The Theme of Self-Education in Superman and Me by Sherman Alexie
What does it really mean to be self-educated? There are many different components of what it takes to be self-educated. In the case of Sherman Alexie’s Superman and Me, we see that self-education is not only just learning what a word is, and what a few letters thrown together looks like. Instead it is taking many of those things and conceptual ideas and applying them to everyday life. Something that people don’t really think about generally is that children do this a lot. They are like sponges absorbing information from everywhere around them. I agree with Alexie’s definition on education and what it means to be literate.
As told in Superman and Me by Sherman Alexie, learning to read is not hard once you become dedicated and find some interest in it. It helps that he was surrounded by all books because it somewhat “forced” him to have an interest in his surroundings. Alexie says, “Our house was filled with books. They were stacked in crazy piles in the bathroom, bedrooms and living room. … My father loved books, and since I loved my father with an aching devotion, I decided to love books as well.” (Alexie p. 15) You can say that Alexie’s role model was his father in the sense that he wanted to love what his dad loved. This helped spark the “love/fiery interest” of learning how to read and gaining an understanding of it. What’s crazy about this story is that to the outside world Alexie was considered poor, but his father understood what reading could do for a young child. Therefore he surrounded his children in books. Even if it wasn’t the newest book, it was still some type of pathway for greater knowledge.
Young children use a lot of context clues to make sense of their surroundings. Alexie states, “The words themselves were mostly foreign, but I still remember the exact moment when I first understood, with a sudden clarity, the purpose of a paragraph.” (Alexie p. 15) When he started reading he did not know what a paragraph was but using his context clues he was able to form an idea on what it was and what its purpose was. He said, “I realized that a paragraph was a fence that held words. … They had some specific reason for being inside the same fence.” (Alexie p. 16) It’s amazing to think that a child can come up with a thought so grand and novel like that. He wasn’t only able to keep this applied to just reading, but also to the life around him. This is a huge part of being educated, when you can use what you learn and apply it to an everyday thing. In the story, Alexie says, “I began to think of everything in terms of paragraphs. Our reservation was a small paragraph within the United States. My family’s house was a paragraph… Inside our house, each family member existed as a separate paragraph but still had genetics and common experiences to link us. … At the same time I was seeing the world in paragraphs…” (Alexie p. 16) This is the moment that everything comes together. The reading and the context clues and bigger ideas become a grand thought process that people are then able to apply to multiple situations.
Being educated and literate means to have a wide span of knowledge on many different things in life. Once you open a book, that’s one more word in your vocabulary bank that will help you understand the world even more. The phrase knowledge is power, is so true because once you can read, you can understand your rights as a citizen and this, to the men who created the country, can pose a huge threat against them. It allows for minorities to rise up and rebel. Alexie tells us, “A smart Indian is a dangerous person, widely feared and ridiculed by Indians and non-Indians alike.” (Alexie p. 17) The government doesn’t want minorities to be educated enough to understand the injustices they are dealt. This is when one knows that they are truly educated. Alexie refused to live up to society’s expectations of what he was suppose to be. Living in this box was not an option for him. He says, “We were Indian children who were expected to be stupid. Most lived up to those expectations inside the classroom but subverted them on the outside. … As Indian children, we were expected to fail in the non-Indian world. Those who failed were ceremonially accepted by other Indians and appropriately pitied by non-Indians.” (Alexie p. 18) He was determined to be successful at reading and began to have a love for it. Failing was not an option for him. He even said, “I refused to fail. I was smart. I was arrogant. I was lucky.” (Alexie p. 19) In this second to last paragraph he states fourteen times “I read…” There were many instances where he would just be eager to pick up anything with words on it and read. It became an addiction sort of. But the addiction wasn’t just for laugh and giggles, it was for something much greater than that. Alexie tells us that his reason for reading so much was, “I was trying to save my life.” (Alexie p. 19) At the end of the story he tells us that he is not only trying to save his life, but he is trying to save their (Indians) lives as well.
As we have seen being educated means gaining knowledge for a purpose bigger than oneself. When one can take what they have read and apply it to a bigger meaning in life, they have unlocked many doors for themselves in life. Hard work and dedication are two major factors for getting the most knowledge out of oneself as they possibly can. Alexie has definitely shown us what it means to be self-educated and have literacy about what was read.
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