The writing by Sherman Alexie “The Joy of Reading and Writing: Superman and Me” was particularly interesting. I have read a couple of Alexie’s books and enjoyed reading about how he became a reader and later a writer. Alexie connects with the reader when he explains that when we are younger, we don’t necessarily need to read to understand the text; rather, we can look at the pictures and infer what is happening. I feel most children do this before beginning to read. However, what bothers me in this writing is how much he struggled in school with teachers and peers because he did not fit the stereotype of the time that he was supposed to play. He was considered to be a “smart Indian” which “is a dangerous person, widely feared by Indians and non-Indians alike.” Alexie explains how most people upheld the perceived stereotype that he refused to submit to; his classmates and others were expected to be stupid, yet once outside the classroom, their attitude changed. It was Alexie’s refusal to fail that set him apart and this is what is powerful. I am making a bit of a stretched connection here, but I see a somewhat similar case with my level 2 students. Currently, we have AP, honors, level 1 and level 2 classes. My first year at this school I struggled because I did not know how to differentiate between the levels. What I quickly found out though is that these level 2 students are capable of doing the same work, many just choose not to. Yes, there are some who truly cannot do more than the basic skills required, but isn’t it our job as teachers to push those who can? What bothers me most is at the end of my first year teaching at this school, I assigned an essay that required my level 2 students to have 2 quotes for each of their 3 body paragraphs for support—not unreasonable at all, and I knew they were more than capable of doing it. However, the students moaned and groaned and one said, “Don’t you realize we are level 2?” This has stuck with me. Students in level 2 classes expect to do less because they are classified as such. This is where I believe levelling is doing a disservice to students. Coming from a school where there were no levels besides honors and AP classes, you had a classroom of students of all different abilities. While some students needed more of a challenge, I was able to tier my instruction to provide them with that. On the other hand, some students could not reach the same challenge and I would slightly adapt the lesson for them. The biggest difference that I saw between levelling and non-levelling is students who were considered to be of “lower ability” rose up to the challenge when not grouped according to ability level. They participated more in class and challenged themselves more as well. At my school now, I feel that teachers also play into the levels and require less from their students, not because the students can’t do the more challenging work, but because these students are considered to be “less smart” (not the wording I was looking for) than level 1 students and above. Back to Sherman Alexie’s point, he explains how “As Indian children, we were expected to fail in the non-Indian world.” A bit different, but is this similar with the grouping of students by ability level?
Angela M. Haas’ piece “Wampum as Hypertext” got me thinking about the term “hypertext” in a whole new way. Naively, I always thought this term was strictly connected to the Internet. While it is in part connected to the Internet, hypertext also plays a role in many other items that allow us to “have extended human memories of inherited knowledges through interconnected, nonlinear designs and associative storage and retrieval methods.” This article focuses on how wampum belts serve as hypertext and these items came well before the Western version of hypertext (both of which original models: Memex and Xanadu never came to full existence). Haas goes on to explain how wampum is similar to Aztec code rhetoric and hieroglyphics all which go back to support the definition of hypertext allowing for a connection in the process of retrieving memories. I am fascinated by the aspect of wampum belts and how depending on the bead placement, proximity, balance and color, a message is relayed. Also important is how it is mentioned that these belts held alliances and treaties made between the Indians and colonists, regardless if the treaty was kept (by the colonists). Wampum belts hold the original documentation. This relates back to a previous article we read by Malea Powell as to how things can be rhetoric. These belts hold memories, treaties, and many other aspects of history that show rhetorical knowledge and representation.
Emily VanLeuvan-Reflections on Readings for July 21, 2014
My favorite piece from the readings assigned for today’s class was the essay written by Sherman Alexie, entitled “The Joy of Reading and Writing: Superman and Me”. I became interested in Alexie’s work after I watched the film Smoke Signals in an undergraduate film course with Professor Davis. After viewing Smoke Signals, I read both The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven and The Absolutely True Diary of A Part-Time Indian. While I am interested in the insights Alexie provides into Native American culture through his work, I also appreciate the universal themes regarding human emotions and relationships that he presents to the reader or viewer.
“The Joy of Reading and Writing: Superman and Me” caused me to consider the ways in which the environment one reads in influences one’s reading habits. Alexie describes his father, who was “…an avid reader of westerns, spy thrillers, murder mysteries, gangster epics, basketball player biographies and anything else he could find”. I also loved the details Alexie includes about his house being filled with books that were “…stacked in crazy piles in the bathroom, bedrooms, and living room” because the description reminds me of my parents’ house. When I read Fahrenheit 451 with my ninth graders, I ask them to compose a personal narrative piece where they describe a specific memory involving books. When I have assigned this essay, I have noticed that the more avid readers immediately begin jotting down ideas. Many of the students who are eager to begin this essay write about memories they have of reading with their parents. The importance of reading was demonstrated to me when I was younger too, for my mother always made sure to read with me every night before I went to bed. I have very clear memories of chipping away at Little Women with her. I absolutely attribute my love of reading and language to the strong presence of books in my childhood.
I was also interested in two other specific passages in “The Joy of Reading: Superman and Me”. Alexie’s detailed description of reading the Superman comic book was interesting; as I too have a very vivid recollection of the first time I learned how to read. The author’s commentary on the Indian children in the classroom who were “expected to be stupid” was extremely powerful. Alexie writes, “They submissively ducked their heads when confronted by a non-Indian adult but would slug it out with the Indian bully who was 10 years older. As Indian children, we were expected to fail in the non-Indian world”. As a teacher who truly believes in encouraging all of her students to succeed, regardless of ethnicity, creating this type of oppressive environment in the classroom is difficult to comprehend. How must it feel to go into a classroom where you are “expected to fail”?
Qwo-Li Driskill’s poems “Walking with Ghosts” contain beautiful imagery, and I really appreciated the way the author used figurative language to illustrate the connection between the body and the earth. I was especially intrigued by the untraditional structure of the first poem, and the image of that the actual text creates. At the beginning of the school year, I teach a unit on Native American literature to my American Literature students. We read “The World on the Turtle’s Back”, “Coyote and Buffalo Bill”, selected legends, and an excerpt from a memoir written by N. Scott Momaday. I envision some of these poems being a great addition to the unit.
What comes to mind first when you hear the word “hypertext”? I instantly think of computers, writing code, and the World Wide Web. I have never learned a different definition of hypertext, therefore, I was rather intrigued by Angela M. Haas’ claim that Wampum is a form of hypertext. After acknowledging her claim, I immediately began to wonder how Haas would relate Wampum to hypertext. What exactly would the connection be? When she finally stated it, my mind was blown!
Haas claims that one of the features of Wampum and Western hypertexts is digital rhetoric. She states, “To begin, both Western and wampum hypertexts employ digital rhetoric to communicate their nonlinear information. To explain, ‘digital’ refers to our fingers, our digits, one of the primary ways (along with our ears and eyes) through which we make sense of the world and with which we write into the world. All writing is digital – digitalis in Latin, which typically denotes ‘of or relating to the fingers or toes’ or a ‘coding of information’ (84). She then goes on to discuss that if all types of writing are included, then the bead-stringing, represented by o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o, does indeed communicate information to its ‘readers’ and thus strengthens her claim. Haas’ assertion is further reinforced when she compares the bead-stringing to HTML code. She states, “When broken down into its simplest form, digital coding for computers is represented as o|o|o|o|o|o|o|o|o|o, or strands of binary code that when strung together communicate information to their ‘readers’” (84). I found this comparison rather intriguing as the codes and beads are represented by essentially the same pattern or format. It was a good example that supplemented her contention quite well and helped me gain a greater understanding. Overall, Haas does a great job arguing her point.
Now, I have read Sherman Alexie’s The Joy of Reading and Writing: Superman and Me a handful of times throughout my career and have even used it in my classroom with my students. I have always enjoyed this piece, as Alexie’s explanations regarding his life, parental influence, books, and reading methods are cleverly approached and engaging. Moreover, when he begins explaining the struggles he and his Indian peers faced in a non-Indian domain, the injection of pathos is clear. His appeal to the emotions cannot be disregarded. Altogether, Alexie’s use of rhetorical methods is grand and effective. I will continue to use this piece in my classroom.
Lastly, Qwo-Li Driskill’s poem “For Marsha P. (Pay It No Mind!) Johnson” is incredibly interesting and one that I can make a personal connection to. I currently live with my boyfriend and a lesbian couple. Prior to our first date, my boyfriend informed me that his roommates were lesbians and asked if I had a problem with that. When I replied by asking why I would have a problem with it, he stated, “Well, you know, some people are offended by anything other than heterosexuality.” I was floored. It completely baffles me that so many people continue to be unaccepting.
Recently, my roommates attended the Pride parade in Rhode Island, thus when I read this poem about a drag queen at the NYC Pride parade, I immediately thought of them. The instance this poem refers to occurred in 1992, only twenty two years ago. Essentially, twenty two years is not a long time, however, these past twenty two years have been positively progressive. We have, as a nation, undergone such a positive change in regards to non-heterosexuality. The change is immense and one that I absolutely more than approve of! This poem was quite depressing, but it is important to read pieces like it to remind us of what we are fighting for. We shouldn’t ever stop fighting for equality.
In “The Joys of Reading and Writing: Superman and Me,” Sherman Alexie tells of his precocious childhood reading habits and the challenges of being a driven student on the reservation. What I loved most about Alexie’s essay was the urgency with which he urged other students, students who reminded him of who he once was, to read. By reading, “I was trying to save my life” he recalled. Education was his way out of his circumstances, and way to reclaim his right to control his own destiny.
When Alexie discusses reading to his audiences, he changes his mantra to “I am trying to save our lives” (2). Education equals knowledge, power, and, most importantly, life. Without the words to gain knowledge, children can’t learn, explore, and grow. I would love to read this to my students because I think Alexie’s humor and urgency might make the point to many of them why education is so important.
In a series of poems, Qwo-Li Driskill explores how the body, and with it the memory of past experience, both historical and individual, acquires meaning. In “Walking with Ghosts,” Driskill writes, “Look: my body curled up and asleep/ becomes a map of the Americas” (9). The form of the poems reminded me of e.e. cummings. The lines actually formed North and South America. In this way, the body comes to represent one person, but at the same time, many people. It represents the speaker but also the experience of all those marginalized and disenfranchised on the continent. “My legs,” Driskill writes, “wrapped with the Amazon the Andes the Pamas/ the vast roads of the Incas” (10). Just as one’s body is composed of one’s genetic history, it is also composed of a cultural history.
“There is still a war,” Driskill writes. “These lands have been invaded before.” No matter what a person’s current experience is, it’s impossible to separate the body from the personal and cultural past. We see again the idea of the body as a language: “First,” the speaker implores in the poem titled “What You Must Do, “call the words from your marrow” (28). The “words” referred to are part of someone in a deeper way than just spoken language. The word referred to might be the person’s past experiences.
I found the idea of wampum as “hypertext” in Angela M. Haas’s article to be intriguing. Haas explains that the “presentation [of wampum] was a gesture that required reciprocity on the part of the recipients” and also implied that the recipients accepted the meaning carried by the wampum itself. The wampum was composed with a specific encoded meaning, a physical “embodiment” of agreements and treaties. It then acquires more meaning when it becomes part of an exchange, an agreement. Then, the wampum must be read by someone who has the cultural knowledge, the “memory” to read it. In this way, the one text of the wampum acquires multiple meanings in its interpretation. I found the parallels drawn between wampum as hypertext and the current popular view of hypertext fascinating.
No individual exists who is a clean slate, an empty vessel on which or into which knowledge can be written on or poured into without the new knowledge connecting to or interacting with the pre-existing knowledge. The mere discussion and research of fetal memory suggests that memories are made within the womb, including memories of sound, smell, and basic life-sustaining or survival instincts that includes, ‘remembering to breath.’ In the movie, “Sleepless in Seattle,” Sam Baldwin, Tom Hank’s character, when speaking with the radio talk show hosts speaks of moving on after his wife’s death as a process, at the beginning of which he had to remember to breath, when he woke in the mornings immediately following her death. The idea of ‘remembering to breath’ seems ludicrous when taken out of context; after all, who needs to remember to breath? Nevertheless, memory and memories can be and are interrupted, disturbed, lost, and forgotten.
Memories and all components of each memory is stored in various parts of the brain, while the act of recalling, recollecting, or remembering reactivates the neurological occurrences of the memory in the same region of the brain in which, or on which the initial ‘information’ was stored. For me, the three assigned readings for this fifth class intersected at ‘memory,’ collective and individual, the making of, the remembering of, and the passing on of memories.
Sherman Alexis’ “The Joy of Reading and Writing; Superman and Me,” is a memory of one individual, a memory of learning to read, and the role reading has played in the making of the individual. He begins by telling us what he cannot remember, and the list is not short. The ‘things’ he cannot remember of not important, to him. What he does remember is of monumental importance in the development of his identity, and to his existence, because he was reading, “trying to save his life.” The memories he recalls, the memories of learning to read and reading, and the memories of the subsequent consequences and benefits of his ‘reading’ have purpose, which is not selfish, but altruistic; he recalls and shares to move others, to save lives, a nation, and the authentic history of a nation.
Saving the authentic history of a nation, “singing back lost families, children who didn’t live long enough to cradle a lover, (Map of the Americas)” is the purpose of Qwo-Li Driskill’s “Walking with Ghosts,” perhaps. In “Letter to Tsi-ge`-yu,” Driskill posits, “Our families are supposed to tell these stories,” presumably as a cry or demand for the ‘telling of memories’ that these memories and truths, according to the individuals who ‘lived’ the memories, remain intact, and unencumbered by the machinations of history, as told by ‘others.’ The others being those who “ripped (the words) from our mamas’ mouths.” The ‘sinking of the teeth deep into words…” is recollecting and preserving of memories, and as such the identity, not ethnographic or auto-ethnographic, but sovereign. Driskill implores, tell our stories, tell the truth, keep us alive, with “repeat what we know is sacred.”
Angela Haas’, “Wampum as Hypertext,” is an exploration of the strands of the webs woven by wampum as rhetorics, or memories, truths, and “architectural mnemonic system of knowledge making and memory recollection through bead placement, proximity, balance, and color.” Haas juxtaposes this with the system of technology we have come to know as the current technologies of hypertext as “an interactive system of storing and retrieving images, texts, and other computer files that allows users to directly link to relevant images, texts, sounds, and other data types in nonlinear environments.” The important distinction is that, wampum “requires human intervention to remember the intent and content of the original message,” which arguably “encourages continuous civic involvement.” Enter memory… Today’s technology does not require, necessarily, the utilization of memory, and the user can consume without human interaction. Wampum, however, requires a “trained” individual to “impress in the mind the visual representation of the (belt), and subsequently forge mnemonic associations between the visual representation of the (belt) and the accompanying story.” With wampum, there is “inherited knowledge.” This knowledge is not from the womb, but from beyond the womb…
Teachers are trained individuals…we must teach ‘memory’ and the recalling, recollecting, remembering, and re-telling of memories, for without memories identities are not only lost, but perhaps, never formed.
This blog is designed for us to share responses to readings and to engage in conversations about Cultural Rhetorics.