There are simple universal concepts and actions that span all cultures and discourses. Things that all people do no matter where they are from. In groups, people socialize. There is communication between individuals. But society has advanced on the communication front. Social groups have formed their own discourses. Special ways in communication that involve more than simply saying the right words. Discourses have several layers to them, the first being the primary discourse. This is the basis for someone’s beliefs and values. As relationships expand so do discourses. Following the primary discourse is the secondary discourse. This is further developed into non-dominant and dominant discourses. Dominant discourses provide monetary or status gain along with beneficial connections. Non-dominant discourses typically only provide social connections. All these concepts were first introduced by James Paul Gee. He is one of the foremost thinkers on discourse.
Another prominent figure to this discourse is Kara Poe Alexander. She is responsible for the ideas of the little and master narratives. Alexander also gathered data and analyzed the discourse of a few hundred applicants. There she was able to categorize them into a maximum of eight categories, which was how she was able to start drawing lines between all the narratives. Master narratives were stories that focused on the mainstream ideas such as literacy equaling success. They followed a by the book procedure while little narratives became more local, they would be stories that would focus on an individual rather than that actual literacy. Her categories branched from the ideas of master and little narrative. The categories included were: success, hero, child prodigy, literacy winner, victim, outsider, rebel and other (Alexander 615).
This past semester, a pool of students was asked to submit their own original literacy narrative. From there, students have been given the task of distilling the slough of words in an effort to further the conversation of discourse. While the selection was minute compared to Alexander’s seven hundred essays, this local pool offered the unique views of students who are all at a relatively similar time in their life. Instead of her diverse collection, the students have a uniform selection.
This essay hopes the further the discussion of discourse by looking at the relationships that form the discourse. The majority, if not all, of the students who submitted an essay included a close bond with someone. The story of their discourses all tended to revolve around an individual. That individual could be themselves or someone else. Kayla Farrell’s essay “Turn Around” focused on her struggling against a difficult teacher that pushed too much homework on all of the students displayed a strong influence on how relationships influenced someone’s view. For some students of her story, lost their affection for English. Others faced his difficult teacher head on. Kayla Farrell fell into the side of a fighting. Instead of giving up when presented with a negative influence, she struggled. Spending time after class, she would ask the teacher for help. And when that failed, she went somewhere else. A tutoring center at her high school. The teacher in this case was a mentor that rejected her. He was a member of a dominant discourse yet he was unwilling to positively guide her. Thankfully she’d had enough experience prior that she was able to mushfake her way through. Mushfake is a term coined by Gee that refers to a person substituting in a different discourse when they don’t have right one.
Another essay from the collection was “The Giving Tree and Me,” written by Abby. Her narrative spoke of herself as a young girl with her father. Together they would read stories every night. He was her mentor into literacy. And a positive one at that. Deborah Brandt, another thinker on discourse, would call him her sponsor. A sponsor is someone who offers their knowledge and credibility to the younger and more unaware person (Brandt 557). He introduced her passion for reading, he showed her the value and joy that it can bring. Gee calls their relationship that of a master and an apprentice. Brandt looks at it like a sponsorship. In the end, it is all the same. To be a full member in a discourse, one must first have a way to get in. The standing tradition is to have someone show the other in. There are cases where someone is able to mushfake their way to mastery. But it is a fake one, the only way to truly understand a discourse to become them. Lisa Delpit was another master of discourse. She also believed in the necessity for masters and exposure to the discourse.
Unlike Alexander, the students here seldom wrote about success. Instead, the majority of students focused on local and little stories that emphasized the individual rather than the literacy. This could be due to the initial essay question. Perhaps it was phrased in a way that urged the ideas of a local story. Or the sample size was smaller. It would not be completely out of the question that the majority crafted unique stories that avoided the idea of literacy means success. And maybe literacy does not anymore. Literacy is such an important piece but it is not the only piece. It is something that everyone learns in this culture. Its significance is not so meaningful anymore. The idea that literacy is a step in the right direction has downgraded to being only shifting someone’s eyes to the right direction. Success is still far away and only his or her eyes have moved.
Relationships are an important part of acquiring discourses. In the opinion of the essay, relationships are vital to discourse. Any discourse that involves language needs multiple people so that conversation may happen. Without practice or exposure to those who have already master the discourse, they will be unable to become masters. This is why the masters of language and discourse have a significant amount of responsibility for how individuals turn out. If they fail to accept anyone into a new discourse, then eventually there could be no one around to continue on the discourse. Theoretically if that happened, a new discourse would emerge of people who would value being more open for new members. This is why acceptance and guidance into a new discourse is important for everyone. Why teachers need to focus on having a positive impact on students. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the cases. Many teachers fail to inspire their kids to reach further than they thought to. Those are the teachers and people who help kids learn to hate reading. Their disinterest is the start of a downward spiral for a lot kids. They are forced to mushfake things instead of truly submersing themselves into the conversation.
Of the essays read, the students all clearly showed interactions of people. That there was either someone there to push them forward or someone there to hold them back. This influence of people is significant, especially those who reject them from a discourse. Gee and Brandt have their terms to define the positive influence, but what about the negative? People who discourage are classified only by their rejection. Those who reject however, often have an incredible amount of power towards the individual.