I tell every student that they have a story. We start the year off with memoirs because the personal narrative prompts them to use an authentic writer’s voice and true intention in portraying a story. Students should not feel that they have no story--helping students find their voice is supporting them in developing higher self-esteem and efficacy. Just as all stories have a purpose; all students have value.
Emancipatory Literacy: Our kids CAN and need to
Writing is our communication to the world; it is the way we exist, engage, and change our society. It is a sacred process of unveiling our minds most subconscious truths, inscribing them to paper, and discoursing it to the greater dialogue of existence. It is our portal to our trauma, and the healing pathway to self-love. It creates language for us to challenge oppressive policies and dismantle hegemonic systems that ignore marginalized communities. Our youth of color are in need of writing for varying reasons of self-development, political advocacy, and communication. With the unreliability of our school system and its history of failing to equip our students in literacy growth, it is most imperative for the community to recognize and respond to the urgency of the literacy crisis in our educational infrastructures. As teachers, we hold an irreplaceable role in helping bridge that gap. We remind our students they have a voice, a voice that is worth expressing in spite of the academic challenges that come with writing.
Paulo Freire robustly articulates the emancipatory power of literacy. In “Reading the Word and the World,” he shares, “Literacy in this wider view not only empower people through a combination of pedagogical skills and critical analysis, it also becomes a vehicle for examining how cultural definitions of gender, race, class, and subjectivity are constituted as both historical and social constructs.” (Freire, 6) This statement indicates that literacy is a tool for people to critique and reimagine the social constructs. Deconstructing infrastructures that impose an unfair and unjust hierarchical system on the people leaves room is necessary for freedom. Literacy is our weapon. It is a practice of democracy that can dismantle positions of power that perpetuate detrimental archetypes of our marginalized community.
In America any of our black and brown youth are performing at lower outcomes that white and Asian counterparts. Though marginalized communities have garnered much empowerment through collective action against limited access to resources and social capital, the disparities in school performance still take precedents. Angela Valenzuela indicates that the American School System is organized to “subtract” resources from immigrant youth and low-income communities. The lack of engagement students who identify with disenfranchised social identities has become a status quo--a cultural norm. (Valencia, 5) In order for students to be accepted, they must “culturally assimilate” and resocialize; this approach may convince some students, but Valencia states that a typical response of students is rebellion against the “schooling process” that disrespects them. Valencia’s research parallels Freire analysis that the apparatus that governs schooling fails to value youth of color as assets of power; and this lack of respect has compounding impact on literacy. Freire states that the issue of literacy is not in the deficits of standard and institutionalized metrics of proficiency for reading and writing, but rather “it begins with the fact of one’s existence as part of a historically constructed practice within specific relations of power.” (Freier, 7)
In many ways, writing is the act of saying 'I,' of imposing oneself upon other people, of saying, 'Listen to me, see it my way, change your mind.' It's an aggressive, even a hostile act.
One facet of literacy that Freire does not thoroughly mention is the therapeutic process of writing and its power in beginning the journey of healing the trauma our youth endure. Our youth of color experience disproportionate access to events in life that will force them to grow up much faster than their peers in neighborhoods that have not been politically bounded by the mismanagement of poverty and devalue of non-white and non-submissive citizens to Euro-centric Patriarchy. Youth of color may not want to write their stories because they may not want to remember all the tragedies they already had to have experienced. Yet, for our students to grow feeling safe and cared for, they need avenues in which they can connect with themselves and their past, in order to move forward through the present and future. Writing is a self reflective practice; a key to life at times, and it can act as a powerful tool of healing and validation for our youth who feel silenced in their trauma.
When we teach our students how to write, it is a proactive stance in our faith that they matter. The demographics of our most disenfranchised schools express socio-personal experiences that comprise of trauma inflicted by the consequences of poverty and violence. Our political structures have historically imposed living environments that are not suitable for human beings to thrive, but struggle. There is a culture of poverty that traps our youth in a cycle of demeaning their self worth in America. When we teach our students to write, we are showing them that they matter—they matter more than what the culture and media portray them as. The act of teaching literacy shows them that we care. We care because they are worth it and valuable. Most importantly, loved.
Being in jail at the age of 13 is something I will never forget. For a week I slept on the floor of a cold room. No private restroom. No food. No bed. My mom would not eat the bag of sour candies they gave us every morning just so I could eat more, my stomach would always be making noises, and it was not because of “my bad digestion”.I don’t remember a time when they would come and clean the toilet or give us new blankets. It was a medium-sized space blanket. Immigrants should not hide the way they came here, I share my story, not for people to feel sorry for me and pity to feel better, but I want people to see the pride of immigrants, we can do more than just work, we came here to have a better life, a better future.
-Anonymous Student 2018
Freire, Paulo, and Donaldo P. 1950- Macedo. Literacy: Reading the Word & the World. South Hadley, Mass.: Bergin & Garvey Publishers, 1987. Print.
Valenzuela, Angela. Subtractive Schooling : U.S.-Mexican Youth and the Politics of Caring. Albany :State University of New York Press, 1999. Print.