My Literacy History (a work in progress)
Peggy Semingson, Ph.D.
Dr. Semingson as an emergent reader ...as an independent reader
I have always been a reader and now I teach literacy studies to teachers. I truly love what I do and am passionate about literacy learning. I believe we need to know ourselves as readers--our histories, beliefs, and our own default assumptions about literacy learning that impact our current teaching methods (for better or for worse).
Here's how it all began. My twin sister and I were born in 1973, in Austin Texas, and grew up in Alaska during the Reagan-Thatcher cold war years, somewhat isolated from the "Lower 48" as we called it, growing up rough-and-tough, proud, and very independent. There was a kind of 'communal living' sense always present in Alaska. We showered at my aunt’s house and our water came from a nearby creek or we hauled it back in huge jugs from the local fire station. My grandma did my uncle’s laundry and sewed his clothes. My uncle, in turn, did car repair for everyone, and as small children, we helped with laundry on Saturdays at the Laundromat on the military base. My grandma often offered us practical advice, —advice that could have meant saving a finger from frostbite. For example, she would say things like, “If you lose your mittens, put your socks on your hands to keep them from freezing.” Those early lessons of family always stuck with me and even now, part of my values are a strong tendency to appreciate the ways that people work together to help each other out, without even thinking about it. We spent a deal of time at the public library in Fairbanks, Alaska and the North Pole Public Library during these early years. Everyone went to the library and we all gathered books and read together in one room. It was a quiet and peaceful time and something we all did together.
Left: My mom on Kodiak Island, twin sister (on back), and myself (the thumbsucker).
Earliest Years and Family Literacy
I read in the crib—anything they gave me, brows furrowed, trying to make meaning of pictures, not yet reading, of course, but clearly intrigued by the visual stimulus of “baby books”. My personal favorites as a toddler were the Golden Books: nursery rhymes, Tawny Scrawny Lion, etc. I cherished those classics. My twin sister and I loved Mother Goose compilations. I was a literal reader and a questioner and was puzzled—curds and whey? Putting thumbs in pies? It didn’t make a bit of sense but it was fun to read and I liked the rhymes.
The year was 1977; formal reading instruction began with Dick and Jane and my dad reading and rereading these tales of "family life" with Dick, Jane, Spot, Sally, and friends. I was excited I could "really read" those books. In school, I remember reading sight words and basal text: Sun Up and Together We Go told tales I read at the back table with peers and the teacher. I liked reading group.
Our mother often took us to the public libraries in the various cities of Alaska we lived in: Kodiak Island, North Pole, Fairbanks, and Anchorage. The Fairbanks library was a town gathering place. The library entertained us with books, movies, and arts and crafts. At the school library in elementary school, I was allowed to wander over and check out endless books and magazines, in addition to watching old movies on the reel-to-reel projector (documentaries about Jane Goodall were my favorite) and filmstrips on the Dukane projector. When I was a little girl, one day I proudly and matter-of-factly told my sister, “When I grow up, I’m going to be an author.”
I always had my nose in a book. Me with my step-dad when my mother was in graduate school in Eugene, Oregon. Books kept us busy while she worked on a Master's Degree in Speech Pathology in the early 80's.
In high school I read all the classics and most of the young adult section at the Tierrasanta Library, a suburb of San Diego. My sister and I read and compared thoughts on series books designed for teenage girls: Sweet Valley High, Sweet Dreams Romance, and The Girls of Canby Hall. My best friend and I read Sassy magazine (kind of an alt-Seventeen magazine), although I read my fair share of Seventeen, Teen, and more alternative, goth-music magazines: Propaganda, Carpe Noctem, and punk rock ‘Zines sold at dusty used bookstores in Pacific Beach and Adams Avenue in Kensington. Eventually, I turned to reading philosophy and heavy-themed books: Demian by Hesse, The Stranger by Camus, and a whole lot of Latin American novels (Mario Vargas Llosa) as well as contemporary European authors.
Sometimes we are drawn to books because they are available and accessible. Some books I liked were laying around the house; In addition to YA Fiction and the classic novels I also was fascinated by books about nutrition. I think it was because I found a copy of Eat Right to Keep Fit by Adelle Davis. I learned about FDA percentages of nutrients and what minerals to combine with what. I also greatly enjoyed reading nutrition books by Dick Gregory. Even now, I think nutrition books are the right interest for me because they combine applications of science, health, and personal improvement in a concrete way!
At UCSD and UCSB, I majored in philosophy—and ended up getting my teaching certification after that. I read a lot of ancient thinkers: Plato, Aristotle, and even older than that, attempting to learn about metaphysics, ethics, and logic—my favorite topics within the field. I was haunted by the question: How should we live our lives? and Why are we here? My sister and I took a class on Herman Hesse together, I read lots of feminist poetry, and decided I would be a schoolteacher, so I could spend my afternoons and evenings writing the great American novel. I spent most of those evenings writing lesson plans. As a graduate student, intrigued by the reading process, I spent a great deal of time reading and writing about reading in writing in pursuit of the Ph.D. at U.T. Austin. I learned about blogs in 2004 and have been blogging ever since. I find blogging to be a way to be expressive in addition to being able to be multi-modal by posting photos and other images to share with others. It's nice to write for a real audience on a variety of personal and professional topics. As an academic, my personal and professional interests are overlapping, so I can write here and 'try out new ideas'.
What do I read? I read the internet mostly. I read children’s books, young adult novels, and I read and write about reading and writing. I spend time visiting art museums. I am a member of the Kimbell and the Amon Carter. I find the visual to be fascinating--what can be said, expressed, and "read" without words.
I am reading:
I am writing:
BONUS SECTION! :)
Cultural Factors that have Impacted Me:
Many of my values are influenced by my strong sense
of place from the diverse places I have lived.
Above: What I'm reading now...a YouTube video!
Above: My participation in the UTA OneBook Club: A book talk about
Bill McKibben's Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future
For more information: http://www.uta.edu/uac/one-book/resources
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