Hop in the Delorean…We’re Going for a Ride

 

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Last week after class, there was a spark of creativity and inspiration that came from talking about the next steps for my thesis. The critical moments within my family that adds up to language and the power of language seems to be the main topic that keeps coming up. I had to research what an autoethnography, memoir and autoethnographic narrative was and the differences between them. Then, I had to figure out which one of these styles would fit the type of thesis I want to write. Before I go into that, there were two readings I had to research to get my juices flowing. Victor Villanueva wrote Bootstraps, which unfortunately I was only able to find the abstract. It states:

An autobiography detailing the life of an American of Puerto Rican extraction from his childhood in New York City to an academic post at a university. Also, ponders his experiences in light of the history of rhetoric, the English Only movement, current socio-and psycholinguistic theory, and the writings of Gramsci and Freire, among others.

The other reading was Other People’s Children: Cultural Conflict in the Classroom by Lisa Delpit. Although I did not have the time to read the entire book in one week, I did manage to find an article that wrote a review and critical points about the book, which you can see by clicking here. I was amazed by what Delpit says and the points that she makes concerning students and their disconnect in the classroom because of language and writing as students of color. Delpit, “explores how teachers, especially those with ‘progressive’ teaching methods, need to examine how they are helping or impeding minority and low-income students’ access to the power that mainstream society and institutions have invested in ‘Standard’ English” (Harvard Review). What I found interesting was that Delpit recognized that in these situations, it’s not just racism that causes these issues, although it’s one of the main factors. She points out that it’s the ignorance of people who have power and privilege who always sees themselves differently from others with a blinded vision.

This inability is particularly destructive in classrooms where teachers view low-income and minority children as “other” and “see damaged and dangerous caricatures of the vulerable and impressionable beings before them. -Delpit, pg 13.

The Harvard Review sums up another main point of her book stating, “her thoughts about the failure of process writing approaches to provide minority and low-income students with access to the ‘code of power’ of ‘Standard’ English emerged from her own experiences as a classroom teacher committed to ensuring the success of African American children.” Delpit focuses on what teachers should be teaching students instead of teaching what they think should be taught. (In a more eloquent way of saying this would be from Delpit herself.) “It is important to teach our children to read and write, but it is more important to teach them to be proud of themselves, and of us” (Delpit, pg 89). Education should not overshadow or disconnect from a student’s culture and identity. What I realized is that so far my thesis seems to focus on how education, class, power, and language has, in fact, overshadow and disconnect a specific group (African Americans) from their culture and identity. I believe African Americans from the time they are students to whenever they finish school, has been stripped away from their power and pride when it comes to how language affected their lives and how that has passed on to the next generations or how it affects their life in general.

What Delpit wanted her readers and teachers to take away is, “classroom teachers lead the way to offering diverse groups the opportunity to learn about each other without the presumption of privilege or domination by any.” I thought this was such a powerful statement. This proposal was something I have never heard before coming from a scholar. This is the type of source I would love to use for my thesis. (I would have to double check first of course.)

I thought this was going to be difficult considering the potential I have for each of these styles. I was more focused on autoethnography since I took a memoir and women’s autobiography class during my undergraduate years. Before I reveal my final choice, let me show you my research.

*Warning: I did use Wikipedia for a lot of this research because I couldn’t find the material I needed but all articles used will be located at the end of the blog!*

Beginning with autoethnography, it is a form of qualitative research in which an author uses self-reflection and writing to explore anecdotal and personal experience and connect this autobiographical story to wider cultural, political, and social meanings and understandings. Sarah Well from the University of Alberta, Canada wrote “Easier Said than Done: Writing an Autoethnography” said this about autoethnography:

  • Autoethnography is an intriguing and promising qualitative method that offers a way of giving voice to personal experience to extend sociological understanding.
  • It emerged from the postmodern philosophy, in which the dominance of traditional science and research is questioned, and many ways of knowing and inquiring are legitimated autoethnography offers a way of giving voice to personal experience to advance sociological understanding.

Now a memoir is different from an autoethnography. A memoir is a historical account or biography written from personal knowledge or special sources. It’s a collection of memories that an individual writes about moments or events, both public or private, that took place in the subject’s life. I wondered what the difference between a memoir an a biography was. A biography or autobiography tells the story “of a life,” while a memoir often tells a story “from a life,” such as touchstone events and turning points from the author’s life. After reading what Wikipedia had to say, I decided to make a chart of memoirs and autobiographies that I have read. After making the chart, I did notice that these groups had different writing styles.

Memoirs Autobiography
Bastard out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison Just Kids by Patti Smith
Another BS Night in Suck City by Nick Flynn Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston
Why Be Happy When You Could be Normal? By Jeanette Winterson Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
The Liar’s Club by Mary Karr My Lord, What a Morning: An Autobiography (Music in American Life) by Marian Anderson
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coats
Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel
Night by Elie Wiesel
The Glass Castle: A Memoir by Jeanette Walls

Before I made my final decision, I stumbled across the genre of Narrative Inquiry. Narrative Inquiry is a way of understanding and inquiring into the experience through “a collaboration between researcher and participants, over time, in a place or series of places, and social interaction with milieus. (Clandinin and Connelly, 2000, p 20.) It uses field texts, such as stories, autobiography, journals, field notes, letters, conversations, interviews, family stories, photos (and other artifacts), and life experience, as units of analysis to research and understands the way people create meaning in their narratives. (Wikipedia). However, it is criticized for not being “theoretical enough.” Before reading about Narrative Inquiry, I wanted to write an autoethnography. Now, I seem to be stuck between the two. Autoethnography allows me to incorporate just enough theory to support the point of my thesis but not overbearing the creative process that goes along with writing it. Narrative Inquiry would allow my thesis to be multimodal, which is something I think is an excellent opportunity to take advantage of while writing this thesis.

The last prompt I was given for the week was to think of five specific moments in your family history that has to do with power/language/race/identity. After doing some digging, I had a difficult time finding only five specific moments, but then I had an idea. I figure it was an original idea and something that I think could turn into something pretty great. It may seem ambitious but here’s my idea:

  • Within my family, there are five different generations. Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials, and Generation Z. Within these five groups, I have the same amount of family members that I could speak to get the information I want for my thesis. I am interested in the different comparisons of power, race, language, and identity as they see it. Is there something that the Traditionalists went through concerning language that still effects someone from Generation Z? (It’s a far stretch for now.) My point is that since all five groups come from the same family, same culture, same language, it would be easier to compare and contrast and truly see how the oppression of African American language affects not only one person, but an entire family. There’s so much that could be done with the interviews and gathering research to formulate an interesting thesis. Also, this is something I am not only interested in but have become passionate about.

What’s Next?

Attempting to write an early proposal. 😬

Wish me luck!

Resources:

NarrativeInquiry

Diving into Autoethnographic Narrative Inquiry_ Uncovering Hidden

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Other Blogs!:

“At the Family Reunion! Who We Introducin’? Who We Introducin’?”

Thesis and a Whole Lot of Coffee!

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