Friday, November 6, 2009

If you learn to understand, then, you'll be understood.

My name is Ebelechukwu Okafor. I am a 32 year young, Nigerian woman who loves to write/produce various genres of music. Once I arrived at The City College in the Spring of 2008, I discerned that I had an ardent passion for education as well. Upon that epiphany, I pledged to the universe that I will attain my life's purpose, which is to build a bridge between my two loves: music, and education. I would be lying, if I told you that I knew how this arduous feat will be accomplished, however, my M.A. in Language and Literacy will be the blueprint from which I will begin the construction.

I must confess that when I initially read the course syllabus, I was quite incredulous, as to how a plethora of tedious weekly readings on theories, could ever help me to become a knowledgeable educator. However, as the semester progressed, I observed a chronological pattern of cadence, in the flow of our class discussions, that made me ravenous for more, and more, and more, knowledge. It was then that I realized that, not only are the readings extremely relevant, but, when those theories are amalgamated with the extensive pedagogical skills possessed by Professor Gleason, and the invaluable real time experiences that my peers have to dispense, a synergistic atmosphere of understanding is naturally generated. For example:

October 21, 2009
During this session, Wynne, Alexandra and Lashallah gave an amazing presentation on Literacy as Involvement by Deborah Brandt, The Heath Basic Writer by Blanche Skurnick and Problem- Solving Strategies By Linda Flower. I found this session to be so poignant because, this was the first time that the class ever discussed how to deal with students and their difficulties with writing. For example, as Alexandra pointed out in her synopsis, "Expert writers focus more on what to do in their writing and weak writers focus most of their time on what to say next." From these words I understand that grammar is not as important as structure. For example, I am a tutor at the Writing Center, and, if I have to correct the paper of a student who is an inexperienced writer, the first thing that I would tackle, would be the structure of the paper. Being that almost anyone can scan a paper for grammatical errors, I would spend our hour together, teaching him/her how to brainstorm to find the thesis statement, and later how to plug each point (from the three point thesis model) into the paragraph that it belongs in. I constantly admonish my students that "a paper without a thesis, is like a train without tracks." Also there is a very vivid comparison on pages 41, and 48, of one experienced writer and the other who is a novice. After glancing at the two techniques of the writers, it is clear that only one of them know what to do. From this, I learned to teach my students the proper usage of timing, as well as structure. For example on such exams as the ACT and the CPE, students are given a specific amount of time to write a paper. If there is no game plan for action, the novice writer can easily find him self in an ephemeral state of analysis paralysis (when thinking too much leads to inactivity). I say this because when students who failed the CPE the first time, come into my workshop, many of them admit that they simply did not have
enough time to finish the exam. When Lashallah gave her presentation, I was so impressed with the contents of The Heath Basic Writer and Problem Solving Strategies for Writing that I went to Borders and Barnes and Nobles to buy them for myself. I was dispirited to learn that none of the bookstores above carried them.

October 28, 2009
During this session, Professor Gleason gave a presentation on Ways With Words by Shirley Brice Heath. This class was very interesting because we discussed the topic of socio-linguistics for the first time. I was especially impressed with the method in which the preachers and teachers on page 24, used the sociological paradigm of symbolic interaction, to move in with the millworkers and emulate how they lived. The missionaries personified the prevalent platitude that one must "seek first to understand, then to be understood." When an educator can understand his or her student, not only is an amicable affinity established, but a new wall of trust, shatters the old walls of fear, segregation, and incredulous thoughts. Take this quote for example "When he moved among the mill workers, he shifted his talk to their ways. He acknowledged a major breakthrough in his relations with millworkers any time one of them commented: 'That preacher talks jes like folks, don't he'?"(24) This example could be applied to a real time situation; if a teacher ever had to visit the home of one of his/her students. Being able to respect people who may not have as much academic knowledge as we do can be a benediction in disguise because one of the most honorable and inspirational human beings of all times "never" stepped foot inside of a traditional western classroom, except for when he was asked to teach. If a person tried to judge his Holiness the Dali Lama, on his physical appearance, he/she may assume that his Holiness is not as brilliant as he is, and that individual might miss the lifetime opportunity of meeting one of the few people on earth, who possess nothing more, than their innate blessings of understanding, compassion and knowledge (in that order). To revert back to my original point, if a student comes from a household where the parents are uneducated, that may be the reason why he or she is suffering academically. How can a student get help with writing assignments if his mother can't read? We must keep this point in mind at all times.

November 4, 2009
During this session, Geraldine, Justin, Tonisha and Lynette gave a wonderful presentation on Bootstraps: From an American Academic of Color by Victor Villanueva, "Embracing a Multicultural Rhetoric" by Bonnie Lisle and Sandra Mano, Cultural Literacy by E.D. Hirsch and
Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard Rodriguez by Richard Rodriguez. Although there were many disparities between each of the readings, They all touched upon one basic theme which is; what should educators be teaching the children. Cultural literacy is simply the accumulated knowledge that all educated members of a particular society have obtained from the beginning of their academic careers as toddlers, to the latter years of their lives when they enter the workforce. Hirsch believes that this general information should be taught in schools so that members of a society will all be on the same level intellectually. What makes this topic so controversial is the fact that, different people have different concepts of what Cultural Literacy should be. For example, Americans view General Washington, as an honorable man who was chosen to be the first president of the United States. In Britain, the "Founding Fathers" that Americans hold with so much reverence, are viewed as nothing more than bloody, dastardly, scallywags, who were banished from England, to a new land, as a punishment for their numerous crimes. Therefore, Cultural Literacy will vary from nation to nation, depending on how creative the man with the pen is. Multicultural literacy on the other hand seems to be the antithesis of the Cultural literacy, because the Multicultural Literacy theory is inclusive, diverse, and it opens up the world as a learning paradigm. Whereas, Cultural Literacy theories seem to be comprised from an ethnocentric perspective of the dominant "White Anglo-Saxon Protestant" male. What made the Hunger of Memory so compelling, was the fact that Richard Rodriguez is a direct victim of Cultural Literacy's backlashes. I say this, because when immigrants come to the US for the first time, although they are elated to be able to pursue the American Dream, many of them are also struck with a mental monsoon, where ambivalence falls like the rain. In a world of confusion they constantly wonder, am I American, or am I Nigerian, Chinese, German, Hispanic, Russian etc...? To fulfill the American dream is to get an education, but, to gain an American education is to be stripped of every fiber of one's being. As a baby breathes her first breath of air she cries because she was used to swimming the warm fluids of her mothers womb. The air is cold, and when she breathes her first breath, the freezing oxygen, slices into the lungs of the infant, as she wails an excruciating moan of agony and suddenly starts to shiver, realizing that she is in a new world. To help her adjust to the environment, the doctor wraps her up in a blanket and gives her back to her mother. When an immigrant comes to a new land, he too has to breathe for the first time. As he realizes that everything he says means nothing, he must learn how to breathe the breath of a new English vernacular. Gaining one degree in college, and losing 360 degrees which was the knowledge of self, seems to be an uneven exchange, but people do it everyday so that they can financially provide for their families in their native countries, and, to offer a new future for the loved ones that are in America with them. When I think of my family back home in my village these are the thoughts that keep me grounded and they are the reason why I say "if you learn to understand, then, you'll be understood.