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What's the origin?

HannahB's picture

            In thinking about, expanding and revising my current conceptions of literacy, I have come to question just why it matters so much, or more specifically where the necessity came from. Obviously in this day and age it matters. It matters who speaks the “dominant” language; it matters who speaks it in the “right way;” it matters who will not ever have the chance. As we have learned, literacy and power, colonialism, patriarchy and oppression are all interrelated, always. You cannot separate “cultural capital” from the conception of using language “correctly” and thus effectively. During class we have begun critiquing the power structures and hierarchies that are so intrinsic within our system, the mentalities that are so central to the debate over literacy and the need to define one particular “right” way. We acknowledge that such necessities exist. My question is—why? Where does this need to hierarchize come from? Is it a western, white, patriarchal ideal—simply because those are the people who benefit? Something that these people devised and managed to convince the rest of the world to buy into? Or is the competition somehow more central to human nature universally? Perhaps harkening back to the survival of the fittest mentality. Today we live by a series of rules, constraints that determine who has power and who does not. But who originally had the ability to decide that their way was the right way? Who came up with the definitions in the first place? I have no answers to these questions but I am curious. I want to know the origin of all these hierarchies and debilitating factors that we find so frustrating now. Our world is so restricted and I wish I knew a little more about why.


alesnick's picture

"Is it not possible . . for everyone to be "fit?"

This is a crucial question, a crucial insistence growing out of a very important exchange.  In an essay available here, Paul Grobstein wrote about the need for variance/diversity and commonality in biological organisms and civil society.  He answered the question where does oppression come from with reference to a biological tendency to equate difference with destabilizing threat to social order. 

I agree that many people who benefit from hierarchies will not, without provocation and guidance, work to dismantle them.  But some will . . . as will/do many who don't.  How to strengthen the efforts of these folks, and amplify their voices? 

Could it be the job of education to show learners (of all ages) what a world in which everyone is "fit," everyone is valued as a distinctive individual and contributor, can look and be like, to encourage our imaginations and experiences along these lines? NOT to "prepare" people to "fit" into the hierarchies as they are?

couldntthinkofanoriginalname's picture

Survival of the Fittest

You raise very interesting questions---I'm finding it hard to wrap my mind around them. I believe there is a need to hierarchize because, as you questioned, survival is key. Those in power or, in this case, those who define literacy can navigate or "survive" the dominant discourse, world, society--however you want to put it---because they created it! What I do not get, and this does not hold true for all cases, is why there is still a lack of access or guidance to people in America, or western society, who are "illiterate"---who are not able to master the "right" literacy. The saying goes "survival of the fittest." Nowhere in that saying do I intepret survival of the few and not all. Is it not possible, in literacy and all hierarchal systems, for everyone to be "fit"?

--Esteniolla Maitre