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A “Problem Child” Becomes an Allegory for Renewing Literacy

A “Problem Child” Becomes an Allegory for Renewing Literacy

Scott Rowland • November 25, 2015 • Progression • 

Travis Culley’s Triumph to Authorship Through Self-Affirmation

The first time many of us grasp a connection to literacy is in the core curriculum as defined by the education system. But what happens when a student falls short of the standard? Surely, almost everyone attends school with a fellow classmate who struggles, barely sliding into the next grade, resisting the monotony of structured desk work and regimented time blocks. Strict guidance versus young dreamers standing in a single file line. Yet the underlying premise presupposes that every child will graduate by the age of 18 and enter into adulthood as a free and capable member of society.

Travis Hugh Culley, the author of A Comedy & A Tragedy (a 14-year endeavor), escaped the constraints of conformity with his wits intact and a self-created sense of expression. He went through grade-school wearing mix-matched sneakers and painted-over pants as an affirmation of his distinct personality. To avoid recognition of his inability to read, Culley would “act out” as an authoritative measure of his character or act in accordance with his fellow students, until he discovered the cultural importance of acting. In theater, he developed the application of character and a curiosity to understand the ebb and flow of life. His hunt for meaning was defined by self-discovery, or as Culley further explains, “Students need to claim their own educations and take custody of their own histories.”

Growing up in a failing household only pushed Culley further into isolation. His father and mother divorced at a young age which lead to negligence and ignited problems within the family. Bad grades and reports of misbehavior were not taken lightly. Life at home escalated to abuse when he could not adhere to the school’s standard of success. Home was an inconsistent place of rest, but then Culley stumbled upon the power of journaling as a comfortable space to lay his thoughts and feelings.


Travis Culley’s Journal

With a passion for utilizing language as a tool, he began to dissect the system that failed to encourage his education. The state’s affairs have always given credence to maintaining and sustaining a regime that perpetuates conformity, casting aside those who don’t. Culley’s experiences turned catalyst in the struggle to understand his path to literacy as expressed through A Comedy & A Tragedy. He believes we should focus on progressing a strategy that encourages every child to indulge in their own learning path, or at least treats them with the same respect as an adult.

“If I were to introduce this book to someone who had never seen it, I’d say it would be appropriate to someone who respects the truth in children,” Culley states. “When it comes to deception we have two equal parties: one person is giving the wrong information to another party. But what happens now? What pattern of behavior do they make if they are operating out of the wrong information?”

A Comedy & A Tragedy was written to decipher these deceptions and portray them in a way that children and adults can relate to. Culley is turning his call to literacy into a message for society by bringing attention to the discussion of intelligence and its relationship to said “literacy”. As he would relay, literacy is generally transposed as mere recognition with little relation to intelligence.

“I want to hand to kids, to young people, to people who are in the position to receiving this so called education, that the idea is a little bit mishandled and it really has to do with what questions come from them,” Culley asserts. “Literacy should not relate to your status in society or between people, but your status with yourself, so you can tell your story.”


A Comedy & A Tragedy

Our culture’s willingness to overlook this form of self-affirmation is an ignorant stance. The MO is to maintain a cycle of treating children as a commodity for the recognition of syllables, verbs and sentences rather than manifesting an emancipation of their intelligence.

Slavery has slowly disintegrated from our immorality, but consider the constraints put on the child’s dream by capitalist interests. It’s a dog-eat-dog world under the money addiction created by our economic system. Each citizen must feed into the structure in some form or fashion just to acquire the necessities of life, while schools are designed to prepare you for adulthood. This cycle perpetuates a narrow-minded structure of material specialization that nurtures the fundamentals of exploitation instead of acceptance and compassion for each member of society. We have even established a tradition of treating free thought within our youth with adversity because we don’t know or understand what may come about.

So students are pushed along based on time constraints and mentally guided to conform to the standard. Culley rebelled for years before discovering his passion for theater and finding the drive to teach himself to read and write. And this is the standard?

“If some of these subjects are as hot as I think they are, what tapping them does is it reveals to us how much work there is to do,” Culley says. “Perhaps our characters have been caste by the 20th century in such a deep and fortified way that we think all of these subjects have been covered. They are on a map and we just drive passed them. To open up these subjects with new language is a responsibility to continue to reawaken the slumber that American culture has been left in since the high points of the 20th century. For us to really grapple with our current responsibilities, we have to renew the agreements we made about our relationships to society.”

A Comedy & A Tragedy



Travis Culley at Smith Park


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