Victor Villanueva explores the implication that “language is also race in America” through his autobiographical account of the struggles he faced, and some still face growing up “an other” in American society (Villanueva xii). He does this through exploration of the relationship between class and color, the significance behind code-switching, and the complex analysis of the valuable yet counterproductive nature of education for a particular youth.
Villanueva would favor the teacher, Lazere, West identifies in chapter 3, “Socratic Commitment and Critical Literacy,” that enables students to consider a wide array of ideological perspectives and develop facility in interrogating those positions, the very activities that should lie at the heart of civic literacy and humanistic education. Although he himself leans toward democratic socialism, Lazere would not favor any attempt to impose upon students and particular political analysis” (West 29). This method of teaching attempts to prevent the disregard of the diverse student population and encourage students to think critically, fostering their own beliefs important to their individual value systems as did one of Villanueva’s teachers did for him and his classmates, making education purposeful. What West defines as critical literacy however, contradicts with Villanueva’s idea of cultural literacy. It restricts the learners to accept that academic success if within the “dominant” language that is perceived to be the accurate language, discrediting the language that may correspond with a student’s culture.“Critical literacy can be through of as a social practice in itself” which is fueled by the dominating English narrative advocating assimilation, a process all immigrants go through, but not necessarily all achieve (28).
Robert MacNiel also comments on code-switching which is evident in both written and spoken word. “The free spirit of the new nation produced a torrent of slang and creative English, what usually found its way into print was strictly hemmed” (MacNiel 15). a result of those similar in description to John Simon’s prescriptivists, in this instance the dominating narrators, belief that language should not accommodate deficits. However, this mode of thinking harmed the opportunities for advancement for the minority population, as Villanueva comments on but ultimately gives examples of defiance, one being the ability people fitting in on the streets but in private doing well in school which corresponds with being white, regardless of their culture. This example strengthens the argument of MacNeil in that people shift the way they speak depending upon the audience. Villanueva counters the theorists described by MacNiel in arguing that regardless of the dialect, minorities receive a lot of verbal practice despite the upper, dominating class’ inability to comprehend it. Both writer’s ideas are seamlessly connected to W.E.B Dubious theory of double consciousness, and the difficulties one faces in attempts to establish a single identity rather than a multiple divided. Ultimately this is what Villanueva faced as he fell in the gray area of being viewed as a minority from the “hood” but also on paper a successful white male with his doctorate. Speaking to the contrasting ideology of the descriptivists, language is meant to evolve. MacNiel presents this idea and Villanueve explores it through cultural bias. Cultural bias is evident in the pathways to success. Tests are made by…the dominating white speakers for white speakers. They assume that words have fixed meanings whereas Villanueva promotes and MacNiels description of the descriptivist idea supports.
Villanueva identifies a sense of academic ignorance in America, caused by the push to achieve and specialize prematurely. There is pressure to reach the esteemed level of excellence as society now deems graduate school as almost mandatory. However, the degree, rather, the piece of paper one receives is the goal and the focus, not the knowledge. In Scrolling Forward, Levy’s analysis of his receipt shows the wealth of information a document can hold and provide a framework for the analysis of an esteemed document in society: the diploma. A diploma, however, does not have the deepest well. If one pictures a diploma it has very few elements to it: the recipient’s name, degree, school attended, date received, a seal of some sort, and signatures of those who approve the deliverance. This paper, however, is a complete social construct that deems intelligence without the ability to determine it. It isn’t a transcript, which lists one’s academic record and performance, it isn’t an example of the student’s work, providing an audience with a sample of their ability, but simply a piece of paper with a few names and a stamp. There is a “pervasiveness and importance of written form in our lives” and this piece of paper is an example of one people work their lives for and put all their effort towards in order to prove success. Levy states, “One of the best sources of information about the present is our experience,” however more often than not the majority of society is focused much more on the goal. How does this lead us to success? Especially in this discipline, receiving one’s doctorate should signify mastery of content and thought, but by emphasizing the document itself, it takes away from the experience. The experience that is the same regardless of race, gender or class. So, say the gaze was shifted to highlight the experience rather than the piece of paper, one could argue that people might find commonalities through experience rather than distinguish themselves based on their backgrounds.
- In thinking about what dominating narrative defined success, have all narratives come to accept this definition? What are/are there multiple definitions present in society today?
- Would having a diploma still mean as much if it were say, an electronic document why or why not?
- Would mastering critical literacy prove an immigrant to have accomplished assimilation?
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