Am I Literate? & Powerful Literacy

Am I literate? Or as James Gee would hone in on: have I mastered a secondary discourse? Under which definition; yes, I would be literate. That one’s easy, because I’m able to step out of one discourse and into another, giving me the ability to critique either one of my handful of discourses. This is also What I think he means by powerful literacy. In my opinion he describes it in a terribly confusing way. “Powerful literacy is control as a secondary use of language used in a secondary discourse that can serve as a meta-discourse to critique the primary discourse of other secondary discourses, including dominant discourses.” I can barely make heads or tails of it. And I wouldn’t have, had I not read it backwards, as though Yoda were saying it. But I believe James Gee is referencing the reason we learn Spanish (er- as least a second language other than English.) in school. It’s so that we are given the opportunity to cease only having a basic, meta level awareness of the language as a whole. We are able to learn more about our own language by learning another then we would have had we only been taught English. It’s like with space. Niel Degrasse Tyson pointed out that we set out to go into space, and learn about the cosmos, but in the process we learned more about ourselves then we ever would have. Gee is of course referring to this on a smaller scale, within the language, although the same concept applies: you must learn to speak in another discourse before you are able to look at the original one from a truer perspective. William Edwards Deming also came to a similar conclusion, though his focus was in business management. He said “A system cannot understand itself. The transformation requires a view from outside.” Or even more simplified, that a system cannot effectively evaluate itself because it is biased and seeing things from a first person point of view. Just like we’re biased. We see everything from our own point of view. How could we see it any other way? We’re trapped inside our heads!



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