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Week 4 Blog posts, comments, dialogue

alesnick's picture

Here goes!


laik012's picture

Journal Entry 5: Carmen

Sorry for the late entry! 

I once thought that politics was only a part of life if we choose to involve ourselves in it. Having read Lives of Boundary by Mike Rose, I came to realize that even at the most intellectual arena such as the education department; the existence of bureaucracy and politics in the academia world is still present. Prior to reading this book, I have been curious why were some knowledgeable and inspiring professors leaving so often after two years at Bryn Mawr? Why wouldn’t the college offer a tenure track that would last longer if the professors themselves had received so much positive feedback by the community? My understanding of this issue was further extended when Rose had explained “Regardless of what the university publicist say, faculty are promoted and given tenure and further promoted for the research they publish, not for the extent of their involvement in undergraduate especially introductory-level teaching.”. This matters because it led me to contemplate how much do these professors understand the importance of being a good educator. Despite research and knowledge, are those qualities sufficient enough to maximize student’s literacy and capability in college? 

kdmccor's picture

Journal Entry 5

This week, my readings for my Perspective on Inequality course focused on the effects of childhood poverty.  I was particularly interested by the argument (made by several article authors) that childhood poverty exacts an opportunity cost on our country's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in sense of earnings lost over a lifetime.  One of the texts hinted at the way that lost "economic opportunity" begins to affect children's lives from an incredibly young age because tracking and classifying occur so early on in school.  

Income poverty is associated with low level preschool ability, which is associated with low test scores later in childhood, lower grades in school, school disengagement, and even school dropout.  Whether or not poverty is an actual cause of these scholastic deficits is hard to determine, but the association shouldn’t be ignored.  

 Often groups based perceived language ability are formed as soon as students are expected to begin reading, either in kindergarten or first grade.  If, as Rose suggests, children are acutely aware that they are being labeled, and that resources are being allocated, and assumptions are being made in accordance with those labels, perhaps the problem of educational inequity begins much earlier than I had initially imagined.  Also, considering Rose’s argument in light of these articles on childhood poverty makes me wonder how much we can and should expect educators to manage their classrooms in a way that attempts to equalize students’ academic starting points.  Are teachers who track their students, even in a benign attempt to organize reading groups at an appropriate level, just perpetuating inequalities borne out of economic disparity?  Can educators be effective playing-field levelers, when economic inequality functions as a pre-existing condition that blesses some children with all the necessary resources to find success in school, while relegating others to the necessity of remediation from the outset.   Teachers have a two-fold, sisyphean task-- they must serve the individual needs of each student, while helping all of them to acquire a certain predetermined skill set-- and they must do these things in the face of the array of economic and societal forces that continually perpetuate scholastic inequity.  

alesnick's picture

This is a crucial set of

This is a crucial set of ideas and questions, and I look forward to talking about them in class.  What is a teacher's role in this tight knot?  It's not possible to meet individual needs and arrive at a pre-set place, because individual needs are specific and distintive, as well as situated, and part of broader desires and seekings.  These days, the focus of some teacher "training" is on the latter part of your formulation -- leveling the playing field; but in my view this can never be meaningful or effective as education without addressing individuals as such, and as cultural beings, and as souls at the cutting edge of the universe, each one.

Siobhan Hickey's picture

"Mythic Past" in Lives on the Boundary

I was really fascinated by Mike Rose's description in Lives on the Boundaryof how Americans create a “mythic past” through which to judge our current times, specifically in regards to education and literacy...I find it interesting that there is so much disconnect between how people understand literacy issues back in the early 20th century and how they understand the ones facing us today. Men coming into universities 100 years ago probably had varying levels of literacy due to class differences, size of schools they attended, resources that were available to them at these schools, and cultural differences that made getting accustomed to a standardized “academic” style of English difficult. There is no difference between this situation and the one we face now, but we are blinded to this truth because of social constructions of race, gender, and class.

Cathy's picture


So I've been thinking through a lot. Truthfully, this book really hits home for me as I can relate to the author/progtagonist. I see a lot of parrallels in our lives, even though we're not exactly the same. what appealed to me was the idea that even if you have all the smarts or ability in the world, that doesn't mean academia is kind to you. I sometimes wonder if I'm cut out for this place or if it's something else I'm doing or if I'm mearly an x-grade student. The author's journey is very inspirational, but it's also a testiment about how there is more than one path to success. We all have different strenghts, and we will all get to where we need to go in time and the journey is a big, integral part of our end. Also, there is no end, we keep going, becuase life isn't a means to an end, learning isn't for one goal. Learning for me, might be more about how to deal with and get the best out of the journey of life. When he began to talk about his dislike then love of English and Philosophy, I was turned off because I did not see how those two feels are very relavant; I found them fun, but I figured, maybe I was missing the special something needed to interact with the humanities well. What I think is more the case is that I didn't allow myself to feel as the humanities require me to. Sometimes these fields feel made up, but it's more that I didn't have the time or brain space left over in life to allow myself to interact with what these subjects speak about. Orginanally I wrote a journal entry about language and plenary but I think this one is much better. 

alesnick's picture

I appreciate the honesty and

I appreciate the honesty and complexity of this post.  Your point about the time and brain space you notice a possible need/wish for more of to engage with certain kinds of learning is REALLY deep.  It makes me think about how the ancient Greek word for school is skole, meaning: leisure!  We need a sense of limitlessness, infinity, at times in learning, and this is hard to come by in today's world, especially when there are many, if you will, competing curricula!  Let's talk this in class :)

laik012's picture

Is there still hope? Maybe there is.

Lives on the Boundary have led to think that despite so much injustices and inequalities in life, there is still hope. Even Mike Rose himself is a symbol of hope despite his struggles throughout high school. This novel also demonstrates how it takes just a single person such as the English teacher, Jack MacFarland to influence and somewhat change Rose’s life. Jack MacFarland reminded me of one of my English teacher during Grade 11. All it took was her faith in me.  Most importantly, she did not label me as an ESL student when I’m surrounded with native English speakers. We still keep in contact until today and I am forever thankful for her support. 

Cathy's picture

Thanks for posting that. It's

Thanks for posting that. It's good that we have had teachers like that. The book has also stirred me up for these issues and then caused me to question what i could possibly do as a teacher and I guess, at the very least I can be that teacher. I saw a video last night that reminded me of this. It's a video on bullying but the last night is "you have to believe that they were wrong" and it's really what life can be like for people who are labled.

Sara712's picture

Inspiring Teachers

Just like you and Rose, I have had some extremely inspiring teachers as well. I remember my fourth grade Enrichment teacher had a profound effect on how I perceive education and even just how I function socially today. She would always keep a calm composure, and encouraged participation from everyone. I recall my excitement and sense of freedom when she actually allowed us to speak and respond to one another without raising our hands! This was so new to me, as all other teachers used this tactic to maintain control, but I suddenly felt more mature, trusted, and respected. This impacted the way we students interacted with one another, and how the teacher interacted with us---as a facilitator. She kept our conversations on topic and added thought-provoking concepts. I feel that I grew a great deal from this simple method of teaching/participating; I learned how to listen and build off of other's ideas.

This teacher also stood by the doorway at the end of class to say goodbye with a handshake and possibly a question or comment on our work that day. The handshake, however, was a large part of the interaction; we were required to grip her hand firmly, maintain eye contact, and reply to her question/comment. If someone's shake was too slack, she would automatically correct it. Although this procedure might seem trivial and unnecessary, I believe that it taught me how to relate to an adult on a more equitable level, and to have more confidence in myself. 

I am so grateful for this teacher's influence in my life, and I hope to have even half of the positive impact on my own future students as she had on us. 

alesnick's picture

What a beautiful tribute!  It

What a beautiful tribute!  It reminds me of this:

Like Captured Fireflies

In her classroom our speculations ranged the world.
She aroused us to book waving discussions.
Every morning we came to her carrying new truths, new facts, new ideas cupped and sheltered in our hands like captured fireflies.
When she went away a sadness came over us,
But the light did not go out.
She left her signature upon us,
The literature of the teacher who writes on children’s minds.
I’ve had many teachers who taught us soon forgotten things,
But only a few like her who created in me a new thing, a new attitude, a new hunger.
I suppose that to a large extent I am the unsigned manuscript of that teacher.
What deathless power lies in the hands of such a person.
– John Steinbeck (1955)

rschwartz's picture

In the first chapter of Lives

In the first chapter of Lives on the Boundary, Mike Rose describes the students in English A: “They know more than their tests reveal but haven’t been taught how to weave that knowledge in coherent patterns” (8). Earlier this semester, when I tried to describe myself “as a writer,” I wrote about my summer research experience.... At the end of the summer, I needed a way to communicate my work. I started a research report, and ended up with a seventy-page document that relayed everything I’d learned—well, most of it—and the ideas I’d developed over three months of reading. For me, my summer research experience stands out—not because I wrote a really long paper (though that’s cool too), but because for the first time, I recognized the purpose of academic writing. I was writing to share my ideas, and to describe my work and my results to the rest of the academic community.

For a long time, I really didn’t understand the purpose of essay-writing and book reports and journaling and lab writeups…. If you asked me why I needed to write essays and reports, I would probably have answered, “because you need to know how to write if you want to do well in school,” or “because you need to know how to write if you want to go to college,” or maybe just “because you’re supposed to know how to write.” I didn’t recognize any larger or more practical purpose, and I certainly didn’t recognize any communicative function.... I think my summer experience stands out, and represents an important literacy experience, because I finally wrote to communicate something I actually wanted to say. I was proud of my work and wanted to communicate my results to other people.

Anyway, I wonder if students who “know more than tests reveal” face the same sort of problem—if they don’t know, because they’ve never been told, that writing is a means to an end, not the end itself. In other words, in my own experience, I lacked more than the skills to express myself in writing; I lacked the very insight that it’s possible to express oneself in writing—that writing allows the communication of knowledge and ideas, and isn’t just about the formulaic composition of sentences and paragraphs that look and sound “right.”

kdmccor's picture

I've been thinking a lot

I've been thinking a lot about how we develop the sensivity to literacy (and especially writing) as a tool for creative expression and communication. It seems like you have to be quite comfortable with language and the conventions of writing before it seems like a tool that facilitates rather than hinders communication.  I would love to know more about what changed for you when you began to see writing as a tool, or as an effective method.  Was there a sort of "aha" moment that stands out for you?  Was it a sort of 'learn by doing' experience, or could/did someone help to you to see that writing could be an effective means to your goal of effective expression? 

emmagulley's picture

Journal 4

Okay, so bear with me--I've been thinking about this and I might have talked myself in circles.  Current thinking:  We have pieces of punctuation that don’t actually exist.   They have meaning and they symbolize a sentiment but they do not have inherent meaning?  They exist on paper but not in life?  (Also, I just inadvertently equated “spoken language” with “life”... what does that mean and say?)  For example, let’s consider a semi-colon.  I use them in writing and could recite off the list of times when it’s acceptable to use a semi-colon over XYZ.  However, in speech, you never _think_ in semi-colons, and you never _hear_ a semi-colon.  However, when I’m in “writing mode,” I do all the time.  What does it mean that there is something that’s well-known, functional, and popular, that exists only on paper, but never indicates an audio cue?  If you can hear a sentence in English, you can transfer that sentence onto the written page, and theoretically punctuate it with a semi-colon, even if you didn't hear it... because no one _could_ hear it.  Right?  If there's aspects of discourses that only exist in written/spoken English and don't transfer to the other, does that say something about those aspects?  Does written English exist only to record spoken English or does it serve its own purpose?  If not/if so, what does that say about discourses/punctuation--honestly, maybe even regional accents, to a certain degree--that only exists in one "version" of English?

kdmccor's picture

On a literate track?

As I read, I found myself asking  how  we might inspire students to engage and be willing to challenge themselves in an academic setting, when we’ve effectively told them that they don’t have the innate abilities necessary to succeed in school.   If it’s true that we eschew what seems beyond our perceived abilities as stupid or pointless, how can we convince students that they’re good at the kinds of academic tasks they’ve trained themselves to think they’re bad at?  

    It seems to me the only way to convince someone that they are a good reader, writer, or analyst, is to demand that they read, write, and analyze.  A good teacher, I think, is someone who can guide students through carefully reading and writing in a way that helps students to understand these tasks as less daunting.  Perhaps a teacher needs to ask the sort of questions about a text that are impossible to answer without close reading and thoughtful analysis.  I think this demands a brave willingness, on the part of both teachers and students, to read broadly, adventurously.  Teachers need to be willing to teach texts outside the familiar genres of novels, essays, and verse poetry.  I say this, because I think the first step toward gaining confidence in one’s own analytical abilities is to begin by analyzing something you believe you understand fairly well.  At least for the students I work with, the key themes found in songs, raps, or slam poems are easier to identify than leitmotifs found in novels, or rhetorical strategies employed in various types of essays.  

    I wonder if by moving from more to less familiar genres, educators can convince their students that analytical reading and writing are not beyond their grasp.  If students see that they can be good readers, and that they do have sensibilities about themes, key ideas, language style that they can employ in their analyses, perhaps the task of reading will feel more relevant, less trivial.  Maybe we can make literature less exclusive, foreboding.  In a lot of ways, what I’m hoping to explore is how people who enjoy a sort of  “graced” literacy, might make their literacy accessible to others in a way that seems inclusive and attainable. 

alesnick's picture

And I wonder, as well, what

And I wonder, as well, what might happen if we flipped this, and rather than move from/try to afford access to the graced state, we track the ball as IT moves, meet the car as part of its pit crew, with the end really unknown in advance?

Serendipitaz's picture

Flipping through...

When I was in elementary school, my reading teacher had a parent-teacher conference about my reading struggles. I knew how to read, but i just used a different technique to read. She complained to my parents that I was too old to use my finger as a guide to help me read along the lines. I was never tested for any form of learning “disability” but I always felt like I wasn’t up to speed with my peers who didn’t need to guide themselves while reading. In retrospect, if I could ask this teacher one question, that would be “Were the reading activities for me to practice reading and comprehension or were the reading activities teaching me how to perform reading?” Even in my later educational experience, I have encountered individuals who simply couldn’t understand why I didn’t learn the same way they did. They always tried to tell me that I needed to pay attention more and ignore how the teacher was teaching. Even in the midst of being out of focus, I was able learn. I attribute that success to the teachers who were patient and helped me walk through the materials. Just like me, in “Lives on the Boundary,” Mike Rose  needed a lot of individual attention and push from his teachers. Even though he was a curious and bright person, he needed a guide to help him persevere through his struggles. He developed a friendship with his teachers which in turn helped him engage in his classwork.

That being said, what is the purpose of education and reading? Is it to perform or to acquire a skill? My forefinger was my guide and it helped me when I would have hard time focusing. That does not make me any less brighter than the other kids who were reading chapter books in elementary school. This hunger to compete and outperform each other makes us lose sight of the skill we are supposed to be gaining. If I didn’t use my forefinger or asked my teachers for guidance, I don’t think I would have been able to build on my knowledge. If I pretended to read and flipped through pages, then I wouldn’t have learned to read. I would have merely learned to flip the pages.

Sara712's picture

Learning Inequities

While reading Rose’s Lives on the Boundary, I thought about some of the educational inequalities that occur when some students struggle with the traditional methods of schooling in this country. When schools do not provide students with adequate assistance and accommodation, students suffer and cannot reach their full literary potential. I was particularly struck by the quote, “Some…are struck dumb by the fear of making a mistake;…and still others…know more than their tests reveal but haven’t been taught how to weave that knowledge into coherent patterns” (Rose 8). I have a friend who is extremely intelligent, but struggles with learning disabilities (dyslexia and ADHD). He went through middle, high school, and college asking for proper aid and not receiving it. His conclusion is that “school is not set up” for him. This may be true: schools rely heavily on standardized testing and essays as their main methods of evaluation, when my friend has difficulty with both. He has trouble concentrating for long periods of time, and has difficulty reading and writing effectively and efficiently.

                Therefore, his tests do not reveal the knowledge and ability that he actually possesses, just as Rose describes of students in Dr. Gunner’s classroom. Instead, he should have been given special attention and accommodations throughout school such as extra time during tests, and one-on-one tutoring in reading and writing. In grading his work, teachers should have kept his disabilities in mind so that they gave him a fair evaluation. 

Carmen's picture

Reply to Learning Inequities

I agree with you completely that special attention and accommodation should be given to your intelligent friend in the first place. One of the statement that I wrote for my literacy autobiography mentioned how literacy can sometimes devalue a person and this is evident based on your friend's case. Perhaps the author of Lives of Boundary, Mike Rose would argue that there is 'much talk these days about the value of classical humanistic education'. In other words, human connection or interaction would be a possible suggestion that could have help your friend feel less excluded in the life of academia. I am also in agreement that standardized testing may not be the only means for a student's evaluation. I had a hard time myself acing this test especially when I never learned how to read 'critically' during high school. Having said that, Bryn Mawr recognized my passion and saw other qualities in me than merely SAT scores.

dcenteio's picture

Week 3 and 4 Post combined

Journal Entry 3

My post for week 3 was inspired by theories of multi-literacy presented through Noa’s Ark. As a child I was introduced English and Portuguese Creole at the same time. I usually spoke English at school and Creole at home with family. I had and still have many members of my family who cannot speak English or prefer to not speak English even after living in the United States for many years; speaking Creole to them was sort of communication and survival tactics. I needed to speak it in order to communicate and understand family members. In honor of finishing Noah’s Ark I wanted to reflect on my own multi-literacy and ways my parents introduced language proficiency to me as a child. I do not remember being sat down or taught Portuguese Creole it was something I grew up listening and speaking in my household, I was just able to understand it. When American influences and the English speaking culture entered my life through Elementary school, I remember being spoken to in Creole but always responding back in English. I distinctly remember my parents always wanting my sisters and I to practice by ordering us to respond back in Creole. My parents would also facilitate fun little competitions where my sisters and I would compete to see who could last the longest speaking in only Creole all day long. These moments were definitely impactful in my speaking proficiency in Portuguese Creole.

Journal Entry 4

I wanted to take my week 3 post and use that to create my week 4 post in hopes of now connecting my bilingual childhood to the events that occurred in the beginning chapters of Lives on the Boundary. I initially related to Rose, both of our parents being immigrants to the Country with his language being Italian and mine being Portuguese Creole but I found myself dissimilar to Rose and his student Laura. Being that I learned Creole and English at the same time I did not struggle with English learning at school. I did not have many of the hardships of feeling dumb or remedial in learning because my foreign language was not solely introduced on its own. It bothered me immensely how Laura made it to UCLA but still thought that she was lesser than the other students because she felt her writing skills were not up to par with other students. I can still remember my struggles with learning Spanish at the high school and college level and I feel that many who study new languages can relate, but yet at the same time are not sensitive enough to those who struggle with learning English.


… Just a bit of my train of thoughts while reading the first couple of chapters.

pamela gassman's picture

Literacy Is...

For part of my journal this week, I wrote the prompt, "Literacy Is..." as my header. I ended up writing a list of words that I thought helped characterize literacy in our culture. Here are some examples: power, strength, intelligence, masculine, communication, freedom, propaganda. The list goes on, however, I noticed some trends in the words I was writing. Realizing that in literacy there is a constant struggle between freedom and power. They are not necessarily opposing only in society, but within our own discourses and lives. This leads me to the word control. Literacy leads to control, over people, words, and life in general. (This isn't meant to be a definition of literacy but just ideas that are associated with literacy.)











ckeifer's picture

Obesity and Literacy

I am currently taking an upper level Psychology course about the obesity epidemic. In a discussion last week, the theme of literacy came up and my mind was immediately drawn to what we have been discussion and learning about in this course.  In the discussion we were talking about legislation in New York that requires restaurants to print the number of calories next to all of their menu items.  While this is obviously and important step forward in combating obesity, there are some major issues that arise when considering what kind of impact this will actually have on the public. For someone who is not literate in this area of personal health, reading numbers of calories would not mean very much.  It would be much more productive to spend resources on educating the public on how to have a healthy diet so that more individuals are literate in this area.  This will lead to a decrease in obesity much more quickly that just posting the number of calories on restaurant menus.

            Making this connection across my classes reinforced the idea that there are multiple types of literacies and that each has value.  It was also evident in this class that the legislation concerning posting the number of calories was created by a privileged class of people and is necessarily leaving out the “illiterate” individuals who come from a lower socioeconomic class.  Unfortunately, the individuals who are most likely to become obese are from low SES neighborhoods.

lesaluna12's picture

Is there a "right" way to write?

The definition of literacy has expanded since then and although I have a good understanding of it now, looking back I feel somewhat deceived as if it could have been presented to me in a better way. What I mean about feeling deceived is that throughout my academic career I remember receiving mixed messages about writing. For example, in first grade I was taught to never start a sentence with “But” or use the word “I” and then in high school I was taught that I could use the word “I” but couldn’t use any tense related to “to be”. Every so years, I would have to readjust my writing format to the way my teachers preferred which, made me question whether or not there was a “right” way to write? So now drawing from everything I know about writing today, I believe that there are several “right” ways to write, it just depends on what format you are writing it in.