• Prompts for Malcolm X’s “Homemade Education” and Amy Tan’s “Mother Tongue” (due end of day Wed, Sept 2)

  1. How does each writer begin his / her piece? With a metaphor? With an event? How does each end? Why are the beginnings and the endings important?
  2. Before or as you read think about the context for each piece (you don’t need to post a response to this question): Who is the audience for each (the original intended audience, most likely)? What’s the purpose of each piece? What are the historical events that bear on each piece? In the case of Malcolm X, when was the piece published? When was he assassinated? Why is this important? What autobiographical events in Amy Tan’s life have bearing on this piece she wrote?
  3. Think about the style of writing in each. How would you characterize Malcolm X’s writing style? What about Amy Tan’s style? Which kind of English does she write in, using her terminology?
  4. What did you take from these pieces in terms of the relationship of language and identity? Can you relate to them in any way?
  5. If you had to pose a question or point out an insight you had for the class about either of these pieces (or both), what would it be?

12 thoughts on “• Prompts for Malcolm X’s “Homemade Education” and Amy Tan’s “Mother Tongue” (due end of day Wed, Sept 2)

  1. 1- The beginning of Malcolm X’s piece is a situation in which he felt he needed a change. He ends the piece with the main message being that he wanted his reader’s to know the point of his piece. Amy Tan’s piece begins with an event of self-awareness. She ends with her personal triumph that was accomplished in which she had described throughout the piece. The way these are important is because it helps grab the reader’s attention to begin and it concludes the works by resolving loose ends that were created through the body of the pieces.

    2- Thoughts only.

    3- I think Malcolm X’s style of writing is similar to Amy Tan in that they are both simple to read and comprehend because they both did not come from strong English backgrounds.

    4- I personally cannot relate to either author’s story but my take away was that both of the author’s came from different backgrounds, with different outlooks, and different beginnings, however they both share the commonality that language is very important to them, which they came to realize as they grew up and faced difficulties from their lives.

    5- My question would be: What type of emotion do these pieces evoke from you? Sympathy? Empathy? Distaste? Idealism?

  2. Each writer begins their piece explaining their road to discovery regarding language and what it represents to them. It ends with Malcolm’s expression of gratitude regarding the importance of education and how it allowed him to “speak his thoughts”. In Tan’s case, she realized her “mother tongue” was not simply broken, but in one’s own way, a complex and beautiful mind unable to be understood by those who cannot see beyond their own limitations.

    Malcolm’s writing style uses alot of comparisons as to help his readers understand from multiple perspectives, the message about oppression throughout history. Amy’s use of multiple variations of the English language reflect her feelings about her experiences with language in a fairly casual and straightforward manner.

    I find that language barriers from one culture to another, in my case, an American born Korean to a Korean native such as my parents, serve as an obstacle in truly understanding them. Literal translations do not always reflect the speaker’s thoughts in the way they intended. In Malcolm’s experience, he struggled to communicate clearly and accurately his thoughts as an uneducated minority.

    If you had to pose a question or point out an insight you had for the class about either of these pieces (or both), what would it be?

    If everyone shared one unified and accepted language, removing all barriers of communication, would there be less conflict and more compassion despite cultural, regional and ethnic differences?

  3. 1. Both pieces began with a story from their past, that in a way started it all. Their beginnings are very important because it goes hand in hand with the end. Their endings state their view and ow their view/moment changed them and how they are now.

    3. Both of them use personal writing styles to explain their stories. Its’s not complex or over thought, its straight forward and personal. Something almost comparable to anyone who reads it, what I mean by that is, anyone who reads these passages can relate in one way or another or understand the writers view without experiencing it first hand. Like Amy Tans way of writing its something everyone can read and understand it in “their” English

    4. In terms of language and identity, yes I can relate to both writers, I have been in the position where I am reading a book and it completely changes how i feel, or think, or act. The language you read does effect you and sometimes even your identity, there have been people who have completely changed their lifestyles after reading an incredible book. To Amy I can relate in every way, both my parents are hispanic and were not raised here so they have strong accents and broken english. Although the laugh it off or get frustrated everything Amy went through, I’ve been through and when you reach a point where you don’t care about what others think of “your” english, its something amazing and I love speaking to my mom in her Spanglish.

    5. I guess my insight is I find it so amazing how one thing connects to another and so on. The language topic in these writings lead to controversial and great discussion topics. For example in “A Homemade Education” the whole topic about college, or in Amy’s the whole idea that her mother wasn’t taking seriously because her english was broken

  4. 1. The passage called “Mother Tongue” hooks the reader by personalizing the text with common metaphors. However, that is only the case according to a broad definition of the word metaphor. Technically, the idea of a metaphor can apply to such examples as “Language is the tool of my trade,” the author is conveying a summary of her aforementioned thoughts. This adds a sense of ease to the audience, for the clarity of the subject at hand. The monologue made the passage intriguing to start reading, because people love watching others put themselves on the spot; it projects a thrilling feeling.
    In Malcolm X’s piece, drawing in the audience proved itself to be an easy task. His usage of such words like “homemade education” and his excellence in having every present verb succeed his written I’s. He also began, like the other passage, with a description of some of his own characteristics. As a side note, this helped provide him enough credibility for one to proclaim such controversial thoughts during his days, namely, the awareness to view African Americans as true humans. Back to the beginning, he narrates a story to keep the readers attention.

    2. I did think about these questions seriously.
    3. Malcolm X writes as if he is speaking to you in person. Everything is first hand. The pronoun “I” is commonly used. This adds an informal tone to the text. I believe Malcolm X was trying hard to relate to his audience instead of clouding his practical ideas in high vocabulary. This is worth considering, due to the more awareness he demanded from the white community. Justice, in his eyes, was a permanent requirement for Malcolm X. The way he constructs his arguments is systematic in nature, because he backs up his claims about the “collective white man” with historical examples and present applications.
    Amy Tan, the author of “Mother Tongue,” is a narrative writer. She enjoys drawing a scene with descriptive words; she makes use of references to her mother; she takes her point and drags it along a pleasant road of stories; she used connections frequently for the reader to be drawn out of the text and learn her views. I also enjoy her extra care to create action verbs in many sentences.
    4. I read Malcolm X’s piece and I felt his passion for reading. I was inspired by his strive for mental life and activity. I even felt envy. They say envy only if you can envision yourself with whatever you feel envious to have. The author themed his writing with a pleasing and easy experience for the reader. That way, the passion can connect to the individual in unrestricted was, thus accomplishing his political goal. I can relate as someone who wants to progress in the world’s ladder of excellence. In this sense, I can positively affect everyone around me.
    Amy Tan made herself relatable with her family and experience with language conflict. Even though her mother seemed to be speaking gibberish, she sounded like a fluent language to her daughter. It was fascinating to know we can put our minds to the test with viewing many systems at play. I definitely felt engrossed in her story, which helps make the thought process similar. This way, the communication of the author’s ideas become real.
    5. If Malcolm X read so much knowledge of the oppression of the “collective non-white man,” then he would know practically why communities did what they did. I don’t see the intellectual capacity of correlating “the collective white man” and specific societal circumstances. For instance, many slaves of history preferred being enslaved and serve instead of being executed. Some cultures went even farther and said the slaves’ children must be slaves as well.

  5. 1) Both of these writers begin with a personal event and end with an impact of how reading and language has changed their lives. The opening of any story is crucial, it is what draws the reader into the world of the author. The way a story can end is also vital because it leads the reader to a conclusion about an author’s thoughts. For example, in Malcolm X, the author begins by explaining the event of his time in prison (learning how to read and write by using tablets and dictionaries). At the end of the story, the author explains how much he appreciated his time in prison and what knowledge he took from it. Tan’s story starts with how differently she talks in English with her mother and other people, struggle of her mother’s broken English and ends with a new language she had discovered, that maybe not only her but other immigrant families might have. This “broken” English brings her closer to her mother and gives her that lovable connection with her.
    3) Both articles convey a personal experience tailored towards a specific audience, however, both stories seem to have a different kind of audience. Tan’s story would seem to be more appealing towards an immigrant, specifically Chinese. Malcolm X’s story appears to be written so it is read by American Blacks. Tan has a unique writing style which has a tone that is clear and neat, by using her mother’s terminology, “simple English.” I had difficulty defining Malcolm X’s writing style, I would say an aggressive style.
    4) These pieces are about an importance of a better education and how English language has an effect on our lives. Although, neither of my parents speaks English, I can relate to Amy Tan’s story since English is not my first language. Pronunciation and accent are always struggles for non-native English speakers.
    5) If I had to point out an insight of Tans’ piece I would say, that immigrants who cannot speak English tend to be ignored to treat unequally by those who are fluent in English. For example, when Tan’s mother went to the hospital and didn’t get an apology until Tan had to speak with them.

  6. 1.Each writer begins their story with a personal event. At the end, both of them were glad to have gone through those personal experiences, which helped them to shape their personalities and their perspective on life. I believe that the beginning and the ending are important because they connect their reality and helps the reader understand authors’ standpoint.

    3.Both authors use descriptive writing. I would say that Malcolm X’s writing has a different degree of complexity than Amy Tan, which as she says, her writing “ is easy to read”.

    4.I especially related to Amy Tan’s story. Being a non native English speaker, I can understand the grind when she explains her mom’s expressive command of English belies how much she understands. Finding the right words and delivering them to a foreign audience, not always comes out so gracefully, as if you were speaking your native language.

    5. It always amazes me to get to know stories of people who overcome obstacles. In Amy Tan’s case, even though she was told that she wasn’t a good writer, she tried until she became a gifted storyteller. In regards Malcom X, without a formal education he became a man of unmatched eloquence, and made the most of his time in prison educating himself.

  7. 1. They both give a little introduction. “About Author” sections are important because they create a sense of authority when you know about the qualification of the author(s).

    2. Affirmative. Don’t need to answer this question.

    3. They both write like how I would talk… a lot. Actually, they was quite annoying to read.

    4. Both bring up the idea of a social identity. A social IDENTITY is define by the group. Different groups value things differently… otherwise they would be the same group. LANGUAGE evolves to represent the value that the users need express their ideas.
    Yes. I am not sure how you can avoid connecting them.
    Use of Language = Communication = Interaction with Another = Interaction in a Group = Creating a Social Identity

    5. Hmm… well, I would rather ask something everyone can answer that complements the Texts.
    What is one word or term that you use in a group that most others outside the group will not understand?
    These words and terms belong to a Lexicon. Use and comprehension of a lexicon marks you as an insider or outsider.

  8. 1. Both writers start off their stories with an event. Tan starts her story talking about how she talks different Englishes with different people. She ends her story by talking about how much of an impact her mother had on her Englishes and how her mother cause her to change her style. X starts off by talking about how he desired to learn more words and become smarter because of another inmate in the prison he was in. He ends it relating it back to his experience in prison and how he was in a sense thankful for being there.

    3. Both works are written with a simplistic style of writing. Tan calls her style “simple” and X’s style is very similar. They are both easy to ready and easy to understand because of the backgrounds they come from.

    4. Both of these works talk about the importance of the English language. X uses English to try to become more intellectual and Tan had to use different Englishes depending on the person she was talking to or writing to. I can relate to both of these stories in different ways. X talks about how he learned more in prison than he would have learned if he didn’t go to college. When I graduated high school I didn’t go to school right away, I waited and worked. I think I learned more in my work experiences than I can learn in any classroom in school. When I was working I had to adapt how I spoke to each customer differently. In a sense it was different Englishes. This relates to how Tan explained she spoke different Englishes to different people.

    5. The title of Malcom X’s work is very unique and interesting, “A Homemade Education.” What are your thoughts about it?

  9. 1) Both X and Tan begin their piece much differently. For instance, in X’s first paragraph he lets the reader know the reason for his going back to “school”. In this sense, teaching himself how to read and write. He begins his text by stating that “It was because of my letters that I happened to stumble upon starting to acquire….I became increasingly frustrated at not being able to express what I had wanted to convey in letters that I wrote.” X further states that he was envious of Bimbi who “had always taken charge of any conversation he was in, and I tried to emulate him.” Alternatively, in Tan’s piece, she states that she is not a scholar of English or literature—that she is only a writer. Also, Tan begins her piece with a metaphor. She states that she has always loved language and “the way that it can evoke an emotion, a visual image, a complex idea, or a simple truth.”

    3) Both X’s and Tan’s styles of writing differ due to life experience. In X’s writing, he uses a myriad of examples and continuously makes reference to his past. Tan’s writing although it makes reference of her past, seems focused on one particular aspect/person of her past—her mother. It focuses on the difficulty her mother has with English and how that in turn might have caused her to become a writer as opposed to having a career in math or science. Both pieces seem to target different audiences, too. Tan’s audience would primarily be first generation Chinese and immigrants as a whole; meanwhile, X’s audience focuses on American Blacks.

    4) Both pieces underscore the importance of language and identity. For Tan, her mother’s inability to speak English well clearly still affects her internally. For X, he uses language as a tool. With his tool he is able to galvanize people. With respect to both texts, I am not partial to one over the other. Both my parents are Nigerian and both have accents. However, they are both very educated, too. They speak perfect English and write well. Alternatively, with respect to X’s piece, I can relate due to both of us Black Americans or as X puts it “non-European people.”

    5) If I were to pose a question for that class, my question would be as follows: Would you consider both Tan’s and X’s experience to be a common one in America today? If so, how? If not, why?

  10. 1. Each writer begins their piece with a personal recollection of an event involving a mentor. Both end by looping back to the introduction. They’re significant because the introduction indicates the subject matter, but somewhere in between the beginning and the conclusion, you can see the process in which the author reflects and comprehends how that particular event affected and changed them.

    2. I believe that Tan’s piece is probably directed towards her readers/fans. The Threepenny Review being a literary magazine, it makes sense that Tan would share this piece with people who have an affinity towards reading and the use of language. At the same time, it is also eye opening for anyone who has ever passed a judgment on someone else because of their accents.

    Malcom X began writing this piece when he was an influential member of the Nation of Islam, which can explain the harsh, non-nuanced tone towards the “white man”. It was probably intended to influence his peers. The surprise of the book comes later, as he converts to orthodoxy only 2 years before his assassination (the Internet tells me the book was not yet finished when he died). Again, the writing shows a process in which the author seems to discover truths about himself as he goes along.

    3. Tan says she writes in stories in “simple” English, which conveys more passion and humility, in my humble opinion, than if she wrote with 100-dollar words. I have a hard time defining Malcom X’s style, other than “a little harsh, perhaps?” Shall l add “with reason”?

    4. Amy Tan’s piece especially engaged me as English is not my first language. As a French-speaking person living in an English-speaking country, I can relate to the struggles and preconceived perceptions that people have towards people with accents, and quite honestly, that I still have from time to time towards peers. I could also relate to the little box in which schools and authoritative figures tend to put young people in – dare not break away from the mold, as it will be frowned upon.

    5. If applicable, how does prejudice affect your everyday life; is it a source of inspiration or a source of discouragement?

  11. 1. Both of these writers each begin their pieces with an event, establishing humility in both of their characters. They both use the same approach, making them seem genuine in their persona. By the end of each piece, both writers emphasize how important language and reading is to their lives and to their pieces.
    2. I think in many ways, both Tan and X have a similar style of writing, they both use language that is easily readable and relatable to the reader. And even more so, its because of the way each of them were raised that they do this. X was not raised in a formal setting and Tan was raised with simple english so they both make their pieces understandable to common readers.
    3. While both pieces were similar, I think each was important in very different ways. X was raised without any of the knowledge he acquired in prison. He did not realize the importance of language until a later age then Tan did. Tan grew up knowing better then X did, she went to school and college and was raised with knowledge around her. And from living with her mother, she knew the effect of language from a young age. It was at home that Tan realized there was more knowledge to be learned then what you could learn in school. Tan’s writing spoke to me personally, since I was raised with a mother who’s first language was not English. My mother actually speaks English very well, but growing up we always spoke to each other in Spanish and for a while I resisted it until I reached a later age.
    4. I would like to know if there are other classmates who also grew up with parents who spoke different languages, and how they think it helped shape who they are today, do they think it would have been better if their parents spoke perfect English or it would it not make a difference?

  12. 1. Tan and X both start with an event, but interestingly those are preceded by some very telling and stage-setting emotions. X ends with a metaphor, as “books” represent his entire education (although that is somewhat literal too). Tan concludes in a similar fashion where both “English” and “language” are cultural and cognitive representations. Beginnings and endings are often the most memorable parts of any human experience.

    3. I’d characterize X’s style as a mix of formal and colloquial. Tan calls her style “simple,” what a perfect translation of her mother’s internal language might be. They both convey a tremendous amount of honesty and vulnerability.

    4. Both Tan and X felt hindered in societies that valued traditional education as well as the expression of that education. For Tan, language created a superficial barrier for Asians and Asian Americans, yet that language was actually a very accurate representation of their internal processes. X disliked the feelings of not knowing and not being able to know. To X’s point, I have felt limited around conversations about unfamiliar topics. To Tan’s point, while spending years living in Washington Heights, I have both spoken and thought to myself in Dominican English and Spanish. Neither of those dialects are academically correct. But from a cultural standpoint, one that most truly portrays who the people are, those forms are perfect.

    5. Both pieces make me think of the Ebonics movement in Oakland. X’s piece relates it to the importance of Black identity and culture, while Tan’s piece gives validity and credibility to the “broken” or incorrect English. This fascinates me.

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