Literacy in accordance with public education
October 10, 2016
Filed under Opinion
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Throughout my entire life reading and writing have had a major impact on shaping my personality. As a child, I was intrigued by language and took the time to study it and its workings. My interest in increasing my knowledge through reading and writing grew, but at the same time my learning was being impeded by attending school, where I was forced to conform to the normal teachings despite being ahead of my classmates in those particular subjects. Public school has greatly affected my intelligence in the way that it has held me back from expanding my mind and knowledge to its full potential by not offering classes that benefitted me in literacy.
My mother read to me from the time I was in her womb until the time I could read on my own. She has always said to me, “Age means nothing. Kid’s brains are like sponges, and the more you teach them and talk to them, the smarter they become.” My mom was the greatest force behind my advances in literacy, as she would constantly encourage me to read, write, and explore the inner workings of the two.
I began reading and writing on my own at the age of four. My mom instilled in me an unquenchable interest for the art of literacy. This passion for reading and writing progressed at a fast pace and quickly began to consume my time. When I started elementary school, however, I was immensely ahead of my classmates, but could not be put into a private school because of financial issues, and homeschool was not an option either because my mom, a single parent, was working three jobs and could not afford to do so. I was made to listen to teachings that were of no importance to me because I already knew what was being taught. Because of this, I did a fair amount of studying after school in the form of reading to my mother, or developing stories captured from my wild imagination.
I began reading Harry Potter books in second grade, and gradually improved my vocabulary through skimming dictionaries and thesauruses on a regular basis. Reading helped develop my creative personality by filling my head to the brim with incredible adventures. The books I would read transferred me to different time periods and places. Because of the trials and quests the protagonists somehow always found a way to overcome, I drew the conclusion that, like them, I was capable of doing anything I set my mind to. This mindset, formulated by the perils faced by seemingly ordinary or relatable characters, has helped me through many challenges throughout my life. Reading encouraged me to embrace who I was as a person, amplify my talents in writing, and better express myself through poetry.
Writing poetry was one of my favorite pastimes, as it helped me to develop my ideas without having a set outline. As a child, I was undoubtedly an introvert, so I didn’t talk to people very much or have very many friends. At times, it was hard for me to communicate with others, especially if I was uncomfortable with them, so my thoughts oftentimes went unspoken. Poetry, however, was a whirlpool of words that whispered from my being and expressed my feelings, making me feel understood. At that time, poetry was an especially important part of my life, because that form of communication would later help me develop better social skills.
From third grade to fifth grade I was finally put into a program that was meant to challenge me called the Gifted and Talented program, or “GT”. At first, I was excited because I felt as if I would finally be able to learn something new, and delight in going to school. However, GT ultimately just provided me with extra assignments and homework. The books I were required to read for GT were sometimes interesting, but were only enjoyable up to the point where worksheets and writing exercises over each chapter of the book, or the entire books itself, were required. None of the books or assignments were particularly challenging, but the work was extremely tedious and annoying to where I stopped doing the assignments altogether because I found them pointless.
The most vivid memory I have of GT was in fourth grade when I had a project over Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder, and I failed to do the assignment. While reading the book, my class was made to take notes and then we were given a topic to complete a physical display over. My topic was toys that children in that time period would have played with, so I was supposed to make a doll and a few other trinkets.
When the due date came around, my teacher, Ms. Nesbit, asked in a stern voice, “Schyla, where is your project?”
“I didn’t do it, ma’am.”
In a shrill tone that implied more of an angry statement than a question, she croaked, “Why not!”
“Because I didn’t see how this would help me understand the book,” I replied calmly.
Ms. Nesbit then proceeded to yell at me and threaten to kick me out of GT. She gave me the option to turn in the project late for a lower grade, or be removed from the class. I turned in a mediocre project the next day for a grade of seventy. This was the start of my major dislike of reading books for school.
Despite the few irritations that accompanied some of the books I read during this time in my life, elementary school holds my best literary memories, associated with books such as The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, The Alchemyst by Michael Scott, and The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. All of my reading was done in my spare time, as school was a mere annoyance to attend because it was not at all challenging.
However, as I reached middle school, assigned books took up the majority of my time, and my pleasurable books were deduced to almost nothing. I took a quiz to measure my reading level every six weeks for every year of middle school because it was a requirement for the Language Arts/English classes; at the time I started middle school I was reading at a college level, but the books I was assigned to read were of a much lower level. Along with homework taking up the majority of my time, I slowly began to replace the few books I had time for with television and movies, as I started to realize that those were the “normal” things for kids my age to do.
When I started sixth grade, writing also became unbearable. My teachers expected a specific format for essays using words such as first, then, next, finally, and in conclusion. To me, this writing seemed too formulated. The rubric made almost every essay sound similar and inauthentic, but I had to conform or get a low grade. This continued through seventh grade as well.
Around this time I tried out for the Ready Writing team. This team consisted of four individuals that would compete in a writing contest that provided a few prompts to choose from, and lasted for four hours. I placed first or second each year I competed. I loved Ready Writing because it allowed me to write in any form I wanted to and I could let my ideas flow freely. However, this contest only happened once a year so I could not constantly practice writing in this manner and had to stick to the stiff writing structure expected in my classes.
It was not until eighth grade that I felt I had more room to grow and learn in writing. My teacher, Mrs. Dunbar, was fun-loving and understanding. She helped me to develop my own style of drafting, writing, and revising my essays. Mrs. Dunbar worked with me individually and reviewed my writings with me in a way she noticed I responded to better. In her class, we read a few easy books and did the work that came with them, but I was still not being challenged. I didn’t have to think very much in school so my abilities never improved. Over time I gradually began to notice that writing that was once effortless for me became more strenuous, I could not recall the meanings of certain words, and I could not put what I read into context. When I decided to convert back to reading and writing on my own time it was too late, as I was moving into high school and the work came as an overload of worksheets and “reading for comprehension.”
The required readings I began with in my freshman year of high school had a lower reading level than what I was accustomed to reading on my own, but it had been a while since I had read anything of that level, so it came as a shock to me that I found these readings difficult. My writing felt stiff, and unattached from my thoughts and feelings. The very things I loved and had spent so much time associating myself with felt like strangers to my being. It was at this point that I realized reading had a direct relationship with comprehension, writing, and the expression of thought through language itself.
Since then I have tried and failed multiple times to incorporate reading with my schoolwork. Attending school, overworking myself to the point of exhaustion, and maintaining straight A’s have not improved my knowledge or advanced my intelligence in any way, but reading has always found a way to make the most complicated ideas seem so simple. For example, the ability of a writer to turn the ever-changing, fluid mercury of one’s’ makeup into a graspable notion has never ceased to amaze me. Contrastingly, writing has always helped me to express the simplest of terms in the most eloquent manner, like the way the color of one’s hair in the sunlight can be transformed into a radiating image of a waterfall drunk with the spilt blood of wine, possessed with haunting specks of gold, unseen to the eyes of ordinary men.
My fascination with the art of writing and reading has not dwindled, but my ability to comprehend more challenging pieces of work and to write as fluently as I once did have, in fact, been tremendously obstructed. It was not until I was enrolled in my first dual credit course that I finally felt like I was being challenged and was improving my literacy skills.
Up to now, I have been enrolled in three dual credit courses in which writing was a major component of the course. The dual credit courses offered by my school greatly exceed the education I was receiving in honors classes. The writing standards have greatly increased, and while there is a basic structure to follow, the writing is, for the most part, left open to interpretation. My taste of college has given me the opportunity to have what I have always been looking for: a challenge.
I believe that there should be higher level public schools available, because, in cases such as mine, some families do not have the means to put their children through private school or homeschool systems. Another alternative would be to have advanced classes in elementary school so that students at a higher level will benefit from going to school, instead of growing to abhor it and find it unnecessary. Also, school should not necessarily be based on age, but rather on the level of intelligence one holds in each particular subject.
Although I would have rather held on to my higher skilled abilities, without this experience I would not have come to the conclusion that reading affects so much of one’s persona. For example, when I read often my vocabulary was more extensive and my comprehension level was outstanding when it came to analyzing a speech, or a conversation. I also spoke with more confidence. All of these factors that extended from reading would be extremely helpful to me now in my schoolwork, in debate, and in job interviews.
My journey with reading and writing has ultimately guided me to reclaim the skills I once held in both areas. The public school I attended played a major role in my life regarding literacy by not providing appropriate classes for me to learn and grow in reading and writing. If it were not for my dual credit courses which offer a preview of what college will be like, I would have gone to a university with an extremely low expectation. Literacy has been a major part of my life and has helped mold me into the person I am now, and because of that I will venture through life with a new perspective on the factors that are important to one’s being.
Schyla Janessa Falcon Hernandez is an only child who lives with her mother in Comfort, Texas and has attended Comfort Independent School District throughout her school years. She is a junior at Comfort High School, a UTPB dual-credit student, and wrote this paper in Dr. Rebecca Babcock’s course.