In response to the first question my classmate Grayson Corbett posed at the end of his Summary and Synthesis Response #1 (posted on his blog at https://engl300gvc.wordpress.com/), I present a TED Talk that offers an intriguing anecdotal take on what defines success, and how the dominant narrative of success is often not what it truly looks like: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tmc6HohWVCs
ENGL 300: Texts and Contexts
19 Feb 2018
Throughout chapter 1 of Bootstraps, Villanueva conveys the idea that language can hold immense significance beyond its surface function. Describing the whirlwind of studies and theories on the language of black children within impoverished urban environments, he writes, “Since the question is always ‘what’s wrong with them,’ the answer gets repeated too: bad language equals insufficient cognitive development” (Villanueva 11). Villanueva demonstrates how relatively simple mistakes common to the language of inner city children were thought to signal a deficiency in the children’s intellects. Thus, the mere differences between the language of “the block” (Villanueva 3) and that of middle-class society were used to reinforce notions of African American inferiority.
Chapter 1 of Levy’s Scrolling Forward ascribes similar importance to a piece of printed language. Levy shows a unique reverence for a receipt denoting the purchase of a tuna salad sandwich, tracing the document’s history back to the invention of paper in China in the second century C.E. and the development of the letter and number shapes the English language employs. “To see the receipt in this way,” he writes, “is to locate it in time” (Levy 14). Levy also examines the purpose of a receipt, how it performs the function of testimony that once required a person to be physically present. All of this examination reflects the power Levy believes the receipt possesses. He describes the receipt as a culmination of a whole society working together to help the little piece of paper do its job. It is remarkable to him what mankind has achieved through uses of language like the receipt. He writes, awestruck, that “over many millennia, in the midst of and in response to the reality of this ongoing flux, human beings have figured out how to shape and freeze bits of the material world” (Levy 19-20). Whereas Villanueva highlights language’s ability to signal differences and influence the way individuals see other people groups, Levy analyzes its capacity to stop time amidst the winds of change.
In chapter 3 of Composition and Cornel West, Gilyard describes “Socratic commitment” (Gilyard 5), the first of 3 discursive strategies that West recommends that society employ to combat decreased democratic fervor, and its relation to rhetorical education. Gilyard tells of West’s appreciation for Freire, who believes strongly in the power of language. Gilyard writes that “Freire understood that language is a crucial aspect of liberation because only through ‘naming the world,’ imprinting one’s own discursive construal on the environment, can one have a chance to participate in it on one’s own terms” (27). Like Villanueva, Gilyard contends that language holds awesome power and significance. In fact, Freire’s critical literacy is defined by examining the relations between learners and their environment. Delving into the power and meaning buried within language is central to the concept. West advocates, then, for students to examine relentlessly the messages thrown at them, bringing ideas into contention. This contention, West believes, is essential. Throughout, Gilyard asserts that language has a gravity which gives it the power to make monumental change happen, but only under scrutiny.
The first chapter of Do You Speak American? explores the conflict between two warring philosophies on language: those of the prescriptivists and the descriptivists. MacNeil describes how the prescriptivists assert that there is a certain way the English language should be spoken and written, while the descriptivists argue that change is inevitable and acceptable. However, the ideologies about language belie sentiments about far deeper issues. MacNeil provides essayist John Simon as an example on the prescriptivist side. He quotes Simon as bemoaning “the notion that in a democratic society language must accommodate itself to the whims, idiosyncrasies, dialects, and sheer ignorance of underprivileged minorities, especially if these happened to be black, Hispanic, and, later on, female or homosexual” (MacNeil 12). Individuals like Simon refuse to accept anything less than academic English, and thus language becomes a tool for stratifying society into sects: those to whom prescriptivists believe language belongs (and therefore who determine how it should be used), and the outsiders who speak and write differently. To label these different ways of speaking and writing as “incorrect,” and to blame these minorities for “ruining” language is to demand their submission to the upper-middle class and assert their inferiority. By presenting Simon’s viewpoint, MacNeil displays the intense meaning that language can take on in society, similar to that which Villanueva illustrates.
Chapter 2 of Scrolling Forward grapples with what defines a document. Levy reduces a document to its most basic foundations: its ability to speak, and to say the same thing every time it is engaged. The personification is no accident; Levy sees language as something with the power to breathe life. He discusses the Jewish legend of the creation of the Golem, in which scholar Judah Loew gives life to rock by writing the word for “truth” on its forehead, then later erases a letter to make the inscription read “death" after the creature rebels. Thus, Levy establishes language as something with the power to create and destroy. He also sees language as a key aspect of what makes one human. “Speech is something we assume to be uniquely human,” he writes (Levy 24). While the Golem story illustrates language’s power to control vitality, though, it also represents language being transferred onto a surrogate; it represents the creation of a document. Levy explores how these manifestations of language can rebel, as does the Golem of myth. He writes that “in endless ways they manage to escape the chains of their creators” (Levy 29). Levy portrays language as an entity that can take on a life of its own, and this agency runs alongside the deeper societal meanings which language adopts, or which are forced upon it by society, as demonstrated by Villanueva.
In Chapter 8 of What Writing Does and How It Does It, Leander and Prior detail various methods of conversation analysis and transcription. However, they first discuss the reasons that sociologists became fascinated with ordinary conversation. They explain: “Instead of such face-to-face interaction as the product of social norms, roles, and rules―with society as the equivalent of a computer program generating individuals and events, they came to see everyday interactions as the forge where social order, social identities, and social relations get made” (Leander & Prior 203-204). Leander and Prior describe how researchers came to believe that even the most mundane, unassuming form of language―just people talking to one another―has incredible significance. The influence conversation has on social expectations was what drove the sociologists to develop techniques of conversation analysis. Leander and Prior present a view of language as significant in developing a society’s tendencies and expectations, which meshes with Villanueva’s idea of language being used to reinforce societal beliefs about people groups.
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For my "This I Believe" assignment, I plan to discuss my belief in forgiving myself, and how that informs my policy of forgiving others. The happy memories of my childhood are punctuated with royal screw-ups. All too often in the wake of these debacles, I refused consolation, instead choosing angst and self-loathing. However, my parents never gave up on me. They constantly reasserted that I was forgiven, and those assurances helped me to forgive myself, turning what I perceived as an irredeemable failure into a teachable misstep. I truly believe that the only way to learn from a mistake is to forgive myself for making it. This helps me to shift my focus from the incident itself to the productive potential of having messed up. In order to help others along that same path toward making peace with past failures, I offer forgiveness wherever I can.
Today's headlines are filled with the unforgivable, however. Depraved men who do and say deplorable things challenge my creed. Could I find it in myself to pardon a man like that? Could they?
In order to complete this project, I will need to research topics in recent news that I feel are related to forgiveness, write a script for my recording, actually record the audio, edit it, and finally turn in the assignment. To complete all of these steps, I will follow the schedule below:
By Tuesday, February 13, I will have gathered my sources and completed the research I need to do.
I should have written the first draft of the script by that Friday, February 16.
By the following Tuesday, February 20, I should have crafted a final draft for the script.
By that Saturday, February 24, I would like to have my recording finished.
I would like to complete editing by Monday, March 12.
Finally, I will turn in my completed project on Monday, March 26.