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Ashanti Luke is an author, student in martial arts, and a professor at John Tyler Community College. He also has extensive experience with literacy development and tutoring. He took the time out of his busy schedule to talk with us here at OWL Educational Services.

Greetings Ashanti. Would you care to share your background with us? What are your educational strengths and areas of expertise?

I have experience with all levels of academic development from Pre-K to Postgraduate. I have also worked with developmental, ESL, Dual Enrollment students, in an advanced college prep and counselling capacity, and I have taught and tutored AP, IB, and Test Prep courses. I don’t know if I would call it expertise, but my experience in several different aspects of the learning and matriculation and from varied perspective gives me a unique vantage point with my students.

Would you be willing to share with us a little about your personal educational journey? What led you to seek the education and vocation you chose? What advice would you like to offer to those students who wish to go into the same field as you?

Interesting enough, I am an English teacher, but English was my worst subject in school. It wasn’t so much that I was weak in English. My natural skill set and interests drove me more toward STEM subjects first, history and social science second, and P.E a distant third. (I was athletic, but right-handed and left-footed, so I was appreciably awkward to work with although I was rather manually adept—an equation that equals frustration on most days in middle school) All said, I still enjoyed PE more than English, and was willing to mind it more. I had a few English teachers along the way that challenged me, and, most importantly, I whether it be in film, print media, or on stage, I wanted to be a storyteller. My mom, a professional storyteller herself, was a profound influence there. It is, however, excessively difficult to tell stories with math, so it therefore made more sense for me major in English—particularly Creative Writing—at the University of Southern California. I also had a deep interest in film, poetry, and linguistics, so I accentuated my learning with a Minor in film, and electives that helped flesh out my concepts of not only storytelling, but how humans communicate at several levels because, ultimately, human communication (or lack thereof) is at the core of any good story.

If I had to offer advice, it would be for any field, and it would be to recognize both your strengths and your weaknesses and to make sure that you balance their enrichment with honesty and tenacity.

You are an English professor who has taught classes on genre fiction, specifically science fiction. Do you feel this field is overlooked in our English classes? Is there a particular topic or message you think science fiction offers to its readers?

Science Fiction, or as Ellison would have it, Speculative Fiction (which I also prefer) is not only often overlooked, but it is often misunderstood. The value of genre fiction, and Spec Fiction in particular, seems to have gained exponential traction lately with the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Lovecraft Country, Interstellar, Harry Potter (I have a rather in-depth lecture as to why Potter belongs on this list) as well as non-speculative genre fiction such as Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, Vikings, Outlander, and Downton Abbey—the latter three being in the genres of historical fiction. Science or Spec fiction itself offers a look into human condition and/ or interaction with the ability to manage social and psychological triggers through worldbuilding in a way that allows the author to showcase particulars about how people actually work. There is often a focus on the spaceships and aliens, but one of the reasons I put Harry Potter on the Sci-Fi list is that it follows the same rules as any of Ellison’s works. It looks very deeply at the development of humanity—the Potter’s case a group of British Teens—but it is able to refine and guide the triggers of their human interaction through Rowling’s world of magic interacting with the non-magical world and the life-changing event that it presents to the protagonists, and how their very human responses differ from the also alarming human responses of Voldemort. It only takes a quick perusal of internet forum or social media comments to suss out how Voldemort’s responses are very human just with, y’know… a lot of magic.

What was it about writing, literature, and genre fiction that you think is a benefit to education and life?

Writing exists because humans, at some point in development, decided it was important to communicate to another human that either wasn’t next to them or wasn’t standing there yet. A cave painting exists to give information to another cave dweller when the painter does not expect to be there at the same time. Storytelling is a way for one person to express a part of our shared human consciousness without needing the cave or the paint, or even having to have a clear ideas of the who, what, when, how, and which way did she go of the other cave dweller. Stories, at any level, are a culmination of the things that make us uniquely human and connect us at a platonic level. They help us make sense of things that don’t, and they help us connect to places, ideas, and individuals in a way that we might otherwise not, yet has a profound, even if not immediately, meaning.

Last question: What is one thing you want to change about the educational system?

Nothing. It changes itself. It is not to say that there are not things that I could not imagine being done differently. There has been a paradigm shift across the entire world, and not just in education, but as long as the King’s Horses and Men and Women continue to put the pieces together, the show will go on—as one of the King’s Men, I can’t really tell you how all the pieces fit right now, but I can tell you I am working, with my colleagues, to keep as many of them together as I can humanly manage. If I had anything to ask, it would be that those in the educational system hold on to their passion in the face of the challenges and know that as long as the system remains, there is an other side.

Thank you for talking with us today Ashanti.

For anyone who wishes to contact Ashanti, his work email is aluke@jtcc.edu

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