If you can read this, then more power to you

Knoblauch’s Literacy and the Policy of Education really got me thinking while on this 12:39 coffee high.  So, here it is: 

My best friend from home was born in El Salvador, moving to the US when he was 12 years old.  His parents still cannot speak English, and he had an extremely difficult time learning the language.  To this day, he has difficulty expressing himself in “correct” terms, and his writing is awful.  And what Knoblauch’s piece showed me was something that I knew all along, but just could not identify.  The reason why immigrants, especially those who do not speak English, do so poorly in the US is because they cannot speak the language. Yeah, I know.  You’re probably looking at this thinking that I am an idiot for stating the obvious, but this concept spoke volumes to me.  For the first time, I have realized that being able to read, write, understand and speak English fluently has given me such an advantage over anyone who cannot speak the language.  Because it is difficult enough to adjust to a culture, and a new way of life.  But to live in a country where you have absolutely no idea what anyone is saying, now that is scary. 

I am going to be studying abroad in Denmark next semester and hopefully working in Spain over the summer.  Now, most Danes speak English so that won’t be a problem.  But working in Spain is going to be really tough.  I can speak conversational Spanish, but not being able to express my thoughts in the manner I want to is something I have never dealt with.  I am going to be working in a place where I am a foreigner, where I am illiterate, where I am the idiot.  And after reading this piece, that really scares me.  Because literacy is power.  We take being able to read and write for granted, and do so without even considering the option of not being able to freely communicate.  But, imagine if you were my friend.  Waking up one day, having to attend middle school, and realizing that you can talk to absolutely no one in the school, because no one speaks Spanish.  That is so scary.  I really cannot imagine that. Hopefully, I see what that is like in Spain, but the concept of literacy really got me thinking a lot about how powerful, and empowering, language can be.  Better said by Matt Taibbi, “There is a reason it used to be a crime in the Confederate states to teach a slave to read: Literacy is power.”

Would love some comments, and see y’all tomorrow,

-Aaron

 

Source for quote- http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/literacy.html#ETEWWvzj1cScgBuy.99

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2 thoughts on “If you can read this, then more power to you

  1. When I left for a semester in Rome this past January, I didn’t know a word of Italian. I’d flipped through an Italian-English dictionary and done some online tutorials, but was comforted by the facts that I’d be living with Americans, all my classes were in English, and by the repeated comment that “everyone over there speaks English anyway.” 4 months of constant struggle later, I left Rome with awesome experiences and memories but also with a profound understanding of the vulnerability and sense of weakness that accompanies illiteracy. Knowing that, if I needed to, I couldn’t adequately explain a complex thought, was scary. I’m not trying to increase your anxiety about a summer in Spain (which sounds amazing), as I’m sure you know more Spanish than I knew Italian, but the language barrier is tough. The experience definitely increased my respect for people that come to our country with only basic English.

  2. Another language-related issue your post just reminded me of is the way in which countries privilege their own language and their own definition of literacy. Everywhere I travelled I experienced varying degrees of judgment for not speaking the language of the country I was visiting (especially in France). People would often roll their eyes, chastise us for not knowing the language, or sometimes pretend they hadn’t heard us. When these things happened, I’d often remember the cheesesteak place in Philly that hung a sign in their window that read “This is America…when ordering, please speak English.” That sign became a national news story and was decried as exclusionary and racist. It’s obvious that the US prioritizes English over all other languages. Why, then, do you think that we have an aversion to verbalizing that that preference exists? I can say from experience that other countries most certainly do not!

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