Linda Alcoff is an inspirational and influential writer who grapples with ideas of race, gender, sexuality, and many more aspects of an individual’s identity. Her article The Problem of Speaking for Others has served as a starting point for me to explore diverse cultures. There were many quotes from the article that intrigued me and opened my eyes to the issues that speaking for others raises. I chose four that spoke to me because they addressed issues of privilege, authority, identity, and legitimacy.
“In particular, the practice of privileged persons speaking for or on behalf of less privileged persons has actually resulted (in many cases) in increasing or reenforcing the oppression of the group spoken for.”
“However, we must begin to ask ourselves whether this is ever a legitimate authority, and if so, what are the criteria for legitimacy? In particular, is it ever valid to speak for others who are unlike me or who are less privileged than me?”
“The criterion of group identity leaves many unanswered questions for a person such as myself, since I have membership in many conflicting groups but my membership in all of them is problematic. Group identities and boundaries are ambiguous and permeable, and decisions about demarcating identity are always partly arbitrary.”
“In other words, the claim that I can speak only for myself assumes the autonomous conception of the self in Classical Liberal theory–that I am unconnected to others in my authentic self or that I can achieve an autonomy from others given certain conditions.”
Alcoff’s assertion spoke to me in many ways.
“Rituals of speaking are politically constituted by power relations of domination, exploitation, and subordination…Simply put, the discursive context is its a political arena.”
This idea is always at the center of the classes that I take. Everything is so highly political. Writing in any form is political. It makes a statement and shows a particular point of view that others may or may not agree with. Everything needs to be said in a politically correct way and people need to present their ideas in a culturally appropriate and sensitive way. The concept relates to me specifically because I am an education major and when I am working with children I need to be very careful with what I say and need to make sure I am culturally aware.
David H. Richter is another author that inspired me throughout my process. In his piece Falling Into Theory, he explores literature and literacy and the function of schools as institutions. There were many quotes that spoke to me, but I chose four that were the most relatable to my purpose as a writer.
“The more one learns about literary history, the clearer it becomes that however fundamental these judgements were, they were not permanent at all; they were very much the judgments of a particular age” (p. 122).
“Literature, therefore, has an ecology that forbids unlimited expansion: when something is added, something else must go” (p. 123).
“Literary quality is simply a function of the current interests of the reading public; each public revises the short lists drawn up by publics of the past in accordance with its own cultural needs” (p. 126).
“The function of the school as an institution is no peripheral but central to the class structure of capitalist society. Schools not only train the young in the specific information and skills they need to operate in a utilitarian society under capitalism; they also reproduce the structure of that society by creating young heirs to take their places within the social hierarchy” (p. 133).
“The literary texts most widely read today are those read in schools, and teachers are likely to teach texts that were valued when they were students.” (125)
The last concept is extremely important to consider when teaching because the topics many teachers teach are irrelevant to their student’s lives. I want to become an educator in some form, so it is important that I always pay attention to the relevance of the topics I teach to my student’s lives. As times change, teachers need to alter the information they teach alongside the strategies they use to teach. The best and most meaningful way that students learn is through relating the information they learn in school to their own lives which is why it is so important for teachers to teach relevant material in their lesson plans.