Literacy and Liberty

Connect the Dots
Posted by: , September 5, 2018, 3:11 pm
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My kindergarten teacher hated me. I was five or six years old, uninterested in rules or the people who set them, and I loved Harry Potter. None of these pieces of who I was are particularly abnormal for the age group, but the Boiling Springs school district had some very strong ideas about which parts were acceptable, and the answer was none of them. Rules were there for my safety, the people who set the rules were important because they said so, and Harry Potter was off-limits because it had two purple dots.

The dot system at W.G. Rice Elementary school is not unique– it exists in elementary schools all over the United States. All of the books in the library are coded according to a reading level assigned by the librarians: for example, one yellow dot is an easy first grade read, and two purple dots is an advanced fifth grade read. Students are not allowed to check out books that do not match their grade level dot. The entire Harry Potter series was coded as two purple dots, which meant that it was strictly out-of-bounds for me. Still, it took two attempts to check out various books in the series (the Sorcerer’s Stone and the Prisoner of Azkaban, if I’m remembering right) as well as bringing in my own copy from home and reading it during math class before my teacher called in my parents for a meeting. The meeting went something like this: My parents come in one evening after work, with me, and we all sit down in the kindergarten classroom. For some inexplicably dramatic reason, the principle is there. My teacher schmoozes with my parents for a little while to try and make herself seem like a friend, and then they turn the subject to my wild, delinquent self. “It’s cute that she’s pretending,” smiles my teacher, giving me a facial expression roughly equivalent to a just-too-hard pat on the head, “but it needs to stop.” Long story short, I had to read passages, summarize the books that I had read thus far, and have my parents threaten to move me to a new school before I was given special, written permission from the principle to check out books that were above my grade level.

It was a defining experience in my life. It was the first time that I had come up against institutional censorship, and it wasn’t fun. I’m sure that many other students have experienced similar situations, and it is my own opinion that the entire concept of the dot system in school libraries needs to be discarded. The potential benefit of helping children find books suited to their reading level is solidly outweighed by the limitations that it places on anyone who finds themselves outside the average reading level for their age, be that above or below.




A Day in the Era of the iPhone
Posted by: , September 4, 2018, 1:24 pm
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My phone has been on my mind a lot lately, more so than is normal for a member of Gen-Z. What usually is just an inconsequential buzz in my pocket has become a little more obvious, a little more critical.

It’s hard to pick which pop-up messages are worth tapping on and which are not. Trump is pissed at Jeff Sessions, nothing new; coach sent an email, I’ll check it later; John McCain died, that’s worth a minute.

I think most participants in this era can agree that our cell phones have extraordinary power over us, they contain all that we know and want to know, the only thing they fail at is recognizing when we want to see their hoards of information. In an attempt to present us with what we find exciting or valuable we are under a constant barrage of information thrown at our mental walls in hopes that something will stick or make us tap the “view” button.

These pocket-sized screens may not seem like significant literary events in and of themselves, but with Americans receiving an average of almost 46 notifications per day they add up. (Tamara P., Patricia R. “How many times are people interrupted by push notifications?”)

Don’t get me wrong, I am a firm believer that our phones are potent tools for so many things but they’re power and command of our literary intake is greater than it is made out to be. One notification is barely a literary event but a day in the era of iPhone definitely is.

Tree Trunk or Race? A Balanced Structure or a Housing for Horses?
Posted by: , September 4, 2018, 2:24 am
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Last year I participated in a gap year in Israel called “Workshop” through my youth movement, Habonim-Dror. On Workshop, participants from all over North America live together communally and collectively as a “kvutsa” which translates to “group” in Hebrew. On workshop, the kvutsa is supposed to decide on its Hebrew name, mine chose the name “Kvutsa Geza,”  Geza meaning tree trunk. We chose Geza because we felt a tree trunk best encapsulated our lofty and abstract idea of remaining rooted in our Jewish and Zionist history while growing towards a new vision for ourselves, the movement, and the Jewish people.

The problem was that we were choosing our kvutsa name in English, expecting a simple Hebrew translation. Popping “tree trunk” into Google Translate resulted in “Geza;” We were satisfied, but our “Madrichim” (program directors) were not happy. They told us if we named ourselves Geza, most Israelis would assume we were calling ourselves “race” which was offensive and unacceptable. “That’s so stupid,” I replied, “why would ‘trunk and ‘race’ be the same word?” Then my madrich said, “Now you understand my frustration with English, stable is a balanced structure but it’s also the thing you keep horses in; Hebrew has synonyms too.” At that moment I felt incredibly stupid, both for forgetting about synonyms outside English, and for trusting Google Translate. When I reported it to the kvutsa, we all laughed and amended it to “Giv’ol” or “Stem,” which in Hebrew has no other controversial meanings.