Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Paper 1

Debra Baker
ENG 205
Timothy D. Ray, Ph.D.
Literacy Narrative

Reflections of Literacy My Personal Vignette
I have early memories of being read to as a child. At some point in time I started to become aware that the same words were used in the same order when my mom or dad turned to the next page and I associated those words with the pictures I enjoyed. This was different from precious memories of story telling such as when my Grandmother told me stories of her life as a child on a farm in rural western Ireland. Every time she told a story it was different in some way. When someone read me a story from a book it was the same; it followed a set of rules. Similarly, I remember adults discussing books and debating about the meaning of the book. It dawned on me that, although books have set print and the same words are read every time the text is read, every individual can take different things away from the same book. This created a sense of excitement about reading books and created in me a desire to enter the wider world of the written word.
I remember being thrilled when I read my first book, “Hop on Pop” even though the text was silly and made no sense, it was wonderful to accomplish the task of reading an entire book “all by myself.” In Second or Third Grade I graduated to “chapter books. I distinctly remember “becoming” Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. This element of literature was appealing to me because I could travel to times past and feel as though I was experiencing the lives of children who lived in that era. Soon Laura Ingalls, Anne Shirley, and Caddy Woodlawn became my good friends. Much later I identified with Meg in “A Wrinkle in Time” and was taken into dimensions of the imagination. Many of the books I loved as a child had the quality of drawing the reader into the world of the author’s creation. At the same time I started “Reading to learn” instead of merely learning to read. I think this was crucial to involving me in the created world of literature.
When I was in elementary school I had a traumatic experience that stunted my desire to learn in the school environment. I still pursued knowledge through independent study but I had absolutely no interest in proving to, what I perceived as, a hostile organization that I was either intelligent or literate. When I was in high school I was accidentally placed in a gifted English class. The gifted students were studying more advanced literature such as “Walden” by Thoreau and “Brave New World” by Huxley. These books captured my interest and I was able to thrive in that class in spite of my poor academic record. My teacher, Miss Chamra, went from being an adversary to a friend. She guided me toward more literature that might interest me. I enjoyed reading “Fountainhead” and “Anthem” by Ayn Rand. I was attracted to the themes of the rights of the individual verses the oppression of the beaurecratic state. Anthem was particularly inspiring at the time because it took the characters from a soulless collective mind through the wilderness to the awakening of the individual mind. This theme fed my own awakening as a teenager. As a young reader I also enjoyed an eclectic variety of literature. “Island of the Blue Dolphins”, “Little Women”, “To Kill a Mockingbird (not in lit class), and, I’m embarrassed to say, bodice-ripping romance novels. I must also confess that the latter was the subject of much humor between me and my best girlfriend at the time. We actually received too much of our sex education from this dubious source. When my friend’s mom saw what we were reading she tried to steer us toward historically accurate books but the characters either had uninteresting love lives or unhappy endings.
I appreciate an eclectic variety of literature. I still love children’s books and one of the greatest joys in my life is watching as one of my children enters into Narnia or Middle Earth for the first time. I devour a good mystery. I would eagerly discuss, “Angels and Demons” by Dan Brown, “The Secret Life of Bees,” or Pullman’s “Dark Materials” trilogy. I also enjoy more practical books such as cook books and books on nutrition and health. I am presently in the midst of reading “The Elegant Universe” and “The Book of the Five Rings” but I have been told that it is quite an accomplishment to actually finish reading those books.
I hope to go into the medical field and keeping up with research and what is in the medical journals will be a critical element of being a healthcare provider. Literacy can be as practical as knowing what pain medication is contraindicated in patients with heart disease to the pure poetry of Tennyson or Yates. In fact, it can be argued that literacy is what the individual or group wants it to be because the fruit of literacy is opening up the beholder to the larger world of what could be as well as the great wealth of what is.
Nothing, however, beats the pure joy of watching your children enter into the world of the written word. My most recent experience with an emergent reader is my son, Joseph. Joseph struggled a bit learning how to read. It wasn’t that he had a learning disability he simply didn’t enjoy the process of learning how to read. In a world of X-box and Game boy it just entailed too much effort. At the end of third grade he was given the assignment of finding a book to read in his free time. He was reluctant to chose a book and I, with great pleasure, suggested, “The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe” by C.S. Lewis. I told him to give it two chapters and if he wasn’t enjoying himself by the end of Chapter 2 he was no longer obligated to continue reading. By the end of chapter 1 he was eager to delve into Chapter 2 and a new reader was thus born. Over the following summer he read most of the Narnia series and completed “The Magician’s Nephew” and “The Final Battle” in the beginning of Fourth Grade. Little did he realize that the fantastic world of Narnia had created readers in several of his older siblings. And so the tale of literacy has come full circle I am in the process of laying the foundation of literacy in my youngest, Julianna and I cannot wait to share some precious books; some of my best friends with my own little one.


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