Building a Concept

Famed educational theorist and self-proclaimed “scholarship boy” Richard Rodriguez’s essay “The Achievement of Desire” tells the story of the author’s own intellectual upbringing and the difficulty he faced because of its implications[1]. He believed education to be a process of personal-reinvention, a process that left him thoroughly changed as a student and as a Mexican-American. The way that this transformation is most powerfully revealed, however, is through analysis of the way Rodriguez uses Richard Hoggart’s work.

It was not until he read Hoggart’s The Uses of Literacy that he had the means to fully describe the experience of being a scholarship boy. The author himself notes that “without extraordinary determination and the great assistance of others – at home and at school – there is little chance for success” ( 340). In this case Rodriguez is successful because of Hoggart’s assistance. As an intellectual, Rodriguez understands the difference between merely restating an idea (which often did as a young boy) and using it to clarify another one to bring new ideas to life. When he quotes Hoggart for the first time, Rodriguez quickly finds himself in the scholarship boy (340). Not only does he relate to Hoggart’s scholarship boy, Rodriguez’s interpretive skills also allow him to define the figure in terms of his own experience. In this way, he uses Hoggart’s work as a sort of blueprint.

Consider the blueprint as a guideline for a project. It provides a design for a concept, but it is by no means unchangeable. At times, an architect’s vision for a building must be changed or corrected, and the blueprint is used as a reference. Something to get the project started. Hoggart, as the first to write about the scholarship boy, takes on the role of the architect, but as the project’s supervisor, it is Rodriguez who brings Hoggart’s concept into being. He is the one who will see the project through, who will decide what materials to use in construction, and how to decorate the building once it is completed.

By no means does Rodriguez accept Hoggart’s discourse as the Whole Truth. Instead, he often clarifies or corrects it, for example when he declares, “Hoggart’s description is distinguished, at least initially, by deep understanding” (340). In this case, the author weighs his personal experience against Hoggart’s description. To make his point, he transitions into the third person and recounts what can only be recognized as a summary of his own life as a young scholarship boy. The use of the Rodriguez’s impersonal writing, interrupted by a direct quotation from Hoggart’s essay blends the two identities, one hypothetical and one literal. He writes, “For the first time I realized that there were students like me, and so I was able to frame the meaning of my academic success,” (emphasis added) but continues in the third person, telling the reader, “The [scholarship] boy must rehearse his thoughts and raise his hand before speaking” (emphasis added) (340).  In this case, Rodriguez uses Hoggart’s work like a blueprint, laying the foundations for his discourse based on the design of another.

One of the times Rodriguez must modify Hoggart’s claims is when he realizes that they are sometimes incomplete. Hoggart emphasizes the fact that the scholarship boy is a bad student, a thought that Rodriguez certainly agrees with. For example, when he first attempts to read Plato, he admits, “I looked at every word of the text. And by the time I reached the last word, relieved, I convinced myself that I had read The Republic” (350). Rodriguez did not understand what he was doing at the time (the use of the words “looked at” instead of “read” is particularly telling), but it is clear that while writing The Achievement of Dreams, he was aware of this shortcoming and his status as a “bad” student. However, unlike Hoggart, he explains that, “the reason [the scholarship boy] is such a bad student is because he realizes more often and more acutely than most other students – than Hoggart himself – that education requires radical self-reformation,” specifically at home (352). Hoggart knows that there is a difference between the young scholarship boy’s home life and his life in the classroom, but he never draws enough attention to it to give this dichotomy a name, or ponder its provenance. Since he has experienced the change from “scholarship boy” to intellectual and recognized it in himself, Rodriguez believes this transformation to be so important that the rest of his essay is largely based on the notion that “education is a long, unglamorous, even demeaning process – a nurturing never natural to the person one was before one entered a classroom,” something that, as Rodriguez points out, Hoggart never mentions (325). Like an experienced building planner, he adds notes to the blueprint, giving specific examples of the changes he realizes after the conclusion of his education.

Rodriguez then explores the scholarship boy’s relationship with his parents.  We know that he has been plagued by his distant relationship with his family, but at the end of his education the author makes peace with himself.  He even goes so far as to say “after the year in England [in which he completed his education], I spent three summer months living with my mother and father, relieved by how easy it was to be home. It no longer seemed very important to me that we had little to say. I felt easy sitting and eating and walking with them” (354). This is nearly opposite what Hoggart predicts for the scholarship boy, warning, “he both wants to go back and yet thinks he has gone beyond his class, feels himself weighted with knowledge of his own and their situation, which hereafter forbids him the simpler pleasures of his father and mother” (qtd in Rodriguez 353). Even though he admits that he “had not neatly sidestepped the impact of schooling,” which made it harder to communicate with his parents, he realizes, “if, because of [his] schooling, [he] had grown culturally separated from [his] parents, [his] education finally had given [him] ways of speaking and caring about the fact” (355).  In his eyes, Rodriguez’s education helped him understand his relationship with his parents. He finally realizes the implications of the sacrifices he (and his parents) made when he was a young scholarship boy. The author shows that his educational journey changed him from a boy who merely regurgitated his teachers’ lessons and called it learning to a man with the acumen to analyze and understand a complex emotional situation. The transformation from naïve scholarship boy to educated intellectual has been made, and with this powerful example, Rodriguez further amends Hoggart’s blueprint. Though not drastically different, the design is infinitely more personal and Rodriguez’s vision shines through.

Rodriguez is influenced by Hoggert’s theory, and with self reflection he is able to build upon and better understand the subtleties, difficulties and triumphs of his own experience of being a “scholarship boy.” Hoggart’s work provides Rodriguez with the vocabulary he was missing to describe and expound upon his academic experience. In The Achievement of Dreams, Rodriguez transforms Hoggart’s words, along with his own stories from airy ideas into concrete reality.

Works Cited

  1. Rodriguez, Richard. “The Achievement of Desire.” Ways of Reading: An

Anthology for Writers. Ed. David Bartholomae, Anthony Petrosky, and Stacey Waite. 10th ed. Boston: Bedford/Martin’s. 338-355. Print.

[1] I would like to thank my classmate Anna Ramgren for her insights and suggestions to clarify and strengthen this paper. I would also like to thank Dr. Van Hillard for his guidance and help during the writing and editing processes.

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