Richard Rodriguez, the author of The Achievement of Desire, and Malcolm X, the author of Learning to Read, describe the ways their lives were profoundly impacted, as well as altered, because of their quest for an education. Rodriguez writes about his academic successes, while Malcolm X describes his education as self-taught. Achieving an education changed both men and both men pursued an education for different reasons.
In his writing The Achievement of Desire, Richard Rodriguez describes his pursuit of academic achievement as a way to distance himself from his family as well as his cultural roots: “… A primary reason for my success in the classroom was that I couldn’t forget that school was changing me and separating me from the life I enjoyed before becoming a student” (Rodriguez 196). A realization that took him twenty years to admit, Rodriguez
His embarrassment and sense of shame for his apparent inadequacies, as well as those of his parents, provided the driving force to become educated. Rodriguez describes himself as “The boy who first entered a classroom barely able to speak English…” (195). Becoming educated changed Rodriguez, enabling him to move through academia without the cultural baggage of his past: Describing himself as the scholarship boy, Rodriguez outlines this progression in the following statement: “Advancing in his studies, the boy notices that his mother and father have not changed as much as he. Rather, when he sees them, they often remind him of the person he once was and the life he earlier shared with them” (198). This realization drove Rodriguez throughout his academic career as well as his life.
Similarly, in his writing Learning to Read, Malcolm X discusses the many ways education changed him. Malcolm X begins by describing his efforts at self-expression in writing letters: “…trying to read and write simple English, I not only wasn’t articulate, I wasn’t even functional” (Malcolm X 211). His vocabulary and the ability to express himself, especially through his letters to Mr. Elijah Muhammad, were lacking, as he desired the ability to express himself in an educated manner as opposed to using familiar street slang, which he was accustomed to using.
He saw educated prisoners achieve a certain celebrity status and desired these skills as well as status. Malcolm X describes these inmates and the status they possessed: “There were a sizeable number of well-read inmates, especially the popular debaters. Some were said by many to be walking encyclopedias. They were almost celebrities” (212). He envied these educated men and became determined to grow to be educated. In pursuing his self-taught education, “Malcolm X emerged as the leading spokesman for black separatism, a philosophy that urged black Americans to cut political, social, and economic ties with the white community” (intro 210). Not seeking the prestige or degree for his education, his efforts made him a leading advocate for the civil...