(My literacy paper rough draft)
We are living in the digital age, and because of that, we are writing more than the generations before us. Handwriting and calligraphy are being changed out for keyboards and fonts, and people generally don’t choose to make the distinction between writing and typing. The internet is a large place, as diverse as it is limitless, and has become a spaceless location, full of ideas and communities, most of which, communicate through writing. But we still first learn write with pencils in hand. We are engaging in more writing and communication than ever, and unlike the generations before us, we have control over many more discourses.
When I first started reading James Gee’s article What is Literacy?
I especially like the distinction Gee made between acquiring versus learning a language and acquiring a meta level understanding level learning
Every Spanish class I’ve been in teaches the language like a math. And Gee acknowledges 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.” The school wanted us to learn, instead of acquire, so that we would be able to succeed in the explanation, analysis, and criticism parts. By learning the mechanics of another language, it gives one more perspective on their own.
But in order to gain perspective on your language and discourse, you first have to acquire one. And the best way to do that, is by reading. I had a bookshelf. I always had a bookshelf. Early on it was filled with large and colourful books, but as I got older, only the covers were splashed with colour. I was proud when I finished my first book without pictures. They seemed to slow everything down, when I wanted more and more text, faster and faster. Nothing could satisfy my quench for literature.
I had no older siblings, so my parents and my literature filled house was the inspiration and drive that got me excited. My mum and I would read the harry potter series together, until I was skilled enough to read them on my own. I was supposedly reading at a high school level in the beginning of middle school, though I’m not too sure about how accurate that measurement was. This burning passion for paper lasted through most of middle school, flying through series after series after series. Learning new words, stories, situations. I was evolving my primary discourse and tweaking it to become my own. But then I stopped. I didn’t finish the harry potter series, stopping halfway through book five. Technology and a growing social life began getting in the way, filling up most of my free time. Every day after school I would go onto the computer and AIM with friends. And this problem would only get worse once I got a phone and entered high school. But it is because of this that I developed a new discourse.
So am I literate? Or as James Gee would hone in on: have I mastered a secondary discourse? So yes, I like to believe that I am literate. I also have powerful literacy, as Gee defined as “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.” It’s the reason we learn Spanish in school. It’s so that we are achieve a meta level awareness of the language as a whole. You must learn to speak in another discourse before you are able to look at the original one from a truer perspective, so having lived in the east bay suburbia my whole life, there aren’t many varying or radically different discourses to draw from. Which is why I turned to texting and the internet. Everyone has their own way of texting and speaking on the internet that’s almost like a fingerprint; it consists of which abbreviations they use, how long their texts are, use of emoticons and smiley faces, punctuation, and personal slang. These are all affected by the community of people you text, and then in part by who they text. Different communities use different slang and abbreviations, and are bound by url, instead of location, making the community much more diverse. They are, by definition, discourses.
Much like language, writing has changed over time. How we use it to communicate ideas has melded around the means by which it is sent. Status updates that are only made up of links aren’t writing, but thought provoking and argumentative ones are. Even if you’re just writing a few words about your day, you’re keeping a public journal On Tumblr and YouTube, people will rant, talk, discuss, teach, and add their two cents into a debate. And these are undeniably writing. They may not be formal and classic as letters or books generally are, or always as thought out as a dear john letter, but there is most certainly a prose, which constitutes it as writing.
Reddit has become the public square of debates. And the catalogue of everything that is human. Much like the public squares in Rome provided a place for people to debate and speak, Reddit has became a community centered around debate and conversation. Unlike other forums, Reddit isn’t only individual comments all saying the same thing, but rather comments that lead into discussion and debate because of the systems structure and ability to reply.
I didn’t discover debate in reddit though. In high school, I joined the speech and debate team, and it pushed me. It was hard, cold, fast, and the first thing to really knock me out of my comfort zone in terms of discussion and critical thinking. I was in parli debate with a friend, and we would have four to five debates at each competition, each one a different topic which we wouldn’t get until 20 minutes prior to to the debate starting. Much like reddit, they were mostly related to current events in the news, but the metaphorical and offbeat ones are still out there. It taught me how to form coherent, organized, and strong arguments on the fly when you get up to argue against the opposing teams points that they brought up less than a minute ago.
Although both related to debate, Reddit and debate tournaments are two very separate settings, with very different discourses, even though the underlying mechanics are the same. Speech and debate is a much more formal setting, and uses a very distinct jargon. Words like resolution, LD (lincoln-douglas), PFD (public forum dabate), value premise, and contention quickly become common. And to even further assert it as a discourse, people quickly pick up how to speak in a debate. No one uses it outside of the arena, but inside, it’s an audibly different way of speaking they people practice and train to evolve and improve. Reddit also asserts itself as a discourse, by bringing in their own lingo and way of speaking. TL;DR (too long;didn’t read), literally, AMA (ask me anything), karma, lurker, and mods are commonplace on reddit, and can be found in even the smallest subreddits. Reddit also holds it’s own discourse, usually with a lot more voice and less formal than that of speech and debate.
I have also ran into many cultural discussions on Reddit (though this is also common throughout the internet). People are beginning to creating their own virtual cultures. As they discuss and debate online, they’re sharing and comparing their cultures, each time they use a word that distinctly exists in their own language or discourse. The internet is a catalyzing the creation of new discourses, and cultural diffusion. Discourses that include people from all over the world, that use the medium of text instead of oral language.
One of my favorite YouTubers C.G.P. Grey summed up social media and writing well when referring to Reddit, saying that the internet and the digital age are a lot like life: it is what you make of it.
My relationship with writing now mostly consists of writing for college classes, texting, Reddit, and occasionally gaming.
Where I’m heading – New discourse – academia.
Baldwin doesn’t get around to many powerful, convincing points until the end of the piece. This is good to end on a memorable note, but for conveying information to humans, that’s not the best way to do it. Always assume that people will get bored and stop reading. Strongest points up towards the top so that if they read nothing but the beginning, you will have gotten the most of your point across as best as you could.
Baldwin is also very vague with some of his ideas. Or he won’t say things straight on. Good writing says the same amount in fewer words. He’ll say things in fewer words, but not very clearly. And if it’s not that, then he’ll be saying something that requires a fair amount of interpreting before one is able to reach a clear answer. Yes, coming to an answer on your own is a good way to have knowledge, because you relate it to many more things and have a little bit of a personal stake in it, but one can’t always be sure that it’s the intended meaning or not. Also for the less engaged audience, (i.e., most people not reading it for an English class) it should deliver more, as they won’t be spending time reading into it.
Jones does a good job of connecting her points into her own story. Story is the most effective way to learn and remember any thing, as well as persuade or influence someone. She also provided real world examples, implementing them clearly, and effectively. End with a powerful paragraph that supports the rest of her piece, without sacrificing putting meaty information up towards the top and scattered throughout (it’s a shorter piece, so more scatter is alright).
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!
When writing about an academic topic, starting without a thesis seems wrong. “How can I introduce it [a topic] if I haven’t written it yet?” … Actually, thanks kinda brilliant.
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.