Tuesday, April 27, 2010

True Education

I sat down for dinner with my father the other night at Chili’s. As we ate we talked, and he complimented my blogs. He says my writing is improving, but stays honest (critical) and tells me I still need to proofread better. Such is the life of a English teacher's son.

I have noticed an improvement in my writing and I feel that the blogs have contributed to that very much. Writing creatively at least on a weekly basis has made it much easier to get started on my essays. I will even admit that I have even begun to enjoy many of the assignments; when you enjoy what you’re doing you do it even better.

I have started to love writing even more because these blogs really bring my thoughts to life. I start to get into the writing and before I know it I am past the 500 word minimum. Before I would stress much more and do a word count about every 2 minutes. Writing is less about fighting the words and meeting all the requirements. I have started writing more because it is simply interesting.

The various assignments in this class have not only improved my interest in writing but also my skill and proficiency of writing. The group projects have helped me to communicate more fluently through the written word. I am much more comfortable communicating with people online through discussion boards and emails. The group projects essentially push you or force you to figure out how to communicate through an unfamiliar medium.

What I believe to be the greatest help in writing during this class was actually reading the chapter in our Exploring Language book about writing. The tips found in that chapter have proved to be indispensable in all of my writing projects. The two essays that stood out the most to me were Richard Lederer’s “The Case for Short Words” and Linda Flower’s “Writing for an Audience.” Lederer’s essay has spurred me to be more crisp and clear in what I write. Flower’s essay has made me think about the audience more and reminded me to consider what their knowledge, experiences and situations are when I write. This essay has only added to my intense love of the concept of context.

Not only does this improvement in my writing aid me in this class, but it also enriches many other areas of my life. Undoubtedly what I have learned through all of the reading and practice will improve my writing outside of the class. As a film-maker writing is something very important to me. Being able to shape stories through language will be a major key to my success. The creative assignments, especially the blogs, contribute the most to developing my story-telling skills.

Many of the critical thinking questions in the Exploring Language textbook have helped me to think of more stories because they ask for examples from personal situations. This often helps to give me an idea to write about as an example in my blog.Then the blog comments serve as a final step where I can receive feedback on my writing allowing me to adjust my style and tailor my writing to be more audience centered. As with all true education, the combination of these many elements work together to improve me.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Rediscover, Reflect, Reinvent

Where to begin on what I got out of reading "Reading Lolita in Tehran!" First I think I may need to preface this with a confession: I just finished reading the book two days ago. I am a slow reader. It took me five weeks to read what I should have in two! But, I don't really feel bad about it because I enjoyed reading it so much. I savored each page of the book. I learned from each little story, each little anecdote full of wisdom. I reconnected with the power of literature in this book. I took away the feeling of being human. The feeling of being able to survive through the worst of moments, like living in fear of dying from bombs and being harassed by morality police. I took away the strength to cope. I took away the ability to find beauty in every situation. One of the best lessons in this book is the lesson to look at things from a different perspective. Nafisi's magician kept telling her to think about how frustrated the government must be with her. Nafisi shares with us all of the different view point of all the girls in her reading group. She contrasts how all of the different girls, well women really, have different views about everything. This is just one of those human things, and that really connects into literature and that people are people and no matter what they are going to have their own thoughts and opinions. I also connected with the aspect of people being united against something too. The women in this novel are united against the strict rules of the government. I also took away lessons about complacency and how we in many ways allow other people to shape our lives. We allow them to have power over us. I think that lesson is really important for anyone, especially if you have concerns about the government and politics, which I do. It's really hard to find just one thing that I took away from this book, because this book is not packaged up in a nice little way that you can separate out all the elements and lessons and define them. This book is so intertwined and intermingled and messy that I just have to keep naming all the little things that it did for me. Just like Nafisi says near the end of the book, she can't write about Austen or Nabakov without writing about her life in Tehran. The lesson there is that context matters, that everything touches everything. Things affect us and become a part of us. We can't go through life without being affected. The places we go, the people we meet, even the random acquaintances, or the people you see once or twice become a part of you. What Nafisi teaches us is that we can take all of that and write it all down again and share it. Her lesson is about rediscovery and reflection and about reinvention. I took a lot away from this book, and I think it's a part of me now.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Social Pressure

I would have to agree with Harvey Silvergate’s view that “the first amendment should protect your right to say what you wish, but that you are not immune to what happens after that. You may be subjected to angry retorts, public shunning, and social pressure, but you should not be officially punished for your language.” Its pretty obvious that social pressure will always be much more effective at influencing what people say than official mandates or rules. Our natural tendency is to censor ourselves according to our social surroundings. If you walk into a church you’re not going to be shouting the f-word because you know that it would put you in a very uncomfortable and awkward situation. You wouldn’t try to tell a bunch of sexist jokes around a group of women or a bunch of racist jokes around people of that race. Being an offensive person is just not very socially acceptable so people will more naturally avoid it.
Hateful language eventually just fails because it is wrong and people either have personal conviction against it or are afraid of the social consequences. No one wants to be perceived as a bigot, so they avoid using words that would make them look like one. Undoubtedly the same may be true that when a group of people agrees that a racist or sexist attitude is okay that they won’t change their language, but this is usually only in the case that the group is very exclusive, and such language would most likely be limited to the group where it would feel safe to use such language but not in the whole of society.
Take for example the act of flag-burning. A lot of people are offended by someone burning the American flag. The fact that most people will hate you for burning the flag is a much bigger deterrent from burning the flag than if there were a law against it. Restrictive laws and rules about what you can or can’t say tend to bring out a rebellious nature in people that will make them just find a more creative way to avoid getting caught rather than convicting people that what they are doing is wrong. Usually rules don’t make you feel bad about what you did, the disapproval of people around is what can make you feel awful and seek to rectify the situation on your own.
So, leaving natural consequences to take care of things seems the simplest and smartest thing to do. Why put extra effort into tracking down all these offenders when they’re just going to end up learning their lesson on their own anyways? It just seems like a waste of resources to be out policing what people say. Let public opinion and social pressure be the censor, let people censor themselves accordingly if need be. People will because it helps them survive and fit in with their environment. Let people make their own battles and figure out what is appropriate to say or not say.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Read it.

Pour yourself a big cup of coffee, sit down and lose yourself in Reading Lolita in Tehran. This book is a wonderful window into another world. It tells a story of human struggle that anyone can identify with. It is bustling with relevant modern themes and timeless wisdom. The book eloquently weaves the political, religious and revolutionary settings together to create a world that is foreign and nightmarish, a startlingly real context in which its story can enfold. Above all this book is a work of art that sheds light on what it means to be a woman in the Islamic Republic of Tehran, and further more what it means to be human.
This book has special relevance in today's world. Iran is one of the most talked about Middle Eastern countries currently. The news is always a buzz about new developments in Iran. Most of these updates have to do with the alleged plans to build weapons of mass destruction. Iran usually comes up in the terms of a "what should we do about them" type of debate. Iran is primarily viewed as being a problem that the Western world has to deal with. Meanwhile we form our opinions about this country and its people in total ignorance. Most Americans have no idea what language the people of Iran speak much less anything relevant about the Iranian culture. As Americans we have little to no understanding of Iranian history, or about who the Shah was or what the Islamic Revolution is. This book is extremely relevant because it discusses these types of things.
Reading Lolita in Tehran gives us a look at the Islamic Revolution from the inside. It takes us into the lives of those affected by the change brought about by it. It gives us a radically new perspective on a familiar topic which we are ill informed about. This book discusses what happens when religion becomes a political force, or when political forces use religion. There is an extra layer of brilliance to this book being that it is from a woman's perspective and deals with the right's of women in a male-controlled society.
However more interesting than the politics discussed in this book is the discussion of literature. The book steers away from reality and politics and takes root in literature and philosophy. The book is much like reading the author Azar Nafisi's mind. We can hear her thoughts and musings about life through the words she writes. This is where the book excels. It is much like a diary and Nafisi is able to always maintain an intimacy with the reader.
I can definately recommend this book. It will challenge you. It will challenge you to peer into another world. It will challenge you to identify with human struggles. It will challenge your understanding of the Iranian people and culture. It will challenge you to think and ponder about politics, religion and revolution. It will challenge your ideals and your ideas. It will challenge you. Enjoy the challenge.