A sentence is Never Truly Understood. -By Nicole Barnes

English 203 has truly challenged me. Through mental blocks and failure as well as lightbulbs illuminating throughout my brain, this course has felt similar to Not Sidney’s life journey from I am Not Sidney Poitier. When I first approached this class in September, I discussed the importance of self-advocation, acknowledging frustration, accepting confusion, and slowing down in my “Nothing Will Come of Nothing” essay. As I depart from this class, I have simply concluded that this course has no right answer. Through my personal experiences, the sole purpose behind this class is to teach students how to slow down and grow through what they go through. This essay will dissect my journey and thought process based off of this course epigraph; “It’s incredible that a sentence is ever understood. Mere sounds strung together by some agent attempting to mean something, but the meaning need not and does not confine itself to that intention.” 

In my first essay (Essay #1- Nicole Barnes ), I based my thoughts off of this epigraph; “The interesting thing about irony for me is that real irony is far more sincere than earnestness. To accept the absurdity of a situation is to accept the humanness of it. Utter sincerity suggests a kind of belief that one knows all there is to know about a given circumstance. That is not to say that one should ever make light of serious and grave and important issues, but that open and genuine intellectual curiosity should never be a casualty in any situation. Irony is not always funny. Humor is not always ironic.” I chose to describe the ironic ways in which my personal experiences related to my initial first thoughts of this course, and how my personal goals cannot be achieved if I do not take initiative. One of the biggest takeaways from this essay is resorting to old habits in my current education journey. As a high school student, I was forced to reach specific lengths, to always have one right answer, and to rush my thought process. When defining irony according to the Bedford, it states “a contradiction or incongruity between appearance or expectation and reality.” This definition alone feels ironic when referring to my last statement about my experiences in high school. As students, we were pressured to meet unrealistic expectations, with perfect results while only focusing on the grade we will receive. Truthfully, an individual cannot always perform perfectly under pressure and be correct one-hundred percent of the time. This created a toxic environment for many students throughout their education careers in high school. Another idea I stressed in my “Nothing Will Come of Nothing” essay was the idea of practice over procrastination. Learning how to reach out for help was something I always struggled with through my education, but I have learned that receiving help does not make me weak or stupid, rather it educates me more and allows me to challenge myself. 

After experiencing this class, the epigraph for this essay I have decided to write about has changed from my first essay. I have chosen to base my essay around one that seems more fitting as I wrap up my work in this course. “It’s incredible that a sentence is ever understood. Mere sounds strung together by some agent attempting to mean some thing, but the meaning need not and does not confine itself to that intention.” Often, sentences can be misunderstood, misinterpreted, and sometimes not understood at all. This occurs throughout my daily life, where misunderstanding is very apparent and tends to lead to frustration. Considering our advanced technology in today’s world, texting can become a prime example of where a sentence can be interpreted differently by all parties included. Much anger can result in texting back and forth where body language, voice intonation, and facial expression are all absent. Sometimes even the improper use of punctuation can lead to misunderstandings. An example of this can be the use of the word “okay.” In today’s generation, this word followed by a  “period” is often used to express that I am angry or upset. In my mom’s eyes, she sees nothing wrong with this, and she wouldn’t tie anger to this single expression. Therefore our interpretations of whatever conversation is occurring would be completely different. She could think I am content, when really I am infuriated. Much goes into analyzing a single sentence, and if not enough detail is provided, a sentence with exciting intentions could be understood as a horror story. 

 This epigraph stood out to me because it sparked a connection to an experience I had in class. Group work can become something very frustrating, confusing, and diminishing. When working on the Nunsense essay (Nunsense Essay ), my group spent many days stuck in a hole. We felt lost, cycling through the same ideas with nothing deeper attached to our words. We all disagreed on one single movement, which discussed the meaning of the nun’s name changes. After much arguing, confusion, and annoyance, we came to the conclusion that this sentence does not need to have one right answer. Therefore, we each took our own opinions and provided these in our essay. I believed the names were nonsense, hannah believed it was a lesson on learning and interpreting, Maddie believed this name change had no deeper meaning in general, Myah saw it as working in good faith and turning nothing into something, and Jordan believed that ideas on a surface level can hold deeper meaning if you chose for it too. This exact experience is what led me to believe that a sentence is never truly understood, in terms of everyone being on the same wavelength. Therefore, a sentence is hardly ever perceived in the same ways, and can hold many different meanings depending on how one views it. 

Our character Not Sidney in I am Not Sidney Poitier has an experience much like my own. Not Sidney enters a class about halfway through our novel titled “Nonsense.” This class stumps him and his classmates as he tries to depict what his professor Everett is trying to teach him. Much like my first impression of this course, Percival Everett states on page 100, “the students looked at each other, shrugging, scared, frantically trying to carve out something to stick in their notes.” My first experience in this class was talking about suspicious pants… I thought I was going crazy. To me, this conversation truthfully felt like nonsense. I questioned why we were discussing this and what it had to do with English class. Well, in conclusion the main focus of this was to discuss how we all viewed the picture in different ways. Some saw the pants as suspicious, others saw the person viewing the image as suspicious, and some just saw the picture as it was. Again, we see this re-occurring theme of perception, and how this concept differs from person to person.
The epigraph I chose for this essay does form a through line for the texts we’ve engaged in this semester. A sentence that really stuck with me when doing research on Percival Everett’s work was found on a website titled “chrisgregorybooks.” It states, “…the fact that Everett is having a lot of fun himself without much regard for the reader. He’s going to include his esoteric interludes and semiotic tangents, and to hell with you if you don’t like them.” This stood out to me because I think it describes much of Percival Everett’s work. On a surface level, a reader wouldn’t really understand his work, and it can become frustrating to read. When we took the time to slow down and think about his literature, we as a class made a variety of interesting discoveries that would have flown over our heads if we didn’t bother analyzing. Furthermore, these discoveries varied among each individual in the class which allowed us to bounce many ideas off of one another. 

An example of an analysis from class that describes this process was when we examined Dionysos in Frenzy. At first glance, Dionysos portrays a Greek god of fruitfulness, vegetation, wine, and ecstasy. He was the master of Vlepo, who was his “seer” where he was placed into multiple minds of characters at Dionysos’ demand. Working in a group, we dived into Dionysos’ affect on Vlepo, and we compared it to the education system. In our essay “Theories of Education as seen throughout Frenzy” (10/3 ENGL 203: Vlepo Dionysos Regurgitation Mini-collaboration) Allison Tober discussed her prior knowledge on progressivism and essentialism. Essentialist professors limit creativity and interpretation of their students. During this form of teaching, we stated in our essay that “students placed in this form of learning yearn to achieve what the teacher is asking of them, even if it doesn’t align with their personal perspective. They do what they are asked in order to achieve good grades.” Similarly, we see Vlepo trying to impress Dionysos throughout all of Frenzy. Vlepo has never experienced viewing someone under his own opinions and perceptions, therefore when he comes across the opportunity to form his own opinion on someone, he states, “It felt odd, viewing her without charge from my master, not trying to record my observation for later regurgitation.” If we dig even deeper, many students can relate this experience to their own educational experiences. In high school, many of my teachers took an essentialist approach on teaching, which connects to my point in paragraph two, where I explain why I was trying to force my thoughts and opinions to match with my educator, even if I knew deep down that I perceived things differently. 

I do believe this epigraph matters when forming the consistent theme of various perceptions among individuals. Geneseo Learning Outcomes for a Baccalaureate Education stresses the importance of their students encountering a broad range of knowledge and skills that involve critical thinking, leadership, and collaboration. Furthermore, according to the criteria expected for integrative or applied learning a student should experience; authentic educational approaches, continuous improvement, structured reflection, and constructive feedback. With all of this in mind, this course has allowed students to stray away from prior educational experiences that were rushed and unrealistic. When enrolling in this course, it helped me find what educational practices work best for me, including slowing down, diving deeper and thinkING. This course follows the values of GLOBE and has allowed me to express my own ideas and thoughts while feeling welcome, included, and validated. Therefore, I feel as if my chosen epigraph brings together the objective of an individual being able to express themselves and their opinions freely, just as GLOBE preaches.

In conclusion, the new epigraph I have dug into has helped me conclude the main objective that I learned from this course which included freedom of thoughts and opinions in a safe educational environment. Through our novels such as I am Not Sidney Poitier and Frenzy we can recognize the ways in which we can dig deeper than just the surface, and produce an endless amount of ideas that varied among each student. This course helped me slow down and produce work that involved much process and progress, rather than producing something that didn’t even scratch the surface, reassuring that a sentence can never truly be understood by all, under one definition. 

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