Literacy and Liberty


What does it take?
Posted by: , September 21, 2018, 7:21 pm
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Throughout pre-school, I had very mixed feelings about reading and writing. I liked when my mom told me stories, I enjoyed making swirly cursive letters in my copybook. I had an assignment to free write about my great grandmother who had passed away, and I distinctly remember the experience of feeling powerful. But, when I went to elementary school, my enjoyment of literacy abruptly ended. In third grade, there was a competition to see how many books you could read. Students would ask adults to sponsor them, and the money went to charity. I was excited because of the competition, but I was relieved when I finished the one book I managed to get through. 

At one point I cried because I had to write a paragraph. I remember this because my younger self found the chore of writing so painful. In retrospect this is amusing, but after reading Frederick Douglass’ story, I see a failing of our society. It took me years to see reading and writing as the privilege and gateway that it is, and glimpse the freedom that it creates. How could such an incredible privilege come to be seen as a chore, or even a punishment? Does it take us not having something, or having to fight for something, to be appreciated? 



Ink marks
Posted by: , September 21, 2018, 5:48 pm
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Grasping tape with one hand, and a pen with another which has some ink stain on, I was trying to get used to this new tool. My second year in elementary school started with panic. Our Chinese literature teacher asked everyone to buy a pen and use it in the next four years instead of pencil. “Using pen to write can be helpful to improve your handwriting,” she said, “you need to start practicing it.” Then my mom and I showed up in the pen store, and got me the first pen that I still remember clearly to be a dark green color.
I decided to write something down as I went back to home, fully expecting myself to produce some artistic Chinese words,  just as those great writers did. However, pen was harder to handle than I imagined: heavy, not erasable, and tearing up my work for uncountable times. Once I made some mistakes, I tried removing it by sticking tape on paper and peeling it off really quick. My homework during that time was like a severely afflicted area after earthquake or tornado, described by my mother. Whether notebooks or textbooks, there are holes of various shapes, ink dots, and some pages even got teared apart.
As a kid, learning how to write with pen is like my first step toward maturity. Think about how careful, patient, and concentrated an elementary student has to be for not making any mistakes. Moreover, I was told to take care of my first pen by completing “daily duties” of putting cap on, filling ink in, and trying not to drop it when using it. As a kid my hands were always dirty and smudged but my work was more appealing day by day.
I gradually lost habit of using pen when I got into high school and be more likely to use ball-point pen. However, learning to write, that made me struggle so much in the past, is now considered as one of the best, not erasable moments of my childhood, just like those ink marks.



Stephanie.
Posted by: , September 21, 2018, 4:54 pm
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As a young girl, I attended Lycée Francais de New York. At that school, I was a total and utter anomaly at times. Most kids had bilingual parents, whereas I had two loving parents that did not speak a language other than English and a splash of Hebrew. Truth be told, learning how to speak French at the age of 2 is something I do not have a lot of memory of. I do, however, remember learning how to read in French which was engrained in my childhood. Many children’s book I had were in French and I had to learn how to read them on my own, because my parents were unable to. What intrigued me about reading in French was the way the words flowed. I also just loved gazing at the illustrations I saw in the books while staying after school. In the fourth grade, I was hard core struggling in school. My teacher at the time was severely scary to me because she yelled when I did not do something right.  Sometimes, she even pulled me out of class because she told me that I just kept making mistakes while reading and could not be helped. Words started to make me sick to my stomach and my mouth became my worst enemy. I had no idea how to ask for help or if it was even worth it.

Lucky for me, my insightful mom knew something was up. She introduced me to Madame Stephanie Durand. Madame Stephanie Durand at the time tutored my younger brother who struggled with his dyslexia. It’s weird, I still remember my first encounter with her. I was in my room crying  because I wanted to give up and never go back to school. Not to brag, but I was a little bit of a diva when it came to stress at 8 years old. Anyway, Stephanie then knocked on my door asking if she could come in and I remember being too shy to reply. She came in anyway, left the door open and sat on my window sill , looked at me right in the eyes and spoke to me. Stephanie told me that she believed in me and told me that if I worked hard, I could believe in myself. It probably sounds corny but for an 8 year old me, it sorta touched my heart. She helped me rock the fourth grade despite having a scary teacher and sometimes struggling with French reading comprehension. Words started to make me smile again and I became an avid participant in class when it came to reading aloud. I felt like I was on top of the world when it came to school.

Sadly, it broke my heart when Stephanie told me at the tail end of that school year she was leaving to go back to Normandy. Stephanie left me with an encyclopedia which was all French and told me to try learn something new from it everyday. The following school year, my brother and I attended an English speaking elementary school while I still took French on the side. I remember trekking the heavy 1000 page book for the first few days before realizing it was too heavy to bring. Reading from it still reminds me that I am capable and that it takes the right people to walk into your life to believe in you.



Learning to Read
Posted by: , September 21, 2018, 2:48 pm
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For me, as with most other people, learning to read and write is just something that happened naturally. While my first spoken language was Russian, I wouldn’t say that this was the first language I became truly literate in. In fact, I don’t have strong memories of myself reading books in Russian as I do with English. After kindergarten, I became fluent in English and developed a passion for reading. My earliest memories involve reading the Geronimo Stilton book series during my first grade reading time. Whenever we read books aloud as a class, I was volunteering myself to read.

Something that sticks out in my memory are the Scholastic Book Fairs we used to have at my elementary school from time to time. I used to love walking past all of the tables filled with books and reading blurb after blurb. I would always be one of the last few students at these book fairs and I ended up reading quite a few of the books that I found there. I think that exposing children to books at an early age makes them much more likely to enjoy learning to read and write. Simply instructing them out of monotonous spelling books and reading exercises would never be as effective. I credit my ability to read and write to these early experiences where I was given the opportunity to choose books that I was interested in and wanted to read.



Harry Potter is REAL
Posted by: , September 21, 2018, 2:44 pm
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“It has to be real, Chris.” I screamed at my older cousin, who smirked at my innocence. “There’s no way those words were just her ideas. They’re too good.”

This was a real conversation that I remember having soon after I had learned to read. I caught on early to the “book thing”, reading two grades above my level as soon as I got to kindergarten. For this reason, I don’t necessarily remember the exact instance in which I learned to read. I do, however, remember the effect that it quickly had on me.

At the end of first grade, I dove in to the Harry Potter series. My mind, young and naive, became convinced that if words flowed together that well then they must entail reality. I was set on finding Hogwarts, and then, of course, attending. My older cousin Chris was one of many to shut down this notion, with no mercy.

With the realization that people could write as well as J.K. Rowling, I became obsessed with the idea of becoming that good, too. I used the skills that I had learned in kindergarten and first grade, and formed my letters into sentences similar to those that I read. I would write and write and write. I would force adjectives next to nouns and try to make them sound as beautiful as possible. In this way, I began my adventure of learning how to write. My reading and writing skills have built upon each other ever since.



Learning to Write in Cursive
Posted by: , September 20, 2018, 9:44 pm
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I have very little memory of learning to read and write, but I recall very well teaching myself cursive.

When I was little, my father would always tell me that his mother, my grandmother, had the most beautiful cursive handwriting in the world. He described it in the sense that “she would not have been out of place if she were a signer of the U.S Constitution.” Having this information, I aspired to be like my grandmother. Cursive is sort of like another language. The symbols are generally the same, but your hands have to rememorize how to correctly write them. An “A” in print is not an “A” in cursive, for example. I recall sitting down for an hour or so a day and, in my copy book, I would write and rewrite certain words in cursive over and over and over again. Some words I would struggle with and others I would memorize pretty quickly. It was a cool experience for me because I had never worked hard on something at that age, so I felt a sense of accomplishment. Later on, I was more confident in my ability. I began trying to write whole papers in cursive. This proved to be a challenge as some papers were clean, while others were riddled with mistakes. Nevertheless, I continued to try to perfect my cursive. I always kept in mind my grandmother’s handwriting.

At some point, I stopped using it. I’m not sure when I stopped specifically. I still know how to write in cursive, but it is not what It used to be. My older brother writes in cursive all the time, and has beautiful penmanship. I’m jealous of him in a way. Everyday I write, I see the remnants of my childhood work as my writing today is a half-print half-cursive mixture. My generation is the last one that learned to write in cursive, which saddens me. With the advancement of technology, cursive, in my opinion, has become an obsolete subject in American schools. That being said, I will forever cherish the work I did as a child in the field of cursive writing.



Learning to Read
Posted by: , September 20, 2018, 8:34 pm
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Do you remember taking a language in high school or college? Specifically, that first class where you walk in and the professor says something words you’ve never heard and all you can do is nod. I can’t remember that moment when I learned to speak English, probably because I was too young, but I do remember when letters and words started making actual sense to me.

It was probably a Dr. Seuss book, I can’t remember the specifics but the feeling when something ridiculous like “Today was good. Today was fun. Tomorrow is another one.” (Seuss, .. (Dr.). I Am Not Going to Get up to Day. S.n, 2009.) I definitely didn’t grasp any meaning beyond the absolute basics of the individual words, but there was something sort of amazing in the fact that those shapes “f,” “u” and the upside-down version of “u.”

The complexity of language is something I take for granted a lot now, but I was thinking about it a lot about a week ago, it was right after my third or fourth class in Arabic and my professor had just explained that three letters we had just learned combined to make a word that is pronounced “bab.” Bab just means door, but when those random symbols are squiggles connected to form something with a real meaning it kind of blew my mind. It wasn’t an earth-shattering discovery by any means, it was, however, a moment that made me recall a moment much earlier in my life, the moment it all kind of clicked, when I learned to read.



Almost Ambidextrous
Posted by: , September 20, 2018, 5:41 pm
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I cannot pinpoint my exact age when I picture the first moment in my memory connecting to reading or writing. In my mind’s eye I can imagine precisely where I am standing, almost like watching an old video, in front of the off-white colored refrigerator rearranging magnetic letters to form simple words. I do not recall what words I had yet learned to form, but I know that the magnets were red and slightly peeling from the usage of two sisters before me.

Once I learned to read small things, I frantically tried to absorb everything that I possibly could. I had two older sisters who were both fairly competent readers by that point, and they used to enjoy taunting me about my own inadequate skills. One of my most favorite activities was reading to the family dog. I thought that she was the most captivated listener and I would read to her whenever I was able. I used to take great pleasure in riding in the car and shouting the names of all the street signs that I could read as loud as I could. I quickly was given the moniker “bookworm” and I absolutely loved it.

My experience with learning to write involved somewhat more of a “love/hate” relationship than that of reading. I identify as almost ambidextrous. I say almost because I was raised right-handed but do many activities with my left. The Catholic pre-school that I went to when I was aged three and four years apparently believed that none of the children should learn to write with anything but their right hand. That is why, when I began to show signs of that sinful left-handed dominance, I was forced to switch hands. As a result of this discomfort with writing early on, I had great difficulty forming letters and grasping how to write as quickly as my peers. To this day, I still hold my chosen writing implement in a bizarre position which resembles that of a child who has never written before. Moreover, my handwriting I have been told, is as close to “chicken scratch” as could be.



Learning to Read and Write
Posted by: , September 20, 2018, 5:28 pm
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Learning to read was a time in my life I remember quite vividly. From what I have heard from most people, learning to read was a skill they learned in school early on, either beginning in preschool or soon thereafter. However, my education of handwriting was not received in any professional setting. Each evening of my adolescence until the age of eight, I was forced to sit next to my mother and read the training series Bob Books. I do not remember the plot of most of these books, but do recall my unwillingness to participate in these exercises. Usually about an hour after we had finished dinner my mother and I would resume where we had left off the previous night, after my sister and I had had enough time to play in the basement and release the potential energy we had generated during the 30 minutes spent sitting at the dinner table. Each word I was not able to pronounce, she would carefully guide me through by making the sounds of each letter with her mouth, and instructing me to do the same.

However, learning to write is a time in my life I do not remember at all. The only writing exercises I can recall were during the third grade, learning to write cursive. We would return to class after finishing with our morning recess time, and the teacher would instruct us to take out our cursive tracing textbooks from underneath our desks. And for an hour, we would trace each letter a dozen times, then proceed to write sentences like “The field trip to the zoo was fun”, or. “The birds flew in the sky”. One part of cursive I remember not understanding, was the purpose of it all. Why would someone choose to use a style of writing no one could understand? What was so wrong with normal handwriting that someone had decided to change the shape of letters and connect every letter in every word? These questions puzzled me as I traced letters like “z” and “b”, letters with no resemblance to their original shape. Although, if someone were to read my handwriting today, it could be easily mistaken as a construed form of cursive as all the letter are connected, just not in the clean fashion I was taught in the third grade, but more like I was in the biggest hurry of my life.



Sing to Read
Posted by: , September 20, 2018, 1:10 pm
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Learning to read was difficult for me.  I used to feel so insecure in my kindergarten class that I would pick up a book and pretend to read, even though I was just looking at the words and not absorbing any information.  I felt like it came so easily to everyone else, especially to the kid who supposedly had already read Harry Potter by the time he started school.  While other kids in my class were reading aloud, I was confusing my d’s and b’s.  I don’t know why, but it just didn’t come easily to me.

My parents were a crucial part of learning to read, they would take turns reading to me every night.  They read the whole Harry Potter and Hunger Games series to me, along with many more.  However, during my struggle to read, my mom would do this incredible thing that really helped me understand how letters and words fit together.  She would spell out words in song form.  The first time I remember her singing out a word to me was with the word “the.” “T-H-E spells ‘the’!” my mom would chant every time I came across this word on a page.  As I got older, spelling tests where a challenge for me, so I would ask my mom for help.  The word “appreciate” was especially hard for me, so she made a song.  She made a song for “necessary” and “caterpillar”.

I think the combination of reading to me every night and the fact that my mom adamantly made sure I could read and write turned me into the avid reader I am today.  I love writing essays and reading new books, and I have my parents, specifically my mom, to thank for helping me through my literacy journey.