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Power and Knowledge in Everyday Life
Power is a social influence that comes from education. Power impacts self-esteem, economic and social status, influence, and access. It is important to know where power comes from and what it impacts because power – in its use, misuse, or absence (powerlessness) – affects what is feasible and attainable throughout the spectrum of human activity.
As Barbara Mellix wrote in “From Outside, In,” the power of literacy enables one to “bring new selves into being, each with new responsibilities and difficulties, but also with new possibilities” (395). The power Mellix developed from her education enabled her to move “from outside in” – from a society in which she spoke a black English dialect to a society in which academic standard English was used.
Going to college was something Mellix had thought about for almost two decades, but had never done anything about because she was “afraid and a little embarrassed” about her lack of literacy skills (390). By going to college and taking advanced writing courses, Mellix used the power of literacy to reeducate herself about her use of black English and the use of proper academic English.
Mellix was proud of the business letters she wrote at her job at a health insurance company. She had educated herself about how to write those letters and her success at writing the letters boosted her self-esteem. The boost in her self-esteem empowered Mellix to think about a career that would be “better, more challenging, more important” (390). With her college degree, Mellix was able to go from a job writing business letters at a health insurance company to a teaching career. Mellix used her college education to surpass the economic and social status she might have expected to reach without a degree.
Andrea Fishman wrote in “Becoming Literate: A Lesson from the Amish,” that Eli Fisher, Jr., using the power of literacy, affiliated himself with the Amish society and identified himself as Amish (242). Affiliation and identification with the Amish was accomplished because Eli, Jr. was surrounded by specific sources of literature – all meant to reinforce Amish culture.
By being surrounded with standard Amish literature, Eli, Jr. learned to read and write and would finish his education in the 8th grade as all other children did in his Amish community. There were no essays requiring critical thinking skills or literature that would cause Eli, Jr. to think independently or differently than other Amish in his community. In this manner, the power of Eli, Jr.’s education impacted his affiliation in the Amish society in which he lived. Fishman wrote “Eli began to recognize and acquire the power of literacy, using it to affiliate himself with the larger Amish world and to identify himself as Amish” (242).
In “Complexion,” Richard Rodriguez described his life as a person whose dark skin affiliated him with a certain social rank and how an education raised his self-esteem and elevated his social status. About how education raised his self-esteem, Rodriguez wrote, “I often was proud of my way with words” (458). Rodriguez’s mother felt that an education would distinguish her dark-colored children from dark-colored laborers who were doing menial jobs due to lack of an education. His mother was glad he received an education and would not be affiliated with “the poor, the pitiful, the powerless” because of his heritage (448).
For these people, power came from their education and affected what they were able to accomplish: Mellix was able to boost her self-esteem and to better her economic and social status by going to college. Fisher’s power came from his Amish education that impacted his social status and his affiliation with the Amish society. Rodriguez used the power of his education to better his social status and increase his self-esteem. Power is a social influence that comes from education and that impacts self-esteem, economic and social status, and one’s affiliation with a group and the way in which society perceives one’s heritage.