Condor Class Libraries: Fahrenheit 451 and a love of reading that rose from the ashes

As student teaching winds down I am saddened by fact that I got to know some students more than others. And even though there are only two weeks left, I’m still working on building rapport. One student in particular has been on my mind this past week: *Angelo (*pseudo name for student confidentiality). In terms of turning in work and positively adding to the classroom, Angelo is my worst student. In a class of over 2 dozen kids he was the only one on his phone when we were reading aloud. Angelo is missing assignments for me and many of his other teachers (and is failing most of his classes). Angelo will make derisive comments towards me sometimes. When I check in with him he will tell me how much he doesn’t care and how boring whatever we’re doing is. Angelo has also been disrespectful in the college and career center and has a generally negative outlook. Continue reading

Kyle Smith’s “Women are not capable of understanding Goodfellas” article offends me as a Feminist and even more as an English Major

MV5BMTY2OTE5MzQ3MV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMTY2NTYxMTE@._V1_For those of you who don’t know, Goodfellas just might be my favorite movie of all time. Bad day? Goodfellas will cheer me up. Good day? Goodfellas. Now it’s a great day. If you haven’t seen the movie, stop reading this and go watch it. In short, it’s a gangster film directed by Martin Scorsese. And God, what’s not to love? The narration style provided by Henry Hill and Karen Hill is a joy–a beautiful mix of hope, nostalgia, justification, and honesty. The movie is funny,interesting, extravagant, and the cinematography is to die for (famous tracking shot anyone?). And the soundtrack… I listen to it constantly. Okay. Goodfellas is my favorite movie of all time. So when I saw  it trending on twitter I was excited to retweet quotes and screenshots from fellow fans. But those hopes were quickly crushed when I saw what all the Goodfellas fuss was about:

A controversial post made New York Post critic Kyle Smith entitled, Women are not capable of understanding ‘GoodFellas’.

The title of this post is perfect because its “an absolute”–a hallmark of any flawed argument. Continue reading

Dialect Privilege: grammar correction as a microagression

I’ve been wanting to write this post since last may when I completed ENG 311: Grammar and the Politics of English. Before I took this class I never thought of grammar correction as anything more than being an annoying stickler. Now that I realize the implications grammar “correction” carries, I see it everywhere and cringe every time.

A page I used to “like” on facebook, Grammarly, shames grammatical errors.
People on the internet will use someone’s grammatical errors/typos to discredit what they’re saying.
And on a much larger and disturbing scale, school and society will teach you that certain dialects and slang words are “improper” and denote a lack of intelligence/refinement.

“I been here.”
There are textbooks that would label the above sentence as “grammatically incorrect” but every dialect has its own set of grammar rules. This sentence actually IS grammatically correct in the dialect of African American Vernacular English (AAVE). Thus, labeling a sentence like this as “incorrect” or “improper” is a akin to labeling anyone who speaks AAVE as improper. Language is a huge component of identity so you’re rejecting more than what they’re saying; you’re rejecting who they are. Continue reading

My own personal Jesus: using audiobooks for the first time.

Those of you who know me, on this blog or in real life, know that I’m a slow reader. In fact, everything I do is a slow, long, drawn out process–I’m pretty much the sloth of academia. But that’s getting away from the story:

I’ve always harbored negative feelings towards audiobooks, feeling as though they are “not really reading”. In fact, it was in an act of utter desperation that I turned to them. It was last weekend and I’d spent the better half of Saturday afternoon fighting desperately to “get into” Persuasion by Jane Austen. But no matter what I did it would result in glazing over words, an utter lack of comprehension, and general fussiness on my part. So when Sunday came I was staring down nearly 200 pages of impossible. That’s when I realized the only way I’d make it out of this alive (and having read the novel) was to turn to the audiobook. One chapter in and I cursed myself for not thinking of this sooner.

audiobooksThe great thing about audiobooks is there’s a set time. As a slow reader, who also struggles with comprehension, I never know how long things are going to take me. Audiobooks may go a lot slower than a regular reading speed (ex. if I’m reading at a good pace I can complete an “8hr audiobook” in 6hrs) but audiobook time is static–it’s guaranteed. Because while I can read faster than the audiobook recording I can also read a lot slower. Another benefit of audiobooks is that they clarify the text for you: voice shifts help you identify who is speaking and the tone of the scene more easily. This seems extremely basic but when you’re reading a text that is very stilted, one you naturally struggle to engage with, it can make all the difference. Reading along with audiobooks is the literary equivalent of cruise control. It doesn’t mean you can leave the driver’s seat (you still need to consider the text’s formal elements and look for motIfs/thematic patterns), but you can relax a bit because the easy part is being done for you (though for me the easy part isn’t always so easy).  Continue reading

Talk This Way: unpacking the slang stigma

Tomorrow I will be beginning my “Grammar and Politics of the English Language ” class which will be:

An examination of the structures and forms which currently govern standard usage of the English language. Encompasses a broad view of grammar as a subject by a wide-ranging investigation of the history and development of the language. Examines the social and political implications of the development of English as a global language.

Surely ebonics/slang will come up in this class, so before I begin taking this course’s info and (re)forming my opinions I thought I’d make this blog post as a sort of “preflection”.

Defining Ebonics/Slang

WEB-SlangFlashcards2My understanding is: ebonics is a form of slang. Slang being “a type of language that consists of words and phrases that are regarded as very informal, are more common in speech than writing, and are typically restricted to a particular context or group of people.” I use ebonics and slang interchangeably but people tend to say Ebonics is, more specifically, African American Vernacular. I don’t know about the history of Ebonics enough to comment and, growing up, Ebonics was very much a part of the latin community so I hesitate to say Ebonics is black slang.

One thing the general definitions of Ebonics and slang do have in common is that both are “regarded as a language in their own right, not just a dialect”. The vocabulary of Ebonics/slang is always changing for instance, some of the words used in this Big L’s “Ebonics” song (in which he defines dozens of slang terms) are out of date but others are still used.

Cringe, confusion, or camaraderie: my experiences using Ebonics

I’m a lover of language and I love using slang; it’s what I grew up with. Slang was in my neighborhood, in my grade school cafeteria, in my home, and in my headphones. It’s something I hold dear. I still use it today, in casual conversation and even during class discussion (albeit sparingly). My use of Ebonics/slang isn’t as predominant as others: I rarely speak with double negatives or any of those grammatical hallmarks of “Ebonics”. But I use a lot of “slang” terms ex. janky, can I live?, real talk, so I know its real, I feel you, hella, hater, go in, come up, werk, salty, fuckery, grind, etc.

When I’m talking to someone who also uses Ebonics I tend to use more Ebonics than usual, I feed off their linguistics. There’s a comfort in that cultural connectedness. And I’m eager to learn the slang of other people/regions, for instance one of my good friends uses: “I support” as an interchangeable phrase for “I feel you”.

But more often than not, my use of Ebonics/slang is met with cringes or confusion. I use slang and then have to translate it for my peers. I’ve talked to non-Ebonic speakers about this: when I use slang they are unfamiliar with they either use context clues to figure out what I’m saying or they just don’t understand it. Occasionally someone will ask me what I mean when I say “____” but more often than not they don’t ask at all. I only find out they’re confused when I check in: “wait, do you know what ____ means”? followed by a “no”.

I’m always trying to build my vocabulary, so when one of my peers uses a word I don’t understand (slang or not) I will ask them what it means. I feel like people aren’t as willing to ask or research an ebonics phrase or slang term because that language is not seen as valuable. It’s deemed “improper English”. And while it’s true that “standard English” is the language of power, one that’s necessary to master, it’s also true that Ebonics/slang has a lot of cultural value and is not as “other” as society portrays it.

At worst, I’ve had people deny my slang, telling me “that’s not what ___ word means” thus my slang “does not make any sense”. To everyone who has ever made these statements, or something similar, do no deny what you do not understand. Don’t belittle part of my culture just because it’s not part of the accepted mainstream.

Speech Shaming 

Slam poet George Watsky said it best: “If you suppose your speech is normal it’s cause your impediment is listening”. No one constantly uses standard English in their day to day speech, only more socially acceptable slang (ex. gonna, crash, crush, drop by, take a hike, cool it, touch base, take a raincheck, I’m down, I’m game, selfie, etc).

To quote my brother on this subject: “Ebonics is an emic term. Emic being an anthropological term used to describe knowledge you can only obtain by being in a certain place or community”. So before you *speech shame people who use ebonics, think about what you’re really shaming. Is it really a matter of “proper grammar” or are there other social constructs involved that make us–as a society–see Ebonics as the language of the uneducated. I, for one, believe it’s the latter.

(*Note: I’m not saying that slang should be accepted in academia. Just that Ebonics should not be banned or looked down on any more than words like “gonna” are. And when it comes to the classroom I believe Ebonics should be affirmed, not stigmatized, and used to help children acquire fluency in Standard English. But that is a discussion for another blog post).

Majoring in struggle: The challenges of being a slow reader

When people think “English major” they often envision a literary expert: the kind of person who read Faulkner in utero, enjoys 18th century literature, reads books in one sitting, and always wins at Scrabble.  

Hyperbole aside, I’m sure there are English majors who match this description. But I’m certainly not one of them. In fact, I didn’t really enjoy reading at all until my sophomore year of high school and even then it wasn’t an instantaneous thing. It’s been a gradual progression.

I’m an English major because language moves me. I read because I appreciate it as both an art and an escape. And I believe language is the root of power. I want to be an English teacher because literature wasn’t always something I loved but now the discipline of English is one of the most pervasive things in my life.

But English is still something I struggle with because I’m a slow reader. In fact, college overall is more difficult when you’re a slow reader because reading is everything. You read your textbook, you read scholarly articles, you read your peers work, etc. The reading never stops. Here’s how I deal with it:

1.  I have to reread sentences.

I lost count of the number of teachers who have asked: “You ever read something and then two seconds later you have no idea what you just read?”. But each time this question is posed I’m always the one nodding her head vigorously. Reading, and then having to reread, is the story of my life. What’s frustrating about this is that I know it means I wasn’t really focussed the first time. That clearly, I’ve dropped the ball. Which brings me to my next point

2. (Sometimes) I have to read aloud.

This is especially helpful when I’m sleepy because it wakes me up. I’m not ashamed to say that I’ve occupied an empty classroom in Law Hall and paced the room as I read my chapter aloud. So many more parts of your brain are active when you read aloud as oppose to reading silently. And reading aloud guarantees that I will at least be moving in a positive direction. Often, when I’m sitting at my desk doing my homework, 10 minutes will pass and I realize that I haven’t actually read a thing… I’ve just been sitting at my desk, falling asleep.

3. I am still circling names.

When you’re reading, nothing is more discouraging and frustrating than not understanding the plot. I’ll look from a text like, wow. I have no idea what’s happening. And as I try to figure out how the basic meaning of a text written in English could elude me, I remind myself that sometimes you have to go back to the basics. Sometimes you need the sheet of notebook paper next to you with a makeshift family tree, the who’s who of a text. And despite how horrified your second grade teacher would be, following along with your finger or pen is a helpful way to focus.

4. I google summaries of what I just read to make sure I didn’t miss anything.

During the class discussion of a novel, occasionally someone will mention something in the book and I’m like “…when did that happen?”. So yes, if I’m struggling with a text I will read a chapter by chapter summary (don’t read the analysis, it will just mess with you and it may result in inadvertent plagiarism).

5. I read ahead.

Whenever it’s possible, I try to get ahead on my readings. Especially because “fast reads” are a lot more rare for me. If it takes you an hour to read, chances are, it’ll take me 3. Fortunately, on the block plan, it’s a lot easier to get ahead. Since I only have one class, I can put all my energy into that (which includes any free time I happen to come across). And with block break, I can usually start on (or finish) monday/tuesday’s homework on the saturday or sunday before class.

I may not get my homework done before dinner, I probably won’t even get it done before midnight, but that’s okay. I’m a slow reader. But it doesn’t matter how easily I get from point A to point B, all that matters is that *I get there.

*unless it’s a standardized test, in which case I have problems.

How after falling in love with English (3 times) it still makes me happy and miserable.

The first time I fell in love with English was via Slam Poetry: freshman year of High school. Though I couldn’t articulate it at the time, that was when I discovered the power of words as a means of developing self efficacy. Being exposed to Slam Poetry and LTAB culture helped me gain a level of confidence I couldn’t get from anywhere else–even though my poems were shitty (as past work always seems). It was supportive and honest: it was walking on stage with something to say, to a crowd that was there to listen. It was hardwork. It was ridiculous. But most importantly, it was not for homework. It was for myself.

The second time I fell in love with English I was reading The Great Gatsby. I was analyzing the significance of light in chapter 5. I was thinking about the defunct clock, and past love–as if I had any comprehension of love at 15. I hated Daisy; I loved Fitzgerald’s words. I  skidded on the surface of the text: simply enjoying the plot. And I dove head first into the symbolism: struggling to go beyond whatever sparknotes had already offered the world.

The third time I fell in love with English I was in AP Lang and my teacher asked us to explain what an essay was. We generated a list with phrases like “5 paragraphs”, “supportive details”, and ultimately “boring”. That day we threw convention to the wind and began to use essays creatively. We told our stories in whatever way best suited them: using form intentionally instead of obligatorily. It was the first time, ever, that I was writing about my personal life in a classroom setting. Everyday I left class as a better person and I left the course as a stronger writer. It was watching my teacher lead discussions that made realize how much I loved English. As much as I’d enjoyed my prior classes, this was the first time that English didn’t feel like a forced thing. It was natural. It wasn’t archaic; It was interesting. I looked at my AP Lang teacher and knew what I wanted to be.

Right now, I am revising an essay. But earlier, I was miserable from spending too much time on my own negative train of thought, which went roughly as follows.

I don’t want to revise this paper, it has so far to go, I don’t know what to do, poetry is hard, sonnets are hard, I hate sonnets, this week’s readings aren’t on moodle yet, this week is going to be hard, when will I finish this revision by, I have another paper due saturday, if this one turned out subpar what’s the next one going to look like, WHY AM I EVEN MAJORING IN THIS. Maybe the math majors have a point, there is no right answer in English and that’s frustrating (and even though there’s “no right answer” this paper definitely is not the right answer).

Fortunately, one of the good things about myself is that I realize when I’m being fussy. Then it just becomes a matter of making myself un-fussy (this part is harder). So after attending to my, often neglected, haiku project and listening to some spanish music I was feeling much better. Then it became a matter of getting over myself and getting to work.

After I outlined my paper I noticed the flaws. I also noticed that even while I was writing it the first time.. I noticed these flaws, but I was hoping they would somehow go unnoticed by my professor (wishful thinking to say the least). But for draft #1.5 it wasn’t bad at all.

Now I’m into this paper again. I have a giant poster board, index cards, highlighters, and a whiteboard. (I basically write my papers like I’m solving a murder). I realized that my relationship with English has a foundation that’s strong enough to get me through the rough times. And the massive wall I hit last night was the first of many I will encounter during my 4 English classes this year. Luckily, this is usually followed by a spurt of inspiration/insanity that pushes me through to the next draft. And oddly enough, as much as a I hate the analysis/writing wall, I love breaking through it. English is a cycle of struggle and satisfaction that I’m sick enough to major in.