading this statement made me consider the fact that maybe the reason literacy at home and school are different because they require different Discourses. In the narratives narrators considered literacy at home to be very positive and by going off of what Gee said about primary Discourse literacy at home would be part of that primary Discourse the narrator is already fluent in. When attempting literacy at school it is a secondary Discourse they have to try to learn making it not as comfortable at first and some never even get to master. One of the narratives where I thought it was clear to see this conflict was the narrative Learning to Not Hate English written by Austin Scagilione. In the story the Austin says “As a child, I learned to read by looking over children’s books with my grandmother, Winnie the Pooh, and other basic reading level books. Afterwards, I graduated to more adventurous novels…My passion for Greek and Roman mythology died out mostly after reaching high school, where we weren’t allowed much time to read for enjoyment, rather to get an assignment done.” It is clear to see in this case that the literacy Discourse that was developed at home is at conflict with the secondary Literacy Discourse in the Austin’s high school.
Thinking about Discourse help me come up with an explanation for my second question of is their anything else besides past experiences at play to shape a person’s perspective on literacy? It was not until rereading Gee and his work on Discourse that I realized how big of a role Discourse plays in a person’s Literacy experiences shaping their views on literacy. Reading through the narratives in the archive after reading Gee it was easy for me to see different Discourses at play. In one narrative called Finding Support For Succeeding Written by Matt Whalen he talks about his struggles with dyslexia. Learning disabilities would obviously play a huge role in a person’s literacy experiences. What was most interesting to me though was how the school handled his learning disabilities. In the story the Matt gives in detail what the experience was like for him by saying “At Cheverus, I found that they did not have the support I needed. I was getting buried in homework. There were no classes available beneath a college prep course.” Not having proper support and understanding from mentors is what I thought led to the the conflict in discourse and lack of help for Matt.
Literacy and Discourse go hand and hand and it plays a big role on how people experience reading and writing. Recognising the amount of victim narratives I was reading by comparing my readings with Alexander and seeing the connection with Discourse by reading Gee I came to the conclusion that there gap between the education system and some of its students. Leisa Delpit who also wrote on Discourse in concern that Gees ideas of Discourse would discourage teachers and mentors from being able to teach people with certain primary Discourses. An education system with a mindset of having students with multiple backgrounds and previous literacy experiences that vary is important. Without this mindset it can have the problematic effect like seen in Matt’s and Austin’s narratives. A student’s access to sponsorship a concept defined by Brant as “any agents, local or distant, concrete or abstract, who enable, teach, model, as well as recruit, regulate, suppress, or withhold literacy.”(557) should be accessible to all students no matter what their background is.