one paragraph of 5-10 sentences
Step by Step Method for Summary Writing*
1. Look at your annotations. Skim over any marginal notes that identify the main point of a
paragraph or section. Make a list of the main points. (If you skipped annotating for any
reason, you will quickly discover how difficult it is to write a summary without a thorough
understanding of the reading. You’ll have to go back and reread, annotating carefully.)
2. Make a list of all the key terms. This will jog your memory about important points and give
you some terminology to use in our summary.
3. Draft a summary of the central idea and main points. Cover up the text so you can’t see it.
Then, in your own words, write down a sentence or two that states the main idea (thesis) of
the text. Once you have something written down, look back at the text and see how well you
got the the author’s main idea across and if you have forgotten anything. Skim through your
annotations or use your list of main points, and restate the main points in your own words.
Look at your list of key terms for ideas of what else to include.
Read your summary over several times to make sure you have included all the main
points, have not included details or examples, and have put the author’s ideas into your own
words. Check to be sure you haven’t included your own thoughts or opinions. Add and delete
as needed until you feel confident about your summary paragraph.
4. Write an introductory sentence. In your introductory sentence, mention the author’s full name
and the full title of the original text with a very general statement about the purpose of the text.
It might sound something like this:
In her article “The Perils and Promises of Praise,” Carol S. Dweck presents research on
how to praise students appropriately to help them become motivated learners.
5. Reread and revise. Read over and revise your summary a few more times so that it reads
smoothly, makes sense, and is entirely in your own words. Try reading it out loud, too, to catch
any errors you might have made. Realize that everyone will summarize a reading slightly
differently, though all summaries should include the same major points.
*Reproduced with slight modifications from Green and Lawlor, Read, Write, Connect, second
edition, Bedford St. Martins (2016).

Write a one-paragraph summary of a text by doing
the following:

● Include the author, title, and main idea of the
article in the first sentence of your summary.
● Use the 5Ws + H (who, what, when, where,
why, and how) to present the main ideas of the
● Do not include secondary details.
● Paraphrase the author’s words rather than
copying them. If you use any exact wording
from the article, be sure to put those words in
quotation marks. However, because
summaries are typically short, there should be
very little quoting, if any at all.
● Do not include your own opinions.
● Use transition words to connect the information
in a logical order. If there is a particular
chronology of information in the text, maintain
that order.
Transition Words in Sequence
first > next > then > finally
first > another > finally
first of all > besides > in addition
first of all > in addition > another > finally
one > another > finally
one > one other > along with > last
to begin > at the same time > finally

Helpful Verbs for Summaries
acknowledges discusses
advises explains
asserts explores
compares identifies
contrasts investigates
critiques illustrates
defines presents
demonstrates recommends
describes suggests
Steps to Writing an
Effective Summary

Step 1 Highlight the most important
points in the article.

Step 2 Without looking at the article,
make a brief outline of the most
important points. Once you have
written those main ideas in your own
words, you can refer to the article to
make sure that the information that you
wrote down is accurate.

Step 3 Mention the author, the specific
genre (book, article, etc.), and the title
of the article in your first sentence.

Step 4 State the topic of the article and
the main idea in the first sentence of
your summary.

Step 5 Include only the most
important points and supporting details.

Step 6 Paraphrase the author’s ideas
rather than copying sentences, but be
sure to include some of the key
vocabulary used in the article.

Step 7 Don’t include your personal
opinions or experiences.

Step 8 Present the ideas in the order in
which they were discussed in the
reading selection and preserve the
original balance of information.

Step 9 Introduce the author’s key
points with citation verbs using the
present tense (e.g., the author points
out, the writer mentions, Gable

Step 10 Use transitional expressions to
make connections between ideas.
furthermore, finally).


In the article / essay “____________________________,” the author ,____________________,
(title of article or essay) (author’s name)
_______________________ [that] ___________________________________________________.
(Choose a verb from the list below) (Describe the main point the writer makes. Include some of the 5Ws.
DO NOT include your opinion or specific examples from the text.)
Useful Verbs for Summaries:

explores explains proposes demonstrates recommends
identifies discusses suggests illustrates presents
defines describes argues compares advises
acknowledges contrasts critiques asserts investigates
Peer Review Survey:

Work with a partner to revise your summaries. Read through your partner’s summary carefully. Write
“yes” or “no” in response to each of the following questions, and create a list in response to #9:

1. Does the writer include the author’s name in the first sentence of the summary?
2. Does the writer include the title of the essay in the first sentence of the summary?
3. Is the title in quotation marks?
4. Does the first sentence clearly state the main idea of the article?
5. Does the writer include all of the important ideas or supporting points from the essay?
6. Does the writer use his/her own words?
7. Does the writer keep his/her own opinions out of the summary?
8. Does the writer use clear grammar and punctuation in the summary? (Please help your
partner edit if you see errors)
9. Make a list of TO DOs for your partner based on anything he/she needs to revise from
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Write a one paragraph summary of 5 to 10 sentences of either Richard Rodriguez’ “The Achievement
of Desire,” or John Gatto’s “Against School.” The summary should be typed, double spaced, in 12
point type with one inch margins.
Be sure to carefully read the Summary Handout document as well as the Step by Step Method for
Writing Summaries, attached below and also available as separate documents in the Education
module on Canvas.
Summary Handout .pdf
Step by Step Method for Summary Writing.pdf

The Achievement of Desire: Personal Reflections on Learning “Basics”
Author(s): Richard Rodriguez
Source: College English, Vol. 40, No. 3 (Nov., 1978), pp. 239-254
Published by: National Council of Teachers of English
Stable URL:
Accessed: 10-06-2020 20:57 UTC

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Vol. 40, No. 3 * NOVEMBER 1978
The Achievement of Desire:
Personal Reflections on
Learning “Basics”
NOT LONG AGO in a ghetto classroom, I attempted to lecture on the mystery of the
sounds of our words to a roomful of diffident students. (” ‘Sumer is i-cumen in. …’
The music of our words. We need Aretha Franklin’s voice to fill plain words with
music-her life. Don’t you hear it? Songs on the car radio. Listen!”) In the face of
their empty stares, I tried to create an enthusiasm. But the girls in the back row
turned to watch some boy passing outside. There were flutters of smiles, blushes of
acne. Waves. And someone’s mouth elongated heavy, silent words through the bar-
rier of glass. Silent words-the lips.straining to shape each voiceless syllable: “Meet
meee late errr.” By the door, the instructor kept smiling at me, apparently hopeful
that I would be able to spark an enthusiasm in the class. But only one student
seemed to be listening. A girl around fourteen. In that grey room her eyes glittered
with ambition. She kept nodding.and nodding at all that I said; she even took notes.
And each time I asked the class a question, she jerked up and down in her desk, like
a marionette, while her hand waved over the bowed heads of her classmates. It was
myself (as a boy) I saw as she faced me (now a man early in my thirties).
I first entered a classroom unprepared and barely able to speak English. Twenty-
one years later, I concluded my studies in the stately quiet of the reading room of
the British Museum.
Richard Rodriguez was educated in Catholic primary and secondary schools in Sacramento, California, before moving
on to Stanford. He studied as a graduate student at Columbia, the Warburg Institute in London, and the University
of California at Berkeley. He is now writing a book of essays on the meaning of education to be titled Toward Words
and to be published next year by Knopf. “The Achievement of Desire” is a version of a part of a chapter of this book.
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Thus with two sentences, I can outline my dramatic academic career. It will be
harder to summarize what sort of life connects both of these sentences. For though I
was a very good student, I was also a very bad student. I was a “scholarship boy,”1
a certain kind of scholarship student. Always successful. Always unconfident.
Exhilerated by my progress. Yet sad. Anxious and eager to learn-the prized stu-
dent. Too ambitious, too eager-an imitative and unoriginal pupil.
Certain factors important for my success are easy enough to mention. In the first
place, my older brother and sister were very good students; they influenced me.
(They brought home the bright, shiny trophies I came to want.) And, I attended an
excellent grammar school. (Due to a simple geographical accident, our house in
Sacramento neighbored one of the wealthiest sections of town; I went to a school, as
a result, where I was the only “problem student” in class.) And, my mother and
father always encouraged me. (At every graduation, they were behind the stunning
flash of the camera when I turned to look at the crowd.)
As important as these factors were, however, they inadequately account for my
advance. Nor do they suggest what an odd success I managed. Only moderately
intelligent, I was highly ambitious, eager, desperate for the goal of becoming “edu-
cated.” My brother and two sisters enjoyed the advantages I had and were success-
ful students, but none of them ever seemed so anxious about their schooling. I alone
came home, when a new student, for example, and insisted on correcting the “sim-
ple” grammar and pronunciation mistakes of our parents. (“Two negatives make a
positive!”) Regularly, I would ask my parents for help with my homework in order
to be able to pull the book out of their hands, when they were unable to help me,
and say, “I’ll try to figure it out some more by myself.” Constantly, I quoted the
opinions of teachers and trumpeted new facts I had learned. Proudly, I announced
in my family’s surprised silence-that a teacher had said I was losing all trace of my
(Spanish) accent.
After a few months, I outgrew such behavior, it’s true. I became more tactful.
Less obvious about my ambitions. But with always-increasing intensity, I devoted
myself to my studies. There never seemed enough time in a day “to learn”-to
memorize-all that I wanted to know. I became bookish, a joke to my brothers, and
puzzling to my parents. (“You won’t find it in your books,” my brother would sneer
when he often saw me reading; my father opened a closet one day and found me
inside with my books.) Such ambitions set me apart, the only member of the family
who deserved the pejorative label of scholarship boy.
What I am about to describe to you has taken me twenty years to admit: The
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 had enjoyed before becoming a student. (That
simple realization!) For years I never spoke to anyone about this boyhood fear, my
guilt and remorse. I never mentioned these feelings to my parents or my brothers.
Not to my teachers or classmates. From a very early age, I understood enough, just
enough, about my experiences to keep what I knew vague, repressed, private, be-
neath layers of embarrassment. Not until the last months that I was a graduate
student, nearly thirty years old, was it possible for me to think about the reasons for
‘For reasons of tone and verbal economy only, I employ the expression, scholarship boy, throughout
this essay. I do not intend to imply by its usage that the experiences I describe belong to or are the
concern solely of male students.
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The Achievement of Desire: Personal Reflections on Learning “Basics” 241
my success. Only then. At the end of my schooling, I needed to determine how far
I had moved from my past. The adult finally confronted-and now must publicly
say-what the child shuddered from knowing and could never admit to the faces
which smiled at his every success.
At the end, in the British Museum (too distracted to finish my dissertation), for
weeks I read, speed-read, books by sociologists and educationists only to find in-
frequent and brief mention of scholarship students, “successful working-class stu-
dents.” Then one day I came across Richard Hoggart’s The Uses of Literacy and saw,
in his description of the scholarship boy, myself. For the first time I realized that
there were others much like me, and I was able to frame the meaning of my
academic failure and success.
What Hoggart understands is that the scholarship boy moves between environ-
ments, his home and the classroom, which are at cultural extremes, opposed. With
his family, the boy has the pleasure of an exuberant intimacy-the family’s consola-
tion in feeling public alienation. Lavish emotions texture home life. Then at school
the instruction is to use reason primarily. Immediate needs govern the pace of his
parents’ lives; from his mother and father he learns to trust spontaneity and non-
rational ways of knowing. Then at school there is mental calm; teachers emphasize
the value of a reflectiveness which opens a space between thinking and immediate
It will require years of schooling for the boy to sketch the cultural differences as
abstractly as this. But he senses those differences early. Perhaps as early as the night
he brings home some assignment from school and finds the house too noisy for
He has to be more and more alone, if he is going to “get on.” He will have, probably
unconsciously, to oppose the ethos of the hearth, the intense gregariousness of the
working-class family group. Since everything centres upon the living-room, there is un-
likely to be a room of his own; the bedrooms are cold and inhospitable, and to warm
them or the front room, if there is one, would not only be expensive, but would require
an imaginative leap-out of the tradition-which most families are not capable of mak-
ing. There is a corner of the living-room table. On the other side Mother is ironing, the
wireless is on, someone is singing a snatch of song or Father says intermittently whatever
comes into his head. The boy has to cut himself off mentally so as to do his homework as
well as he can.2
The next day, the lesson is as apparent at school. There are even rows of desks. The
boy must raise his hand (and rehearse his thoughts) before speaking in a loud voice
to an audience of students he barely knows. And there is time enough and silence to
think about ideas (“big ideas”) never mentioned at home.
Not for the working-class child alone is adjustment to the classroom difficult.
Schooling requires of any student alteration of childhood habits. But the working-
class child is usually least prepared for the change. Unlike most middle-class chil-
dren, moreover, he goes home and sees in his parents a way of life that is not only
different, but starkly opposed to that of the classroom. They talk and act in pre-
cisely the ways his teachers discourage. Without his extraordinary determination
2Richard Hoggart, The Uses of Literacy (London: Chatto and Windus, 1957), p. 241.
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and the great assistance of others-at home and at school-there is little chance for
success. Typically, most working-class children are barely changed by the class-
room. The exception succeeds. Only a few become scholarship students. Of these,
Richard Hoggart estimates, most manage a fairly graceful transition. They somehow
learn to live in the two very different worlds of their day. There are some others,
however, those Hoggart terms scholarship boys, for whom success comes with
awkwardness and guilt.
Scholarship boy: good student, troubled son. The child is “moderately endowed,”
intellectually mediocre, HIoggart suggests-though it may be more pertinent to note
the special qualities of termperament in the boy. Here is a child haunted by the
knowledge that one chooses to become a student. (It is not an inevitable or natural
step in growing up.) And that, with the decision, he will separate himself from a life
that he loves and even from his own memory of himself.
For a time, he wavers, balances allegiance. “The boy is himself (until he reaches,
say, the upper forms) very much of both the worlds of home and school. He is
enormously obedient to the dictates of the world of school, but emotionally still
strongly wants to continue as part of the family circle” (p. 241). Gradually, because
he needs to spend more time studying, his balance is lost. He must enclose himself
in the “silence” permitted and required by intense concentration. Thus, he takes the
first step toward academic success. But a guilt sparks, flickers, then flares up within
him. He cannot help feeling that he is rejecting the attractions of family life. (There
is no logic here, only the great logic of the heart.)
From the very first days, through the years following, it will be with his
parents-the figures of lost authority, the persons toward whom he still feels intense
emotion-that the change will most powerfully be measured. A separation will un-
ravel between him and them. Not the separation, “the generation gap,” caused by a
difference of age, but one that results from cultural factors. The former is capable of
being shortened with time, when the child, grown older, comes to repeat the refrain
of the newly adult: “I realize now what my parents knew. …” Age figures in the
separation of the scholarship boy from his parents, but in an odder way. Advancing
in his studies, the boy notices that his father and mother have not changed as much
as he. Rather, as he sees them, they often remind him of the person he was once,
and the life he earlier shared with them. In a way he realizes what Romantics also
know when they praise the working-class for the capacity for human closeness, qual-
ities of passion and spontaneity, that the rest of us share in like measure only in the
earliest part of our youth. For Romantics, this doesn’t make working-class life chil-
dish. Rather, it becomes challenging just because it is an adult way of life.
The scholarship boy reaches a different conclusion. He cannot afford to admire
his parents. (How could he and still pursue such a contrary life?) He permits himself
embarrassment at their lack of education. And to evade nostalgia for the life he has
lost, he concentrates on the benefits education will give him. He becomes an espe-
cially ambitious student. “[The scholarship boy] tends to make a father-figure of his
form master” (p. 243), Hoggart writes with the calm prose of the social scientist. His
remark only makes me remember with what urgency I idolized my teachers.
I began imitating their accents, using their diction, trusting their every direction.
Any book they told me to read, I read-and then waited for them to tell me which
books I enjoyed. I was awed by how much they knew. I copied their most casual
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The Achievement of Desire: Personal Reflections on Learning “Basics” 243
opinions; I memorized all that they taught. I stayed after school and showed up on
Saturdays in order “to help”-to get their attention. It was always their encourage-
ment that mattered to me. They understood exactly what my achievements entailed.
My memory clutched and caressed each word of praise they bestowed so that, still
today, their compliments come quickly to mind.
I cannot forget either, though it is tempting to want to forget, some of the scenes
at home which followed my resolution to seek academic success. During the crucial
first months, the shy, docile, obedient student came home a shrill and precocious
son-as though he needed to prove (to himself? to his parents?) that he had made the
right choice. After a while, I developed quiet tact. I grew more calm. I became a
conventionally dutiful son; politely affectionate; cheerful enough; even-for reasons
beyond choosing-my father’s favorite. And in many ways, much about my home
life was easy, calm, comfortable, happy in the rhythm of the family’s routine: the
noises of radios and alarm clocks, the errands, the rituals of dinner and going to bed
in flannel pyjamas.
But withheld from my parents was most of what deeply mattered to me; the
extraordinary experience of my education. My father or mother would wonder:
“What did you learn today?” Or say: “Tell us about your new courses.” I would
barely respond. “Just the usual things. . . .” (Silence. Silence!) In place of the
sounds of intimacy which once flowed easily between us, there was the silence.
(The toll of my guilt and my loss.) After dinner, I would rush away to a bedroom
with papers and books. As often as possible I resisted parental pleas to “save lights”
by coming to the kitchen to work. I kept so much, so often to myself. Sad. Guilty
for the excitement of coming upon new ideas, new possibilities. Eager. Fascinated. I
hoarded the pleasures of learning. Alone for hours. Enthralled. Afraid. Quiet (the
house noisy), I rarely looked away from my books-or back on my memories.
Times when relatives visited and the front rooms were warmed by Spanish sounds,
I slipped out of the house.
It mattered that education was changing me. It never ceased to matter. I would
not have become a scholarship boy had it not mattered so much.
Walking to school with classmates sometimes, I would hear them tell me that
their parents read to them at night. Strange-sounding books like Winnie the Pooh.
Immediately, I asked them: “What is it like?” But the question only confused my
companions. So I learned to keep it to myself, and silently imagined the scene of
parent and child reading together.
One day-I must have been nine or ten years old at the time-my mother asked
for a “nice” book to read. (“Something not too hard that you think I might like.”)
Carefully, I chose one. I think it was Willa Cather’s My Antonia. But when, several
weeks later, I happened to see it next to her bed, unread except for the first few
pages, I was furious with impatience. And then suddenly I wanted to cry. I grabbed
up the book and took it back to my room.
“Why didn’t you tell us about the award?” my mother scolded-though her face
was softened with pride. At the grammar school ceremony, some days later, I felt
such contrary feelings. (There is no simple roadmap through the heart of the schol-
arship boy.) Nervously, I heard my father speak to my teacher and felt my familiar
shame of his accent. Then guilty for the shame. M’Iy instructor was so soft-spoken
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and her words were edged clear. I admired her until it seemed to me that she spoke
too carefully. Sensing that she was condescending to them, I was suddenly resent-
ful. Protective. I tried to move my parents away. “You must both be so proud of
him,” she said. They quickly answered in the affirmative. They were proud. “We
are proud of all our children.” Then, this afterthought: “They sure didn’t get their
brains from us.” I smiled. The three of them laughed.
But tightening the irony into a knot was the knowledge that my parents were
always behind me. In many ways, they made academic success possible. They
evened the path. They sent their children to parochial schools because “the nuns
teach better.” They paid a tuition they couldn’t afford. They spoke English at
home. (“/Hablanos en English!”) Their voices united to urge me past my initial resist-
ance to the classroom. They always wanted for my brothers and me the chances
they never had.
It saddened my mother to learn about Mexican-American parents who wanted
their children to start working after finishing high school. In schooling she recog-
nized the key to job advancement. And she remembered her past. As a girl, new to
America, she had been awarded a diploma by high school teachers too busy or
careless to notice that she hardly spoke English. On her own she determined to learn
how to type. That skill got her clean office jobs and encouraged an optimism about
the possibility of advancement. (Each morning when her sisters put on uniforms for
work, she chose a bright-colored dress.) She became an excellent speller-of words
she mispronounced. (“And I’ve never been to college,” she would say smiling when
her children asked about a word they didn’t wvant to look up in a dictionary.)
When her youngest child started going to high school, my mother found full-time
employment. She worked for the (California) state government, in civil service posi-
tions, positions carefully numbered and acquired by examinations. The old ambi-
tion of her youth was still bright then. She consulted bulletin boards for news of
new jobs, possible advancement. Then one day saw mention of something called an
“anti-poverty agency.” A typing job. A glamorous job-part of the governor’s staff.
(“A knowledge of Spanish desired.”) She applied without hesitation and grew nerv-
ous only when the job was suddenly hers.
“Everyone comes to work all dressed up,” she reported at night. And didn’t need
to say more than that her co-workers wouldn’t let her answer the phone. She was
only a typist. Though a fast typist. And an excellent speller. There was a letter one
day to be sent to a Washington cabinet officer. On the dictating tape my mother
heard mention of “urban guerillas.” She typed (the wrong word, correctly): “goril-
las.” Everyone was shocked. The mistake horrified the anti-poverty bureaucrats
who, several days later, returned her to her previous position. She would go no
further. She willed her ambition to her children.
After one of her daughters got a job ironing for some rich people we knew, my
mother was nervous with fear. (“I don’t want you wearing a uniform.”) Another
summer, when I came home from college, she refused to let me work as a gardener.
“You can do much better than that,” she insisted. “You’ve got too much education
now.” I complied with her wish, though I really didn’t think of schooling as job-
training. It’s true that I planned by that time to become a teacher, but it wasn’t an
occupation I aimed for as much as something more elusive and indefinite: I wanted
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The Achievement of Desire: Personal Reflections on Learning “Basics” 245
to know as much as my teachers; to possess their confidence and authority; even to
assume a professor’s persona.
For my father, education had a value different from that it had for my mother.
He chuckled when I claimed to be tired by reading and writing. It wasn’t real work
I did, he would say. “You’ll never know what real work is.” His comment would
recall in my mind his youth. Orphaned when he was eight, he began working after
two years in school. He came to America in his twenties, dreaming of returning to
school and becoming an engineer. (“Work for my hands and my head.”) But there
was no money and too little energy at the end of a day for more than occasional
night-school courses in English and arithmetic. Days were spent in factories. He no
longer expected ever to become an engineer. And he grew pessimistic about the
ultimate meaning of work or the possibility of ever escaping its claims. (“But look at
all you’ve accomplished,” his best friend once said to him. My father said nothing,
and only smiled weakly.)
But I would see him looking at me with opened-mouth curiosity sometimes when
I glanced up from my books. Other times, I would come upon him in my bedroom,
standing at my desk or bookshelves, fingering the covers of books, opening them to
read a few lines. He seemed aware at such moments of some remarkable possibility
implied by academic activity. (Its leisure? Its splendid uselessness?) At the moment
our eyes met, we each looked quickly away and never spoke.
Such memories as these slammed together in the instant of hearing that familiar
refrain (all scholarship boys hear) from strangers and friends: “Your parents must be
so proud.” Yes, my parents were happy at my success. They also were proud. The
night of the awards ceremony my mother’s eyes were brighter than the trophy I
won. Pushing back the hair from my forehead, she whispered that I had “shown”
the gringos. Years later, my father would wonder why I never displayed my awards
and diplomas. He said that he liked to go to doctors’ offices and notice the schools
they had attended. My awards got left in closets. The golden figure atop a trophy
was broken, wingless, after hitting the ground. Medals were put into a jar. My
father found my high school diploma when it was about to be thrown out with the
trash. He kept it afterwards with his own things.
“We are proud of all of our children.”
With more than mere pride, however, my parents regarded my progress. They
endured my early precocious behavior-but with what private anger and humilia-
tion? As their children grew older and would come home to challenge ideas both of
them held, they argued with a son or daughter before submitting to the force of
logic or superior evidence with the disclaimer: “It’s what we were taught in our time
to believe.” These discussions ended abruptly, but my parents remembered them at
other times when (smiling, unsmiling) they said that education was going to our
heads. More importantly, both of them noticed how changed the family had be-
come. My father himself retired into quiet, speaking to his children in paragraphs of
single words or short phrases. My mother-the woman who joked that she w^ould
die if she ever stopped talking-softly wondered: “Why can’t we be more of a fam-
ily? More in the Mexican style?” She asked the question of all her children. But the
last one surely from whom she would have expected an answer was her youngest
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son, the child who was so quiet at home, but had so much to say to high school
instructors and his best friend’s mother-a college professor.
When the time came for me to go to college, I was the first in the family who
asked to leave home. My departure only made physically apparent the separation
that had occurred long before. But it was too stark a reminder. In the months pre-
ceeding my departure, I heard the question my mother never asked except indi-
rectly. In the hot kitchen, tired at the end of her workday, she demanded to know,
“Why aren’t the schools here in Sacramento good enough for you? They were for
your brothers.” In the middle of a long car ride, never turning to look at me, she
wondered, “Why do you need to go so far away?” Late at night, ironing, she said
with disgust, “Why do you have to put us through this big expense? You know your
scholarship will never cover it all.” But when September came, there was a rush to
get everything ready. In a bedroom, that last night, 1 packed the big brown valise.
My mother sat nearby sewing initials onto the clothes I would take. And she said no
more about my leaving. Nothing.
Months later, two weeks of Christmas vacation: the first hours home were the
hardest. My parents and I sat in the kitchen and self-consciously had a conversation.
(But lacking the same words to develop our sentences and to shape our interests,
what was there to say? What could I tell them about the term paper I had just
finished on “the universality of Shakespeare’s appeal”?) I mentioned only small,
obvious things: my dormitory life, weekend trips I had taken, random and ordinary
events. They responded with news of their own. (One was almost grateful for a
family crisis about which there was much to say.) We tried, finally we failed, to
make the conversation seem like more than an interview.
From an early age, I knew that my father and mother could read and write both
English and Spanish. I had seen my father make his way through what, now I
suppose, must have been income tax forms. On other occasions I waited apprehen-
sively while my mother learned of a relative’s illness or death from letters airmailed
from Mexico. For both of my parents, however, reading was something done out of
necessity and as quickly as possible. Never did I see either of them read an entire
book. Nor did I see them read for pleasure. Reading materials around our house
were those of a nonliterate household: work manuals, prayer books, newspapers,
and recipes. As Hoggart explains:
. A. .At home [the scholarship boy] sees strewn around and reads regularly himself,
magaz.ines which are never mentioned at school, which seem not to belong to the world
to which the school introduces him; at school he hears about and reads books never
mentioned at home. When he 1)rings those books into the house, they do not take their
place with other books which the family are reading, for often there are none or almost
none; his books look, rather, like strange tools. (p. 242).
Each school year would start with my mother’s instruction: “Don’t write in your
books so ve can …

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