ENG what is literacy – James Gee response

When I first started reading James Gee’s article What is Literacy? I found it very confusing, and slightly unsettling.  His definition for discourses, and a lot of everything else he was saying in the beginning was going right over my head.  I wasn’t sure if a culture was a discourse, but assumed it must have been.  And I found it very unsettling when he said “It is sometimes helpful to say that it is not individuals who speak and act, but rather historically and socially defined discourses speak to each other through individuals.” Some people jump onto the idea that their actions and minds are predetermined by fate, or a god, and that they’re unchangeable.  That they don’t have any accountability for their actions or thoughts because they’re not the ones who created themselves. Personally, I find it quite unsettling, as though my thoughts aren’t mine, as though I’m a puppet, just made to believe that I’m not. I like having control over myself, and making myself who I want to be, not what fate or a god wants me to. Or in this case in particular, as though a group of people or community I live in has a discourse, and way of doing things that then becomes me, and I’m merely a body for that community of ideas to spread with.  I enjoy the idea of ideas being a new form of evolution. With everyone being connected, they seem to take on their own evolution and life, spreading like a virus from mind to mind, using the internet and text and voice instead of surfaces and the air. But the idea that those ideas are me, and that I’m not me is scary, and not something that I like thinking about for extended periods of time.




As the essay continues, I gained a better understanding of what a discourse would be, and started thinking about my own, and thinking about what would or wouldn’t be one. Though it wasn’t until our dissuasion in class where I finally came to a better understanding about it and began agreeing with the ideas and concepts more. I especially like the distinction Gee made between meta level learning and an actual understanding level learning, saying “to the extent that it is important to have meta-level skills in regard to language, reading classes a place of learning might not be around any more, it encapsulated the common sense notion of literacy as “the ability to read and write” (Intransitively), a notion that is nowhere near as coherent as it at first sounds.” I feel like it’s one of the biggest issues with education. Every Spanish class I’ve been in teaches the language like a math. The way to get a good grade in the test isn’t to be fluent in the language, but to regurgitate information onto the test and then forget it and move on to the next lesson. Yes, having that basic knowledge is important, but if the goal of the class (or any other of my high school classes) was to actually teach us the material and have us retain the knowlage and make connections and use it in the future, then they should have focused on helping us acquire the language, and speak it in class instead of lecturing. Gee acknowlages that “Acquisition and learning are thus too, differential source of power; acquirers usually beat learners at performance, learners usually neat acquires at talking about it that is at explication, explanation, analysis, and criticism.” So it is possible to look at it in a way where the school wanted us to learn instead of acquire so that we would be able to succeed in the explanation, analysis, and criticism parts, but I believe that it would have been more effective to teach a combination of the two.



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