got me a college girl

in celebration of formal education in the life of the Christian girl

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

On Pygmalion (Shanna)

For a class, I recently read an article* discussing the literacy narrative, a genre of autobiography that relates one’s process of acquiring language/education. In this particular study, the authors looked at George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion (or more familiarly, My Fair Lady).

Their topic:Pygmalion raises … questions about the nature of literacy education, about whether literacy can be acquired without institutional training, about the relationship between literacy and socialization, employment, and mobility, about the continuities and tensions between speech and writing, about the influence of popular and literary genres on literacy formation, and about the role of gender in the acquisition of schooled language.”

Their thesis: This is the great literacy myth: “Training in reading and writing [are] the skills necessary for the survival of modern culture as we know it.”

In other words, Literacy (or the education to gain literacy)=Success is a false idea.

In Shaw’s play, Eliza is reformed by Henry Higgins; he trains her to speak and behave like an educated woman. Those who purport education would say this training is helpful, necessary even, for Eliza’s developing of her talents and mind. But the authors of this article (and Shaw, possibly) disagree: “[Eliza’s] journey involves, as we have noted, a failure of memory, an erasure of origin … Henry leaves Eliza with no place in which to use literacy she has been compelled to acquire at Wimpole Street.”

So, the questions they raise for me are thus: Do the benefits of education (particularly for women) outweigh the negatives? Or even, are there negatives? Do uneducated people, as this article suggests, lose something in gaining literacy?

*Article: Eldred, Janet Carey and Peter Mortensen. “Reading Literacy Narratives.” College English, Volume 14, Number 5, September 1992. Pp. 512-39.


  • At 9:45 AM, Blogger michele said…

    Wow, I'm surprised no one has left a comment yet! This is actually a topic that Christians can sympathize with since we understand what it's like to change and not be able to fit into our old lifestyle but not sure where we should go from here. But just as a Christian would say the change was welcomed, I think those who really benefited from their education will feel the same way. And today, you really can't get too far without education.

  • At 10:45 AM, Blogger givengrace said…

    Yeah, I agree with you Michele.

    The class discussion this created surprised me; people do sympathize with the leaving behind aspects of education.
    One classmate mentioned that his old friends don't seem to have anything in common with him now; they can't talk about any of the same things.

    In Christian circles, I guess it's different because with or without education, believers share Christ.

    But then, even among Christians, there is a tendency to socialize with people who are like you. It's interesting.

  • At 5:12 AM, Blogger prairie girl said…

    I have been pondering this whole concept for the past few days and wonder if it is part of the motivation for why some groups are opposed to formal education. It seems that often those who are opposed to it, are also in their own social circles, and are quite content to stay there. For example, some of the more agrarian types who are opposed seem to be happy to remain within their own small, interdependent communities and perhaps they see education as a threat to them. What do you think?

  • At 3:38 AM, Blogger michele said…

    Maybe it's like: why are you doing something that we haven't done before? Why isn't what we have good enough? My father left his family farm to go into the Navy when he was a teenager. He saw no value in education and expected us my sister and I) to do what he did, get a job and leave the house. He fought me all the way and did not realize that I could get a better job if I were educated. He saw no value in it until I made more than him in a couple years of working.

    I think they are in a box and can't see the possibilities outside the box but the one who wants to be educated can see the possibilities and has to try to explain that to someone inside a box. It's a very hard situation to be in. We experience this as Christians, trying to share Christ with those who are in a box of their sin -- they can't see past the box to Christ. The more I think about the more I realize that the educated person is analogous to the Christian.


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