Some writers focus on the underlying problems of the educational system. Others focus on the difference in educational experiences that people from different backgrounds have. Still, there are those who attempt to tackle the experience of learning through the classroom and how this learning affects their development as individuals. Mike Rose, in his essay, “I Just Wanna be Average,” and Richard Rodriguez, in his work, “The Achievement of Desire,” focus on two prominent issues of education in society. The former tackles the problem of underachievement while the latter speaks of the cultural differences between the home and the school most especially for the working class children.
Both writers use their personal experiences as an example of the topic they are pursuing. Mike Rose recounts his experiences in vocational education in order to elaborate on the problems of such system. He uses his own underachievement to highlight how the system fails to inculcate and teach the students the proper skills and knowledge that will prepare them for working. Rose (2007) stated:
Vocational education has aimed at increasing the economic opportunities of students who do not do well in our schools. Some serious programs succeed in doing that, and through exceptional teachers…students learn to develop hypotheses and troubleshoot, reason through a problem, and communicate effectively – the true job skills. The vocational track, however, is most often a place for those who are just not making it, a dumping ground for the disaffected.
He points out that vocational education has been used in the way for which it was created but as a place to put students who seem to not have what it takes to pursue further studies.
On the other hand, Rodriguez makes use of his personal experience to discuss the life of a scholarship boy. More importantly, he tells his own story in order to explain how the differences in the culture of the school and of the home and how a student must make a choice between the two. Rodriguez explains how he, at first, tried to strike a balance between the two but later on chose to live the academic life. He essay describes his struggles as he was growing up in two different cultures. Rodriguez (2007) wrote, “A primary reason for my success in the classroom was that I couldn’t forget that schooling was changing me and separating me from the life I enjoyed before becoming a student.” He chose to turn back from his life at home and instead attempt to enter the culture of academics.
Although Rose and Rodriguez recounted their personal experiences in their essay, they utilized different styles. Rose told his story from his own eyes. He wrote things as he saw it before. He made no reference to theories or facts. On the other hand, Rodriguez was more scholarly in his essay. He utilized Hoggart’s description of a “scholarship boy” to explain his experiences. He focused more on explaining what a scholarship boy was and how it applied to him. Parts of his essay were devoted to Hoggart’s illustration of a scholarship boy. In contrast, Rose relied on his own experiences and self-realization alone. He did not provide scientific backing to explain the point he was trying to make. Instead, he explained his life and those people around him. He used his and other students’ experiences to emphasize the inadequacies of the educational system. These served as his facts. Basically, Rose was more personal in his writing.
The difference in styles of writing may be attributed to how Rose and Rodriguez differed in terms of the value they placed on books. Both authors were fond of reading. They both had interest in books. However, they diverged on what books and reading really meant to them. Rose loved books for it was his passion. He found enjoyment in reading. He used books as inspirations for his writing and for his basic understanding of life. He wrote:
Still it was a time during which I absorbed an awful lot of information: long lists of titles, images from expressionist paintings, new wave shibboleths, snippets of philosophy… Now this is hardly the stuff of deep understanding. But it was an introduction, a phrase book, a [travel guide] to a vocabulary of ideas, and it felt good at the time to know all these words. With hindsight I realize how layered and important that knowledge was. (Rose, 2007)
Rose found the courage to live life from the knowledge in the books he read. He was awed and inspired by the knowledge yet he acknowledged that there was more to it that having the knowledge alone. He needed to act on this knowledge by living his life. On the other hand, Rodriguez viewed books as the knowledge itself. The more books he read, the more he moved up the ladder of academic achievement. This achievement was all that mattered to him. Thus, books became a necessity. Rodriguez read because he felt he needed to. He needed books to feel as sense of achievement. Rodriguez (2007) wrote:
…Whatever I read I read for extra credit. Each time I finished a book, I reported the achievement to a teacher and basked in the praise my effort earned… I had the idea that they were crucial for my academic success, though I couldn’t have said exactly how or why.
It did not matter to Rodriguez what the book’s message really meant. The important thing was that he read and finished it because by doing so, he could add it to his list, a list of the books he has read. This list became the measure of his success and achievement. That is why it was so important for him to read. It was his gauge of knowledge, of what he thought education really meant.
Rose and Rodriguez both wrote about transition and realization. They recounted how their mindsets and lives changed. However, there lies a stark contrast in how each author’s life turned around. For Rose, he found himself moving from underachievement to a realization of what he could do. He wrote of how he moved from vocational education to college prep. More importantly, he explained how he, through the help of a teacher, gained knowledge and inspiration through books and literature. He discovered that he had the ability to move up in life. Rose (2007) said:
It enabled me to do things in the world. I could browse bohemian bookstores in far-off, mysterious Hollywood; I could go to the Cinema and see events through the lenses of European directors; and, most of all, I could share an evening, talk that talk, with Jack MacFarland, the man I most admired at the time. Knowledge was becoming a bonding agent.
He realized that what knowledge could give to him and how beneficial such knowledge was. On the other hand, Rodriguez’s realization was his desire for the past. He realized that despite of his attempts to move away from the lives that his parents lived, he still had the desire to go back to that life. All along he thought that his academic achievement would make him forget his old life only to realize that no matter how far the ladder of educational success he reached, he could only reach the end of it if he accepted the desire to go back home. At the end of his essay Rodriguez (2007) wrote:
It would require many more years of schooling (an inevitable miseducation) in which I came to trust the silence of reading and the habit of abstracting from immediate experience – moving away from a life of closeness and immediacy I remembered with my parents, growing older – before I turned unafraid to desire the past, and thereby achieved what had eluded me for so long – the end of education.
In the end, both Rose and Rodriguez came to a realization of what knowledge really meant to them and what knowledge they were seeking all along.
Mike Rose and Richard Rodriguez come from very similar backgrounds. They both come from working class families. Both their parents were inadequately educated. No one expected either to become successful. More importantly, no one expected either author to finish school but they proved them wrong. Coming from such backgrounds, Rose and Rodriguez chose different paths. Rose went through a phase of underachievement, of barely getting by. He did not think of his future until later on in his life. Rodriguez, on the other hand, knew what he had to do to move away from the culture he grew up in. At a very early age, he dedicated himself to the academic life for it was in this life that he saw the picture of success that he wanted and desired for. Each author underwent a different process of self-realization and self-discovery. Both authors wrote of this process in their essays to explain a problem with education. Rose used his story to highlight the inadequacies of vocational education and how it led to underachievement. Rodriguez told his tale to emphasize how differences between the culture at home and school can affect a working class child.
Rodriguez, Richard. “The Achievement of Desire.” Rereading America: Cultural Contexts for Critical Thinking and Writing. 7th ed. Ed. Gary Colombo. Boston, MA: Bedford/St Martins, 2007. pp. 194-206.
Rose, Mike. “I Just Wanna be Average.” Rereading America: Cultural Contexts for Critical Thinking and Writing. 7th ed. Ed. Gary Colombo. Boston, MA: Bedford/St Martins, 2007. pp. 162-173.