Thursday, May 05, 2016
Thursday, March 03, 2011
In 2007, I gave the keynote speech at the Feminisms and Rhetorics conference in Little Rock, Arkansas. At the time, I thought the talk was too conference-specific to develop beyond that occasion, but I’ve since changed my mind and am currently working on turning it into an article, tentatively titled the same as my speech: “Unwilling to Listen: How Do You Have a Civic Dialogue When Each Side Isn't Civil.”
I’m revisiting this speech because it addresses the following question that I often get about rhetorical listening: “What’s Next?” Sadly, given the Arizona shootings of January 2011, Sarah Palin’s call for radical individualism, President Obama’s subsequent call for more political civility, and the current political protests in Wisconsin, my talk also invokes the questions:
What happens in civic discourse when people are “unwilling to listen”? (hence my article title); and
How Do You Have a Civic Dialogue When Each Side Isn't Civil? (hence my article’s subtitle--and I’d be remiss if I didn’t give a shout out here to the 2007 conference organizer Barb L’Eplattenier who posed these questions to me).
So, I begin by asking, How Do You Have a Civic Dialogue When Each Side Isn't Civil? The most obvious response is: “You can’t.” But if we (and every time we use “we,” we should remember Mary Daly’s pronouncement that pronouns are our most persistent problem when talking across differences) take “You can’t” as a first premise, then a cultural logic unpacks as follows: if we believe we can’t have a civic conversation because each side isn’t civil, then one effect is that we stop trying to talk to each other. A corollary effect is that we become unwilling to listen to each other and to ourselves. Of course, an unwillingness to listen is accompanied by the following rhetorical stances:
(1) Rigidification of Personal Beliefs, which results in a limited space for negotiation between and among people, communities, institutions, and countries.
(2) Personal and Cultural Defeatism.
(3) Personal and Cultural Nihilism.
(4) Personal and Cultural Despair.
I believe that the above cultural logic and its accompanying rhetorical stances dominate the discourse in our country today, driven by individuals’ feelings of isolation within a global economy, driven by the busy-ness of our everyday lives, driven by our fear about the economy, and driven by a politics of fear and power … power and fear. All of this is dysfunction in our discourse… and needs to change.
But let’s pause for a moment. . .
John Schilb has written a book, Rhetorical Refusals, which theorizes moments when we purposely choose not to listen. These moments are different for all of us, depending on our individual identifications. Sometimes these refusals are necessary, psychologically and/or culturally. For example, I’m not going to entertain an outrageous request from my child; nor do I feel compelled to listen to groups, such as the KKK, rehash age-old prejudices. But sometimes these rhetorical refusals are dysfunctional, as in my aforementioned discussion or our current politics of power and fear… and do need to change our rhetoric(s).
So back to the question of my article's subtitle—How Do You Have a Civic Dialogue When Each Side Isn't Civil? If the obvious answer is “you can’t,” then perhaps we should listen to that question differently—(a) redefining terms, (b) redefining cultural logics, and (c) redefining rhetorical stances.
One suggestion is that we could redefine terms by complicating them with feminist theory. For example, one phrase that has haunted civic dialogues is public sphere. That raises the question: what, exactly, is the public sphere? The most famous answer to that question is the Habermas-Lyotard debate, which pits Enlightenment ideals again postmodernism. Yet I believe that this debate may be productively complicated with feminist theories.
For example, Robin Goodman brings a feminist lens to this debate in her book on critical pedagogy entitled World, Class, Women: Global Literatures, Education and Feminism. The book explores how the “shrinking of the public sphere and the rise of globalization influence access to learning, definitions of knowledge, and possibilities of radical feminism.” She opens her book as follows:
In 1938, as Europe was about to lead the world in to a brutal conflagration, Virginia Woolf recognized the urgency for a fundamental educational change. This educational change would necessarily include economic transformation. As well, Woolf understood [in Three Guineas] that without this change, there would be an inevitable spiraling toward escalating militarism and widespread destruction. Today, … Virginia Woolf’s lesson remains unlearned.
In The Return of the Political, Chantal Mouffe identifies another unlearned lesson about the public sphere: the need for civic virtue and collective action. Mouffe claims:
the liberal illusion that harmony could be born from the free play of private interests, and that modern society no longer needs civic virtue, has finally shown itself to be dangerous; it puts in question the very existence of the democratic process . . . . It has generally been admitted that the “liberty of the moderns” consists in the peaceful enjoyment of private independence [; and that] this implies the renunciation of the “liberty of the ancients,” [which is] the active participation in collective power, because this leads to a subordination of the individual to the community.
Although we must be careful not to romanticize past civic spheres where feudalism, slavery, and gender inferiority were accepted, I think Mouffe’s point about contemporary individualism is well taken. In addition, in “Rethinking the Black Public Sphere: An Alternative Vocabulary for Multiple Public Spheres,” Catherine Squires reminds us that the public, or civic, sphere is not only collective but also multiple. She imagines this multiplicity … in ways that escape a naïve identity politics but that foreground power structures and power differentials.
So, if we contemplate the public sphere via Goodman’s education and economic reform, Mouffe’s civic virtue and collective action, and Squires’ multiplicity (and I’m interested in investigating more theories of public sphere that foreground race), THEN . . .
With such a feminist lens, we may be able to redefine cultural logics. When confronted with the question—“How Do You Have a Civic Dialogue When Each Side Isn't Civil?”—we might be able to imagine responses other a than: “You can’t.” Indeed, we might be able to imagine this alternative response: “You keep reframing your ideas in ways that help other sides hear you, and you share that burden because no one person or institution can do it 24/7.”
This response is not particularly new, nor does it ensure success. But it is worth reconsidering because it offers an alternative cultural logic, which unpacks as follows: If you keep alive the idea of reframing your ideas, then you also keep alive the possibility of success. One effect of this alternative cultural logic is that we keep trying to talk with others. A corollary effect is that we may remain willing to listen. An intentional willingness to listen rhetorically is important because hearers assume the possibility of success and a belief in agency and hope.
Belief … possibility … agency—these tropes are endemic to rhetoric. And hope—that trope is endemic to feminism. So just imagine the potential power that undergirds feminist rhetorics.
Linking the tropes of belief, possibility, agency, and hope has the potential to redefine the following rhetorical stances:
(1) Personal Rigidification can be reimagined not as the inevitable status quo but rather as a point on a continuum . . . with the another point being Personal Openness.
(2) Cultural Rigidification can be seen not as an inevitable status quo but rather as a point on a continuum . . . with another point being Cultural Openness.
(3) Defeatism can give way to Hope.
(4) Nihilism can give way to Hope.
(5) Despair can give way to Hope.
(6) War, please God, can give way to Peace.
Such claims resonate naively in today’s world, don’t they? But perhaps, instead of succumbing to postmodern skepticism, we ought to embrace postmodern possibilities—specifically, the ways that people can redefine tropes, as well as change people’s minds, lives, and worlds.
In the article, I plan to demonstrate this claim by invoking case studies from around the world, where race and gender and nationality and class intersect in the performance of belief, possibility, agency and hope. These case studies serve several purposes: to broaden readers/listeners knowledge of the world, to broaden rhetorical theorists ideas of effective tactics related to rhetorical listening across differences, to demonstrate the importance of analyzing rhetorical tactics, such as rhetorical listening, within particular historical/cultural sites, etc.
But for this blog, I’ll simply conclude by saying that the work toward accomplishing the above rhetorical stances may be never-ending. That fact does not render the work useless. Rather, it makes the work even more imperative. It reminds us [remember Mary Daly’s pronoun pronouncement] of what it means to be human … that is, what it means to be human beings who are all both similar and different.
Thursday, January 06, 2011
Kevin Eric DePew is an Assistant Professor and Director of Writing Tutorial Services at Old Dominion University. He earned his Ph.D from Purdue University. His research interests include the topics of computer-mediated communication, language diversity, and second-language writing. Kevin is actively involved with the CCCC constituent group on computers and writing. He has published several essays in the journal, Computers and Communication, including “The Body of Charlie Brown's Teacher: What Instructors Should Know about Constructing Digital Subjectivities.”
Editor's Note: References that support this blog post may be found at: http://www.ncte.org/library/NCTEFiles/Groups/CCCC/0111DepewRefs.pdf
Histories of composition studies have often been about the arguments made and the practice designed for teaching students how to write (Berlin, 1984, 1987; Conner, 1997; Crowley, 1998; Miller, 1993). As a field, composition studies has moved from the overly prescriptive prose produced for current-traditional rhetoric pedagogies to arguably more useful strategies that have helped students “find their voice” and understand how documents communicatively function within chosen contexts. These recent paradigms focused on many practical approaches to engage students with writing, to teach them to communicate through writing, and to develop a curriculum that supports these goals.
A cursory look at early CCC issues include articles about how we administrate composition courses, teach grammar, pedagogically apply rhetorical concepts, and teach creative writing and literature. But this focus on writing, rather than the writer, obviously treats writing and the teaching of writing as a universal practice that all individuals experience in the same way.
More recently composition studies has expanded its scope and is examining other issues related to who is communicating through writing at academic institutions and how students communicate through writing. Moreover, the writing that is being studied is not always writing that is being written for academic context, although sometimes the scholars will explain how understanding the writing occurring in extra-curricular settings is relevant to writing produced for the academic context. To do this work, scholars are drawing more on composition studies’ related fields and sub-disciplines, like literacy studies, WAC/WID, professional writing, basic writing, and, digital writing; likewise scholars are looking beyond the homogeneous student writer to women writers, queer writers, raced writers, ethnic writers, linguistically diverse writers, and writers with disabilities to study these students’ writing practices and their responses to our pedagogies
Slowly we are beginning to see these fields that were at composition studies’ margins informing some of the fields’ central tenets. So whereas the older, original generalists in the field arguably focused on composition as the praxis of rhetoric and the day-to-day practices of teaching writing, the new generalist, or Generalist 2.0, is positioned to draw upon this array of related disciplines to generate an expanded repertoire of pedagogical strategies for working with a heterogeneous student population to communicate through the most effective means for their purpose.
The idea of Generalist 2.0 has roots in the New London Group’s (2000) theories of multiliteracies. The basic tenets of the New London Group’s work has been to design literacy education that engages “with the multiplicity of communication channels and media” and the “increasing salience of cultural and linguistic diversity” (New London Group 5). While composition studies tends to treat these tenets as separate subjects, I see them as inseparable. Just as Cynthia Selfe (1999) argues that most literacy practices in the new millennium requires technological literacy, the same equally applies to culturally and linguistically diverse individuals who write with these technologies. In some situations, the technology can provide avenues for these diverse students to access mainstream discourse
In spite of this argument, I want to focus the balance of this blog post on this second tenet of cultural and linguistic diversity as a central pillar of Generalist 2.0’s literacy education design. Instructors often deliberately or tacitly reify Matsuda’s (2006) “myth of linguistic homogeneity,” and extend this homogeneous pedagogical paradigm to the ways they address cultural issues including those experienced by diverse students who are not second language writers. By doing so, instructors not only hinder their diverse students’ abilities to achieve the writing course’s communicative goals, but they fail to take advantage of difference as a resource from which all of their students can learn (Canagarajah, 2002).
Arguably composition studies has grown more cognizant of the diverse students with whom we work. In the scholarship we see articles about black students, women students, queer students, disabled student, and second language writers and the CCCC has approved and endorsed position statements that address linguistic diversity and disability issues (http://www.ncte.org/cccc/resources/positions). Yet if we walk the halls of many universities and colleges, we would be hard pressed to find in the classrooms and instructors’ offices more than a handful of writing instructors whose pedagogy was informed by this scholarship on diversity or was compliant with the CCCC statements
In spite of recent scholarship on diversity and the ways that some textbooks are beginning to create opportunities to address these issues in class, there is a significant disconnect between what the field offers as its best—and most inclusive—practices and what instructors are actually doing in their classrooms. Particularly with the issue of linguistic diversity, instructors are quite resistant to any arguments that allow students to produce prose that falls short of the accepted academic dialect
Many of these writing instructors will contend that they are not doing their job if they do not penalize students who write with flawless academic edited English. In terms of cultural issues, the typical modes-based pedagogy reduces students’ opportunities to work substantively with the invention and delivery of topics closely tied to their identities. But these are not practices those who actually teach the writing courses will design unless local and national institutions change the culture of the writing course and prompt programs and their instructors to understand the consequences for all of their students.
How might the field achieve these practical goals? We certainly do not want ignorance of diversity to be the instructional norm. Likewise, we do not want instructors to claim that the work of teaching diverse students should be the job of specialists, those who read about and attend conference sessions on the strategies for teaching diverse students. All composition instructors are responsible for knowing how to address the challenges and opportunities that their different students bring to the classroom. A movement toward fostering this second generation of generalists will need to build upon the rich corpus of diversity scholarship in our field writ large to bridge the gap between the scholars’ advocated practices and the actual classroom practices
Thus Generalist 2.0 should use teacher preparation and professionalization as the primary strategy for pushing their agenda. Through these professionalization opportunities instructors often learn how to design and enact daily classroom practices. Yet, in addition to learning what the composition course should be, instructors need to learn what the composition course can be. They need to be made aware that composition pedagogy does not have to a prescribed “one-size fits all” practice. Instead a diversified instructional repertoire gives instructors strategies they need to effectively (and sometimes efficiently) address the needs of all of their students.
To model Generalist 2.0’s potential influence on teacher preparation and professionalization design, I humbly offer my graduate-level Teaching College Composition course at http://www.odu.edu/~kdepew/eng664f09/. In this course pre-service and in-service instructors read at least three scholarly articles a week on a given composition topic (e.g., history, designing assignments, using technology, teaching grammar). One of these articles will be from composition studies’ mainstream, another will be about second language writers, and another will be about bi-dialectic student populations (i.e., predominantly African-Americans).
I chose this design so that all of the future instructors leaving my course would, at the very least, understand the breadth of choices they have for teaching the linguistically diverse students that they will statistically encounter on a regular basis in their classrooms. While I am pleased with the opportunities this course creates for future instructors, I also recognize the course’s limitations. There are many aspects of diversity that are only addressed in relatively token ways. Although I chose to design this course as a response to instructors’ inquiries about how to read linguistically diverse students’ writing, I could have also equally emphasized issues of gender, ethnicity, ability and such.
I am fairly confident that my course is one of many models that exercise Generalist 2.0 principles, and I encourage others to contribute to the conversation by presenting other models that support culturally and linguistically diverse student bodies.
Friday, December 24, 2010
Friday, December 03, 2010
Jay Dolmage is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Waterloo, Ontario, where he teaches rhetoric and writing. His research interrogates rhetorical constructions of the body, bringing together disability studies and rhetorical theory. His scholarship has appeared in Rhetoric Review, Prose Studies, Journal of Advanced Composition, Disability Studies Quarterly, College English, Cultural Critique and several edited collections. Jay is Chair of the Committee on Disability Issues in College Composition for the NCTE, and the Editor of the Canadian Journal of Disability Studies.
In composition’s history as a remedial space (see Shaughnessy), or as a sorting gate (see Shor, Clark, Fox), from Harvard in the 1870s to CUNY in the 1970s, composition grew and contracted in reaction to diversity. The Harvard paradigm and the CUNY paradigm—which have been foundational in our histories of composition—offer interesting micro-histories that are worth exploring. We know that these two major “foundational moments” of composition were profoundly about diversity. They were also shaped by disability. In this blog post I am going to look at the Harvard moment and the CUNY moment from new angles, focusing on their relationship to disability. What’s the point? My suggestion is that in every discussion of diversity, disability can be found operating in myriad, nuanced, but often invisible ways. I want to look at two moments to reveal some of these operations, negative and positive.
Moment One: “Emergence”
Disability history in the West, unfortunately, is most powerfully defined by the eugenics era—a time when people with disabilities were sterilized, institutionalized, and when disability as a concept was used to stigmatize a wide range of non-whites and foreigners who might also be excluded or eradicated under the aegis of “better breeding.” For the greater part of Western history, people have imagined a universe with no people with disabilities in it. Every major North American institution holds this history in its bones. Eugenics has shaped attitudes about disability. What has been less fully explored is the way that the eugenic perspective on disability shaped the modern university.
The “birth” of composition in the late 19th century at Harvard represents a moment that has been extensively analyzed by others, most notably James Berlin. But I want to align this era with the attitudes about ability that the concurrent eugenic rhetoric was making popular, suggesting that these early days of composition in the U.S were shaped by eugenics and became an instrument that applied and accented eugenic ideology.
The Harvard model of education at the turn of the 20th century saw the university not as the place to elevate society based on the education of all of its citizens, but the university as a place to sort society based on the education of the “deserving” few. Ira Shor and James Berlin have written about the discipline of composition’s history as a “curricular cop and sorting machine” at Harvard, and Shor defines this as “composition for containment, control and capital growth” (“Our Apartheid” 92). For instance, in 1874 at Harvard, a test in English writing was instituted to “ensure that the new open university would not become too open, allowing new immigrants, for example, to earn degrees in science or math without demonstrating by their use of language that they belonged in the middle class” (Berlin 23).
As James W. Trent and others have shown, the history of eugenic research, testing, and promotion at Western institutions such as Stanford and Harvard shows us that universities have been the arbiter of ability in the United States. American academics have delineated and disciplined the border between able and disabled, an “us” and a “them.” The line-drawers were able to solidify their own positions as they closed the doors upon others. Charles Benedict Davenport, a Harvard Ph.D and instructor and David Starr Jordan, president of Stanford University, are recognized as the fathers of the American eugenics movement in the early 1900s. Davenport, perhaps the eugenics movement’s greatest proponent, defined the movement as “the science of the improvement of the human race by better breeding” (1).
The eugenics movement resulted in the institutionalization of millions of Americans in asylums, “idiot schools,” and other warehousing institutions, where people were abused, neglected, and, often, forcibly sterilized. Many children from large immigrant families were shipped to these “asylum schools,” women were incarcerated as “hysterical,” and they housed a radically disproportionate number of African Americans, Eastern Europeans, and lower-class children, all expendable according to eugenic thinking.
Starr Jordan and Davenport also worked to apply ideas about the “natural” stratification of society at American universities, including their own. As Trent and others have pointed out, American academics systematically developed the means to segregate society based upon arbitrary ideas of ability—the university was the place for the most able, the mental institution the space for the “least.”
I want to suggest that when we study composition’s beginnings we also understand these historical contexts. There is a rhetorical history that provides a discourse and a power for this sorting—that is, the defining and stigmatizing of those excluded from the university and the justification of that move based on a eugenicist and racist “science.”
Moment Two: “Revolution”
In the 1970s, at CUNY, and specifically the City College of New York, following the explosion of open admissions, the philosophy of education shifted radically away from the Harvard paradigm. There was a movement in America towards “universal higher education” in the late 1960s, fueled by connected social movements that emphasized equity and equal opportunity.
At the time, this was a controversial move, of course. And problems arose. At CUNY, the response of the writing program was to create huge remedial basic writing classes. Ira Shor has argued that, following this advent of open admissions and the remediation of students, “basic writing added an extra sorting-out gate in front of the composition gate,” to “slow the output of college graduates” and “manage some disturbing economic and political conditions on campus and off” (“Our Apartheid” 92-93). In this way, although the push was towards universal higher education, the result at times simply added layers of stratification to the sorting function of the university.
At about the same time that CUNY was opening its doors, the disability rights movement was beginning to make substantial gains across the country. In San Francisco the very first Disabled Students Program, run by students with disabilities to provide self-advocacy, began at the University of California at Berkeley in 1970. Reacting to the history of the forced institutionalization of people with disabilities, the first Center for Independent Living was also created at Berkeley in 1972. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act was then passed in 1975, Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund offices were started in Berkeley and D.C in 1979, and the Americans with Disabilities Act was finally passed in 1990.
Throughout this time, boycotts, sit-ins, and civil disobedience became ways to draw attention to the barriers facing many people with disabilities.
CUNY and Berkeley were both part of a large ideological shift, as they were also part of a huge demographic shift. In some ways, it was the same students who were entering CUNY and organizing at Berkeley—many veterans of the Vietnam war, and many veterans of the political action against this war. These people now turned some attention to the class war that American universities had been complicit in and argued that higher education should be a civil right.
The central tenets of the disability rights movement have been pride in disability identity, collective self-representation, and a concentrated effort to remove barriers to access, perhaps most remarkably those barriers that have kept people with disabilities out of social institutions like universities. Central to this history has been the idea that disability is created in part by a social, physical, and educational environment shaped in ways that exclude. Eugenics works to strongly ground inferences about social worth in biological formulae, using science to suggest that differences between people are pre-determined, genetic and immutable.
But what if, instead of the idea that nature determines individual success, we saw the world as inequitably shaped and built, and believed instead, that the reform of society and culture would allow for a more equitable world? This view, applied to education, follows the hopeful CUNY model of “universal education”—believing that, given access, anyone can learn and, more broadly, suggesting that the university is the place to elevate society based on the education of all of its citizens, rather than a place to sort society based on the education of the “deserving” few.
As ideological compacts, as micro-historical snapshots, I want to align the CUNY moment and the Disability Rights Movement against the Harvard composition paradigm and its alliances with eugenic rhetoric. Doing so, I hope, gives us means to conceptualize broad trends in attitudes about disability as they map across histories of composition. Doing so, I also hope, helps us to better critically focus on our shared future.
What is this shared future? What will the next moments of emergence or revolution look like? And how will they bear on our discussions of diversity? Here are some ideas.
Online courses are growing at a rate of ten times the growth of on-site classes, and more than 20 percent of U.S. students took an online course in fall 2007. How can we ensure that these courses are going to be accessible to all students? How will we guard against an impulse that is the seeming inverse of this inaccessibility? That is, how will we make sure that students with disabilities are not going to be funneled away from on-site classes and into online classes as a method of exclusion?
Segregated colleges now exist for students with learning disabilities, and within regular colleges, many extra support programs for students now also come with huge price tags. If some doors are opening wider, what other doors are closing? If the ADA is providing minimal accommodations, and anything extra costs a lot, how are our colleges really responding to the diversity of learners?
An expanded understanding of a wider range of disabilities has also led to a rhetorical outpouring of troubling language: students with emotional and psychological disabilities are characterized according to their “warning signs”; students with PTSD are seen to be “ticking time bombs” and more segregated programs are being created for veterans within American colleges; autism is seen as a costly “epidemic” that is now hitting higher education. How do we respond to this stigmatization? How can we recognize the eugenic undercurrent in such discourse?
Each of these new developments may translate into a new moment for composition – an opportunity to shape or be shaped according to the diversity of the students we meet in our classrooms.
Thursday, November 04, 2010
Suresh Canagarajah is Edwin Erle Sparks Professor in Applied Linguistics and English at Penn State University. His multidisciplinary research has made contributions to fields in sociolinguistics, rhetoric and composition, and migration studies. His publications have won prestigious awards in these fields. His book Resisting Linguistic Imperialism in English Teaching (Oxford UP) won the Mina Shaughnessy Award for the best publication on the teaching and research of English language and literature from the Modern Languages Association of America. His publication A Geopolitics of Academic Writing (U of Pittsburgh P) won the Gary Olson award for the best book in rhetorical and social theory from the Association of Teachers of Advanced Composition. His article “World Englishes and Composition: Pluralization Continued” won the Richard Braddock Award for the best article from the Conference on College Composition and Communication. Through such publications, Professor Canagarajah has made a significant contribution to fostering a pluralized understanding of the English language, appreciating the linguistic and literacy resources of multilingual speakers, and developing teaching practices that affirm the identities and values of international students.
Professor Canagarajah has made important contributions to the professional community. He edited the flagship journal of the international organization Teachers of English for Speakers of Other Languages, TESOL Quarterly, from 2004 to 2009. He is widely credited for internationalizing the journal with increased submissions and publication from more diverse countries, and diversifying the research approaches and essay genres represented in the journal. He is the incoming President of the American Association of Applied Linguistics. He has won fellowships in several universities. He was the Benjamin Meeker Visiting Professor at the Graduate School of Education at Bristol University (UK) in 2007. He will be a fellow at the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study (STIAS) in Cape Town, South Africa, next summer. He has been named Thomas R. Watson Visiting Distinguished Professor in fall 2011 at the English Department of the University of Louisville.
Professor Canagarajah will chair the 22nd Penn State Conference on Rhetoric and Composition July 10-12, 2011 on language diversity. Information can be found at http://outreach.psu.edu/programs/rhetoric/index.html.
Buthainah, a student from Saudi Arabia, opens her literacy autobiography as follows: “As I type each word in this literacy autobiography, storms of thoughts stampede to be considered and mentioned. Which experiences should I value, which shall I consider, and which should I ignore. . . As I click the keys on the keyboard, an illustration of my literacy development shunt me to continue my ongoing learning adventure from my academic communities, my home, and my life experiences.”
I am particularly struck by the phrases “storms of thoughts stampede” and “shunt me.” In my feedback to Buthainah, I ask her: “The phrases I have highlighted in this paragraph will be considered unidiomatic by native speakers. Did you have any second thoughts about using such phrases?”
Buthainah is adamant in her response that she used these phrases after considerable reflection and that these are her creative options for voice: “Actually, I am surprised to hear that because I discussed the first phrase with an American poet and a writer who actually really liked it because it provides the readers of a visual for what I felt at that time. I do not see why only bulls stampede – this verb can be used figuratively as well. I do not think that this is an issue of native speakers of English, I think that it is a stylistic choice.”
Buthainah’s response reminds me of recent applied linguistics research that reveals that multilinguals who use English with each other negotiate language forms afresh to co-construct meaning according to their own interests and values, without worrying about native speaker norms.
But what should I do in an American writing classroom? Should I teach Buthainah the conventions of Edited American English (EAE), after making sure that I say something nice to acknowledge her creativity? Or should I go further and encourage her to develop this form of usage in her writing? I pose myself the question I always ask when I am confronted with linguistic diversity in my classrooms (more to affirm my position rather than in consultation): “What would SRTOL say?”
After some reflection, I realize that the “Students’ Right to their Own Language” statement doesn’t have much to say about students like Buthainah and their usage. What I observe is the following:
-- SRTOL is based on recognizable dialects. Buthainah’s usage doesn’t appear to belong to a stable variety of English. Hers is an emergent form, which shows the influences of her first language and culture. The essay features a hybrid language that shows the traces of Arabic, French (her third language), and personal appropriations of English.
-- Even if I can show that Buthainah’s usage belongs to a recognizable variety, SRTOL won’t apply to her. SRTOL recognizes only the “heritage of dialects” in this “nation.” Less prestigious varieties are affirmed on the basis that “A nation proud of its diverse heritage and its cultural and racial variety will preserve its heritage of dialects.” The explanatory document (published in a special issue of CCC in fall 1974) is also framed in relation to dialects of English in the US. I am not sure what to do about varieties from outside the USA. For this reason, students of Indian English, Jamaican English, and Nigerian English are also left in limbo.
-- It also doesn’t appear that Buthainah’s usage is one of those “dialects of . . . nurture” into which students are born or socialized. Buthainah’s is a performative act of shuttling between languages for temporary ownership, identity claims, functional purposes, and fluid community membership. She doesn’t have “native” status in this English usage, an important consideration for SRTOL.
-- SRTOL won’t let me encourage Buthainah’s current usage or its further development . SRTOL is largely a policy of tolerance rather than promotion. It says: “We affirm strongly that teachers must have the experiences and training that will enable them to respect diversity and uphold the right of students to their own language.” What it expects from teachers is sufficient sensitivity as to not denigrate or suppress less prestigious dialects. But how far should we go in affirming less prestigious dialects?
-- The pedagogical option recommended is to move such students gradually towards EAE for formal writing purposes, while affirming their community dialects for oral and in-group purposes. The explanatory version says:
Teachers should stress the difference between the spoken forms of American English and EAE because a clear understanding will enable both teachers and students to focus their attention on essential items. . . Students who want to write EAE will have to learn the forms identified with that dialect as additional options to the forms they already control. . . . Therefore it is necessary that we inform those students who are preparing themselves for occupations that demand formal writing that they will be expected to write EAE.
From this perspective, Buthainah’s argument that such usage is necessary for her voice in her academic writing seems to go a bit too far. Also, the binary distinction made between EAE and other varieties doesn’t permit the possibility of Buthainah meshing her preferred dialects with EAE. What I am left with is the following strategy: I can encourage her to use her preferred variety of English in conversations in informal and in-group contexts; however, I must teach her EAE for writing and formal purposes.
When I realize all this, I feel like dropping from my thoughts a more difficult question I have—i.e., whether I should encourage students from the dominant varieties of English in my class to develop intelligibility, if not proficiency, in Buthainah’s language. Shouldn’t all our students—both native and nonnative—develop their repertoire by familiarizing themselves with the varieties found in the classroom and society? SRTOL shows the limits of a “rights discourse” in relation to a “resource discourse.” While a rights-based policy simply affirms the existence or preservation of a different code or culture, a resource-based policy looks to develop and promote these codes and cultures for the mutual enrichment of the diverse communities in a polity.
Let me be clear: SRTOL, written and adopted in 1974, was far ahead of its time in articulating the connections between language, power, and pedagogy. However, today in the twenty-first century, it is beginning to show the traces of the dominant ideologies of its original context.
In terms of language, SRTOL is informed by a structuralist orientation. It focuses on systematized varieties of language, with a stabilized grammar. In this sense, languages are treated as separate and discrete entities. However, many of us now adopt a practice-based orientation, which posits languages as always in contact and influencing each other in subtle ways. Users negotiate the diverse languages in their context, leading to an ever-shifting and evolving emergent grammar (a term introduced by Paul Hopper in the late 1980's). Such hybridity and fluidity in language use provides more communicative possibilities beyond the highly structured inert products posited by structuralism.
The structuralist orientation leads to a sociolinguistics based on contextually appropriate norms for communicative success. Each domain has its own dialect or register that needs to be recognized and upheld. These norms are treated as different but equal. However, in contrast, a post-structuralist linguistics adopts a critical orientation to language that assumes nothing instrumental or value-free about norms. We now realize that the norms of certain domains favor some groups over others. Therefore, a poststructuralist linguistics treats norms as not settled but as persistently open to negotiation.
The hybridity in language that it affirms offers us more possibilities to bring values and voices from elsewhere into the discourses of specific domains, reframe the contexts and norms, and achieve our own interests. New developments in textuality have provided other answers to the question of what is appropriate or coherent in writing. The multimodal and multilingual nature of texts suggests that writing doesn’t have to involve only one dialect or the other.
SRTOL’s social vision was and continues to be circumscribed by national boundaries. It perceives the locus for policy making as the nation-state. It is for this reason that it doesn’t address the language use rights of migrant and transnational groups. It is also silent about the rights of languages other than English. Understandably, it doesn’t consider the need for students from the dominant language groups to learn the varieties of English, or even languages, outside the United States. In the current context of transnational production, finance, popular culture, and digital communication, Anglo-American students are compelled to negotiate diverse languages in their everyday life. The languages students from outside the US bring to American classrooms are a resource that should be harnessed and promoted—if for nothing else than the good of the nation, all language, and writing instruction.
Our professional organization has recognized these new developments and reaffirmed SRTOL in 2003 to acknowledge that the passing of time didn’t affect the relevance of this statement. Thus, in August 2006, it added an updated bibliography that addresses many of the social and philosophical changes we have seen since the adoption of the SRTOL in 1974 (see http://www.ncte.org/library/NCTEFiles/Groups/CCCC/NewSRTOL.pdf).
Perhaps the next time we take up SRTOL for consideration, we should ask ourselves how we can build from its position of strength and its legacy of radical change to formulate a statement that addresses the language resources brought by the broader cohort of students we currently have in our classrooms, the multimodal and multilingual textualities that offer new possibilities for writing, and the expanded repertoires all of us need for transnational relations.
Thursday, October 21, 2010
Susan Miller is Professor Emeritus of English at the University of Utah. She has directed writing there, at Ohio State University, and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Her books include Rescuing the Subject: An Introduction to Rhetoric and the Writer, which won the Journal of Advanced Composition Best Book award and has been re-published with new materials by Southern Illinois University Press. She wrote Textual Carnivals: The Politics of Composition, which won that JAC Best Book prize, the MLA Mina P. Shaughnessy prize for best theoretical book and the National Council of Teachers of English/CCCC Best Book award. Her Assuming the Positions: Cultural Pedagogy and the Politics of Ordinary Writing was named a Choice Best Academic Book and also shared the National Council of Teachers of English/CCCC Best Book award as one of two books that have twice received or shared this award. She has most recently published Trust in Texts: A Different History of Rhetoric and The Norton Book of Composition Studies.
She has been a University of Utah Bennion Public Service Professor, has served as academic advisor to the Board of a Salt Lake Jail literacy initiative, "Booked," and serves as Permanent Advisor to Salt Lake Community College's Community Writing Center. She has chaired a University of Utah Tanner Lecture and Utah's College of Humanities Committee on Gender. She has served as a member the Conference on College Composition and Communication Executive Committee, its Nominations Committee, and the James Berlin Dissertation Prize Committee. She also chaired the first Executive Committee of the Modern Language Association Division on the Teaching of Writing, has twice chaired the MLA Division on the History and Theory of Rhetoric and Composition, and has served twice as a member of the MLA Delegate Assembly.
Her teaching has focused on first-year composition and on initiating a range of courses in new graduate-level programs in rhetoric/composition. She also teaches the History of the Book in collaboration with the University of Utah’s Marriott Library, leads a creative writing workshop for university and community medical professionals, and sponsors a national summer writing retreat for doctors.
I once taught an undergraduate whose legal research (she’s a lawyer now) analyzes the paradoxical results of legal exceptions to hearsay rules. Contrary to the usual dismissal of hearsay evidence, in domestic violence cases “excited utterances” (in the US, less clearly called “excitable speech”) are accepted as factual. In other words, the system--police and judges who process these events--automatically apply to them the scenarios of Law and Order scripts, which regularly portray fearful battered women who “won’t speak up,” or who will instead readily lie to make a point. So police and courts act on excited utterances (“He said he would blow my head off!”) that are often precisely “excited,” provoked, rhetorical statements that are treated legally as “truth,” completely apart from the larger relational contexts that produce them. This requirement, to accept excitable speech as fact, enforces a letter of the law that may destroy family relationships by casting people with complicated histories and many possible futures as the characters of a simple made-for-TV story. As teachers who highlight the nuances of language and its always-approximate constructions of realities, we notice this denial of rhetorical credibility to women, as to many other groups. Their language is often disenfranchised by a normative deafness that reads what we say through already expected identity politics.
I have also regretted excited utterances in my own teaching. This same student recently told me how she shared something I said in her class as an example of such political assumptions during a campus job interview. She told her hosts that in my literacy studies course, she had enthusiastically warmed to the class’s presumed purpose, thinking it would be teaching (at least partially) how to correct the language and thus improve the lives of the illiterate. When I began the course that semester by asking about literacy practices in the students’ hometowns, she replied, “In my school, I was the only one who ever read a book, or watched PBS, or kept up with news that wasn’t farm reports, or ever read fiction other than romances or mysteries. I was the only person who went to the one Shakespeare play.”
She then told her approving job interview hosts, “And she [referring to me] listened closely, thought a minute, and said, “Isn’t that a sort of fascist attitude toward your neighbors?” She met the job interviewers’ gasps (“You poor thing”) with the following response: “I was crushed. But I went home and thought about it a lot. She was right.”
It’s not much fun to realize that students often forget our names before the next term or that they so vividly recall words we don’t want repeated, ever, certainly never out of context and without explanation. My remembered “sort of fascist” phrase from long ago grated on my ears now—I was immediately defensive and righteously worried about my permanent record. But I also imagined that surely I had never again said anything like that to a student. In fact, I probably had, over time, learned caution about my vocabulary (if that is the test of never again saying “anything like that”). But juxtaposing her legal research results with this vivid anecdote, I can’t be so sure now.
On reflection, I understand better the intensity of my classroom response and its place in all my teaching about and through diversity. Like others writing in this blogging series, I am deeply marked by my childhood experience of diversity in maybe the world’s most foundationally complicated city, Washington, D.C. My thesaurus’s treatment of that word, diversity, includes the city’s local facts in evidence since its plotting in 1800: The term has always embodied range, variety, mixture, miscellany, and assortment, the word’s alternatives.
Washington, DC is a special place prescribed by the US Constitution, a “District of Columbia,” made for a federally collected, predominantly transient population. This national space was surveyed by an African American and planned by a French recruit to the Revolution. Refugees first populated it. Later and still, temporary residents have joined them in work that involves regularly scheduled arrivals and often-permanent departures after military, judicial, congressional, and executive assignments for the nation. Paradoxically, the relatively small contingent of detached civilians like my family and me experience such shifting circumstances as entirely normal. We are less surprised by differences than by similarities. Washington, DC is only rarely thought of as a place of original affiliations, or of a unified city spirit. Few temporary residents and visitors notice that it doesn’t have an unadulterated “image.”
Obviously, all of us under the guidance of institutional “diversity” have in some measure felt the demands of similar fluctuations. We have realized that similarities are as nuanced as differences, and that monolithic ethnic, racial, regional, sexual, religious, or for that matter, disciplinary identities are bygone fictions that cannot be retrieved. But these have also not yet been entirely replaced in assured ways. And even without noting these instabilities within ourselves, which are incrementally exposed by new biological and historical information, nor attending to new methods of posing and answering questions about identity, we have cooperatively and passively followed many dictionaries by thinking diversity is achieved as “variety”—as it is defined in a dictionary, as in one example, “a city of great cultural diversity.”
That same dictionary also separately defines the term as “social inclusiveness,” what I take to be the energy attached to the word in our institutions--CCCC and a larger cultural phenomenon, post-secondary education. But social inclusiveness is double-edged. The phrase attaches itself to separate, excluded groups that appear in the completion of this dictionary’s definition as follows: “ethnic variety [and] socioeconomic and gender variety, in a group, society, or institution.”
Dictionary “diversity” further acknowledges that the word implies “discrepancy.” In this closing dance step, the definition gets down: Diversity is “a difference from what is normal or expected.” Diversity is not entirely, with us, or with anyone, a “socially inclusive,” liberal acceptance of “the Other.” The sources of institutionalized diversity prevent it from being a surprising historic achievement that we can individually and collectively claim. Laws have mandated such acceptance, and people well-schooled in reason and generosity enacted that mandate. Its irrefutable evidence of our humanity as teachers visibly cooperates with the positions and projects that colleagues writing this blog about diversity have, thank goodness, imagined and enacted. The formerly praise-worthy idea of “tolerance” has quickly become uncomfortable for women and many others, who now assume we contribute to a normal, expected variety, and not as “tolerated” interlopers.
That is, diversity is not now a halcyon dream without successful, hard won, perpetual enactments. But by virtue of its built-in, often nurtured, “discrepancies,” it remains problematic. My obviously well-intentioned student enrolled in a literacy studies course that immediately put her in touch with her individuality (and thereby with evaluative convictions about those who were not meeting what she assumed were still institutionally expected, “educated,” norms).
As her teacher, I immediately expressed my “own” opinion about her individuality and her expectation. I asserted that categorizing others makes Others of us. Both of us ignored an obvious premise, that if we are to rewrite institutional structures and improve their results, we need relationships constituted by interactions with difference, unmediated by evaluative beliefs about superior and inferior cultural norms. Yet in most instances, we instead perceive language uses, sources of authority, preferred entertainments, and the aspirations of others as “not ours,” and we rank their significance or importance to us. We still occupy a mainland constituted by numerous accessible spaces of privilege that are nonetheless surrounded by discrete islands of difference and hierarchy.
This is to worry again about Ann Frank’s adolescent and ultimately deadly belief that people are (all) really good at heart. Experience teaches us that both insiders and outsiders are capable of sexism, racism, and especially of unacknowledged classism that encourages us to “treat” with tolerance and lessons those who are outside what we take to be our indispensable boundaries. Yet as my student’s mature legal research argues, we, and “socially inclusive” diversity itself also have a rhetorical identity well apart from “excited utterances.” Our shared interests across many diverse groups can determine the elections, curricular choices, supported research, and community projects of our organizations. Obviously, those interests are themselves always shifting, rhetorically selected, ways to form relationships with each other.
Walter Benn Michaels' The Trouble with Diversity: How We Learned to Love Identity and Ignore Inequality, 2006; Jesse Stuart's, The Thread That Runs So True: A Mountain School Teacher Tells His Story, 1950; and Lisa Delpit's article, "The Silenced Dialogue: Power and Pedagogy in Educating Other People’s Children," (1988), represent a few suggested titles on diversity that reflect some of the reading and writing for this blog post.
Thursday, September 30, 2010
Resa Crane Bizzaro is a member and Co-Chair of the CCCC Native American Caucus, and her research focuses on Native American identity. Bizzaro studies the rhetorics of unenrolled Native Americans in this country, focusing on exclusions determined by both U.S. and tribal governments. In particular, her work comments on the loss of rhetorical power and sovereignty indigenous nations in this country face by refusing membership to those people who cannot demonstrate an appropriate blood quantum. Among a variety of research interests, Bizzaro is currently at work on a project that looks at indigenous peoples and their treatment by the established medical profession, more specifically in the field of psychiatry and psychotherapy. In 2008, Bizzaro joined the faculty at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, where she is a member of the IUP Native American Awareness Council. Bizzaro is also one of the founders of "Blankets for the Elders," a non-profit organization that collects blankets, coats, warm clothing, and heaters for distribution at Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Resa's work has appeared in College English, College Composition and Communication, and a number of edited collections.
Just before we entered the station in central New Mexico, an old building appeared on my left. I moved to the train’s window to get a better look—block walls crumbling, iron bars rusting over empty windows, and letters fading but still decipherable:
Once white with red letters, the walls had collapsed on either side, making many of the letters near the margins illegible. I sat stunned at the scene outside my window. Too late, I reached for my camera, but the train slid past leaving the small station empty. I vowed to be ready on the return trip that afternoon.Trading Station
Where REAL INDIANS Trade
As I think back on that experience, I am reminded of my own "real Indian" heritage. Although many people mistake me for a descendant of European immigrants, I am a real Indian (Cherokee and Meherrin, to be exact), and it’s unsettling to see reminders in New Mexico of the hardships and accommodations made by my family in Georgia and North Carolina. When I was about ten, I found out that my paternal great grandmother was Cherokee. What I didn’t find out until nearly thirty-five years later—while looking through the Dawes Roll—was that my paternal grandmother (the daughter-in-law) was Cherokee, as well. When I was in college, I was told by a researcher that my mother’s family was most likely Meherrin, a small indigenous nation that had initially been thought to have “washed out” into the dominant population of eastern North Carolina.
Over the years, this knowledge has explained many things to me about my life, and it has brought me closer to those who are more like me. Most often, I feel more comfortable with indigenous peoples, who tend to share the same values I was taught growing up. While my parents may have been ashamed of their ancestry, and made every effort to “pass” as part of the dominant culture, I am not. I claim my heritage because it is my birthright. I feel obligated to speak out for those who are unenrolled but feel tied to these communities whose ways we have learned, albeit unwittingly.
My commitment to my culture and my overt practice of its ways have influenced how I approach life, teaching, and interactions in my communities. I do not separate these areas, for one thing, and I find that my life is like a spiral which incorporates and accommodates all these areas. I share this notion not only with indigenous peoples but also with Rebecca Dingo, who discusses ways in which we are all interconnected.
Alma Villanueva says “diversity is a way of seeing and being in the world,” and it seems to me that I have followed such a path my entire life. My grandparents and parents impressed upon me that I should respect all people, since I can’t always understand what prompts their ways. I was also taught that there is more than one “correct” way to achieve the same end—a lesson that I try to impart to my students, particularly in our use of language.
In the classroom, I make an effort to talk about language use and its consequences. Although I see it as my responsibility to discuss Standard Written English (SWE), I support the use of World Englishes. I have recently signed my name to a call for perceiving English from a world perspective—with multiple appearances, uses, and functions and variable meanings. Since I teach in a program that includes many international students, I see the necessity of such an approach. If English is to colonize the world—as it inevitably will, as it becomes the lingua franca among nations—then we must be amenable to the changes that will inevitably appear in its usage. These changes will occur even if we restrict our use of English to native speakers.
But the consequences of non-standard usage are played out at many levels. In teaching at several universities, I have seen placement “tests” which marginalize speakers of non-standard forms or those whose first language is not English. Typically, at places I have taught, students who use non-standard dialects are placed into low-level, non-credit courses in which they must demonstrate their abilities to use edited American English prior to their release into mainstream writing classes. These students’ struggles remind me of my own experiences in high school, where a teacher predicted that I would “flunk out ... [of college] before the end of the first semester” due to my “poor language abilities.”
In reading other blog entries here, I find that I agree with Malea Powell (and others) who maintain that they do not “add” diversity to their classrooms. Honoring all cultures and communication approaches is something I strive to achieve in my classroom, no matter the student or text. I do, however, feel the necessity of pointing out what values the dominant culture places upon written communication—being careful to design assignments that accommodate personal, regional, and cultural dialects, alongside standard written English (SWE). The use of SWE is an area in which my students demand instruction, as they have seen the direct consequences of an inability to communicate using the language of the dominant culture.
My research adds to my understanding of the importance of an ability to use and understand this language. Like Victor Villanueva, I believe there are serious aesthetic, social, political, and rhetorical consequences for others when the language of the dominant culture marginalizes groups of citizens. My research demonstrates the effects of the historical and contemporary language that denies acknowledgement of unenrolled indigenous peoples in their respective nations. Not only does this lack of acceptance affect those who are unenrolled, it also affects indigenous nations whose rhetorical power would swell as their numbers increase if we are all counted.
While I could go on about how my research is impacted by language and issues of “diversity,” I think it’s more important to return to where my insights and actions have been most useful (to my way of thinking) and most directly beneficial. Based on research into language used to describe indigenous peoples, I began looking at living conditions on reservated lands—sovereign ground belonging to indigenous nations such as the pueblo where Kewa Station is located.
During a conversation with my Lakota-Cheyenne friend, Marji, in 2003, I discovered that Native Americans in South Dakota endured severe winter conditions with little protection; however, one blanket might keep a person from freezing to death. Together we established Blankets for the Elders, a non-profit group which collects blankets to ship to a distribution point in Pine Ridge. Although Blankets for the Elders has now fallen under the umbrella of a larger non-profit organization, our group's efforts have continued, despite my move to Pennsylvania in 2008. Currently, we're considering opening "Blankets North," so I can manage donations of warm clothing for children. I feel called to this work because of my interests in diversity and the need for my life to reflect that interest in helping people move out of poverty.
Three hours later, we approached the Kewa Station again. I had my camera in my hand, prepared to press the on button, when I heard the conductor over the loudspeaker: “Kewa Station; please gather your belongings and move to the lower levels of the train cars. And as a reminder, you are now on indigenous lands. You are not permitted to take pictures while the train passes through this area.” I was confused; no one earlier had announced our location or the prohibition on photography. Some people cared; some people didn't. But I understood that I could not capture a picture of a relic of what must surely be the long-gone past.
Thursday, September 16, 2010
Paula Gillespie is an associate professor of English and the director for of the Center of Excellence in Writing at Florida International University since July, 2009. Prior to that she was a faculty member and directed the writing center at Marquette University. While there, she served on a subcommittee of the Diversity Task Force: “Attracting and Retaining a Diverse Faculty.” She has served as the secretary and then president of the International Writing Centers Association and has served on the Executive Committee of the Conference on College Composition and Communication. With Neal Lerner, she is the co-author of The Longman Guide to Peer Tutoring, now in its second edition. She is the co-editor of Writing Center Research: Extending the Conversation, which won the IWCA prize for outstanding scholarship. She and Brad Hughes designed the IWCA Summer Institute, which she has co-chaired three times. She and colleagues from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and University of Maine have been conducting a study on the short- and long-term effects of peer tutoring on tutors. She has consulted and/or led workshops on writing centers, writing, and peer tutoring in Germany, Greece, and Mexico.
One year and one month ago I made a move that was as much a seismic shift as a transplantation. After 29 very happy years at Marquette University, a private Jesuit school set in downtown Milwaukee, I took a job as director of the Center for Excellence in Writing at Florida International University, a public university often ranked the most diverse in the country.
Our FIU students come in every skin color imaginable. Of its 40,455 students in fall of 2009, 75% are classified as racial/ethnic minorities. Perhaps more telling is that 30% of these students come from families with an annual income of under $30,000. Many have gone to elementary and high schools in the poorest sections of Miami. Many are international, but are not middle-class, international students attending a US university, planning to return to home countries. Ours are multilingual students who might be the children of refugees, families that left their homelands under duress or who were forced to emigrate. They often bring with them the nostalgia and longing for a home they will never see again, and a sense that others have destroyed their homeland (Boym, The Future of Nostalgia, 2001).
In addition, the barriers of a new language make them feel alienated, silenced, and alone. In their homelands their parents may well have been successful professionals, but here, to assure that their children will get a good education, they take menial jobs at low pay. Many FIU students often work, not just to finance their educations, but sometimes to help support parents and/or children. At home they may speak and read fluently in Spanish or another language, but at school they struggle to find a word in English and feel ashamed when they make a mistake. Some say that in spite of their seeming fluency, they are never sure of themselves when they speak or write.
At the start of the academic year at Marquette in 2008-2009, I had no idea that I was headed for FIU. But while still at Marquette, I was fascinated by the work of a visiting Association of Marquette University Women (ASMU) Chair whose specialty is the retention of Latin@ (her term) students, Professor Alberta Gloria. Once I heard her speak briefly on her research, I felt that there was a close tie between what she asserted as the needs of Latin@ students and the needs of writers who seek the services of writing centers, both native and non-native speakers. Her work reminded me of the writings of Lisa Delpit and Gloria Ladson-Billings on the student retention of minority students. By the time she gave her open-to-the-public lecture at the end of her one-year stay, I knew I was headed for a new position in the Writing Center at FIU. By that time, Dr. Gloria's lecture and report of her year at Marquette were all the more relevant to me.
Alberta Gloria and her colleagues feel that changes must be made in American universities: that Latin@ students are blamed for their lack of success, are stereotyped, and do not so much drop out as they are pushed out of institutions. Her studies focused on students who did not have the standard advantages deemed necessary to success in college, but yet who persisted and graduated. Latin@ students, such as those at FIU, succeed by creating communities for themselves, and find mentors and role models who understand and respect their cultures. They find ways to achieve mini-successes, and these factors sustain them during dark times in college.
Immediately, when Dr. Gloria arrived at Marquette, she sought out the multi-cultural center, looked into the Latin@ student organizations, attended, helped publicize, and supported their events, involved her students in her research, and took them to conferences with her. Marquette was not a Hispanic-serving institution, as FIU is, but with and for the students, she created a metaphorical space where they could achieve mini-successes. She offered herself as mentor, role model, and cheering section.
This, to me, is the vital link between her theories and the work of writing centers. It sounded very much like the arguments Nancy Grimm has been advocating in both her written work (Good Intentions: Writing Center Work for Postmodern Times.) and conference presentations: we should be willing to go to some worthwhile lengths to make a writing center a diverse site, to focus on relationship in the center (such as Grimm's book on writing centers. Creating opportunities for Latin@s and others to encounter tutors like themselves pays big dividends
At writing centers, we educate our undergraduate and graduate consultants to talk with writers, not just to focus on the texts they bring us and hope we will fix. We engage them in conversations and in so doing help them to deepen and intensify their understanding of their subject matter. The high-order concerns we deal with often call for Bruffean kinds of conversations about the topic, the assignment, and their understanding of the goals for a written piece. But this experience in writing centers offers us rich opportunities to show writers that we are interested in Latin@ students, both in their cultures and in their traditions. When we praise elements of their writing, we actually create mini-successes for them.
At FIU, the tutors are more likely to speak Spanish – or French, or Creole - than English as a first language. Our tutors’ home countries include India, Pakistan, Jamaica, Cuba, Haiti, Honduras, Dominica, and Colombia. Some are L 1.5, having learned one dominant language at home and another at school or in the playground. FIU tutors are able to empathize with non-native speaking writers because they have been there, and they are willing to say so.
The tutors may even hold a discussion in Spanish to put the Writing Center student at ease. They may ask for a Spanish word that is eluding the writer in English, and then use a translation program to help find the right English word: “Yeah, I have trouble with prepositions, too, and when I do, this is the resource I use,” they often say to these students who seek help. In effect, our tutors serve as mentors for their writing, and as role models, someone like them who has succeeded and attained a level of expertise that helps them.
Latin@s and other international students fit in our writing center. They hang out and write there, hoping that between sessions they’ll be able to ask a quick question, or just overhear some good advice given to someone else. Some writers make our center their home away from home, a place they go to study. Most writing centers have a strong sense of community within and among staffers; our community, like many others, includes the writers.
Our tutors care deeply about one another. To them, skin color is perhaps the least important element in their relationships with one another and with writers. Still, many of them, tutors as well as writers, do not live on campus but have to return to their homes in a high-stakes city, where a lapse into academic English may be looked at as a rejection of their neighborhoods, of their home communities. Lesson: keep a keen eye on your code-switching. Many of my students have not yet used their education to buy their way out of their poorer neighborhoods. In fact, many of these students love their neighborhoods and would never leave them. But others can’t wait to leave. Some students face anti-Islamic biases; some have to struggle to protect their children from danger, and, of course, some are threatened by the renewed fervor for immigration reform.
The learning curve is steep here for me as a White professor; I don’t know and can’t discern my students’ own stratifications, but they are generous, open, committed, and caring. Like many minority communities, they care enough to help educate me. Mutual respect is the first and most significant phrase that I stress on the first day of my tutor education class, and I can see eyes widen when I urge future tutors to respect the beloved mother tongue a writer might bring in. I can see them relax into themselves when they realize that not only are they expected to respect others, but that their languages, their customs, their families are to be respected, too. They have important work to do, and they do it with excellence.
Monday, August 30, 2010
Thursday, August 05, 2010
Duane Roen is Professor of English at Arizona State University (ASU) where he serves as Head of Interdisciplinary and Liberal Studies in the School of Letters and Sciences. At ASU he has also served as Head of Humanities and Arts; Director of Composition; Co-Director of the graduate program in Rhetoric, Composition, and Linguistics; Director of the Center for Learning and Teaching Excellence; Coordinator of the Project for Writing and Recording Family History; and President of the Academic Senate. At Syracuse University he served as Director of the Writing Program. At the University of Arizona, he was founding Director of the graduate program in Rhetoric, Composition, and the Teaching of English, as well as Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of English.
Roen serves as Secretary of the Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC), as well as Vice President of the Council of Writing Program Administrators (CWPA). He has written extensively about writing curricula, pedagogy, and assessment; writing program administration; writing across the curriculum; and collaboration, among other topics. In addition to more than 200 articles, chapters, and conference papers, Duane has published eight books, including Composing Our Lives in Rhetoric and Composition: Stories About the Growth of a Discipline (with Theresa Enos and Stuart Brown); Strategies for Teaching First-Year Composition [NCTE] (with Lauren Yena, Susan K. Miller, Veronica Pantoja, and Eric Waggoner); Views from the Center: The CCCC Chairs’ Addresses, 1977-2005.
When I grew up on a dairy farm in Wisconsin in the 1950s, I had little awareness of human diversity. Most of the people I knew were descendants of Norwegian immigrants who arrived in the United States in the 1860s. Most were dairy farmers who lived within a few miles of my home. I first became vaguely aware of human diversity in the fifth grade at Willow Hill School, a one-room country school that enrolled children who lived on neighboring dairy farms. Approximately half of the children in the school had the same surname—Roen. When I was in fifth grade, all students in grades one through eight studied the US Civil War. Although I don’t recall many of the historical details that we learned in that unit, I do recall learning about some of the factors that led to the armed conflict that raged from 1861 to 1865.
As an undergraduate and graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls (which was far more diverse than anything that I had experienced before), I enrolled in courses in which we studied literature by and about people from underrepresented groups. Those courses, taught by lifelong NCTE member Nick Karolides set the stage for my master’s degree thesis, “Cultural Diversity in American Life,” which laid out a year-long course for high school students. When I taught English at New Richmond High School in Wisconsin from 1972 to 1977, I co-taught the course titled Cultural Diversity in American Life with Clark Anderson, a colleague from social science, and Mary Rivard, a colleague from art. It was an eye-opening experience for juniors and seniors who had previously had relatively few opportunities to read, write, and talk about human diversity. In the course students studied cultural backgrounds that were new to them.
I began this blog entry with some personal background because it helps to explain my current perspectives on human diversity and its role in CCCC and NCTE. During my career, both organizations have provided resources to help elementary, secondary, and college teachers develop curricula and pedagogical approaches that introduce students to diversity and its importance.
The organizations’ journals, books, position statements, and conferences offer opportunities to learn about diversity. For example, in the mid 1970s, I did a presentation at the annual NCTE conference to share my experiences in teaching the high school course Cultural Diversity in American Life. I also remember how useful it was to have the NCTE position statement titled “Resolution on the Students' Right to Their Own Language” (http://www.ncte.org/positions/statements/righttoownlanguage) when it became available after the NCTE annual business meeting in New Orleans in 1974. That statement has helped thousands of teachers make the case that linguistic diversity should be valued and celebrated.
In 2007, I had the honor to serve on the NCTE Task Force to Advance and Support Members of Color with distinguished colleagues from across the country—Beverly Chin, Amanda Espinosa-Aguilar, Sharon Floyd, Maria Franquiz, Patsy Hall, R. Joseph Rodriguez, Anna Roseboro, Sharon Washington (Facilitator), and Kent Williamson (NCTE Executive Director, who offered invaluable support to the task force). When the task force submitted its report to the NCTE Executive Committee, the response was enthusiastic, resulting in initiatives such as the NCTE Leadershift Awards (http://www.ncte.org/awards/leadershift).
Of course, the work of the task force is only one of many NCTE efforts to promote diversity, as evidenced by the organization’s twenty-nine resolutions, policy statements, and position statements on diversity (http://www.ncte.org/positions/diversity). Further, among professional organizations in the language arts, both NCTE and CCCC have relatively strong records of electing members of color for leadership roles—officers and executive committee members.
When I look at my own state, Arizona, I appreciate the importance of professional organizations that promote diversity. At times, Arizona’s political leaders struggle to come to terms with the rich human diversity in the state, passing laws that suggest a devaluing of diversity—e.g., Senate Bill 1070 (http://www.azleg.gov/legtext/49leg/2r/bills/sb1070s.pdf), which requires state and local law officers to enforce federal immigration laws, and House Bill 2281 (http://www.azleg.gov/legtext/49leg/2r/bills/hb2281s.pdf) and which bans some forms of ethnic studies in public schools
Such legislation reminds us that professional organizations have much work to do. Of course, as tax-exempt organizations, NCTE and CCCC cannot actively lobby for or against legislation, but our organizations can and should continue to provide resources that help people understand the importance of diversity in a healthy democracy.
Individual CCCC members can support diversity in the organization. For example, the editors of the NCTE collection Strategies for Teaching First-Year Composition have donated all their royalties to the Scholars for the Dream Travel Award fund (http://www.ncte.org/cccc/awards/scholarsforthedream) which helps up to ten new scholars from underrepresented groups attend the March convention each year. Other individuals support diversity in CCCC by serving on critical committees and task forces. In my many conversations with the CCCC officers in recent years, I have come to appreciate the officers’ individual and collective commitments to diversity in the organization.
In addition, individual CCCC members can also become involved in their local communities to promote diversity. For example, my service includes conducting workshops on writing about family history. Participants write about their families’ experiences, often celebrating the diversity of their loved ones. Because these workshops draw a wide range of individuals, participants have opportunities to hear about experiences that are both similar to and different from their own.
Our organizations can also continue to help students to develop the skills and knowledge that will serve them well in a diverse world—communication, leadership, ethics, global awareness, critical thinking, information literacy, problem solving. These skills and knowledge sets will serve not only individual learners but also the wider world in which they apply their personal learning. Diversity thrives in cultures that value such skills and knowledge. But, importantly, it founders when such learning is absent.
As we think specifically about CCCC’s role in promoting diversity in the future, we can ask ourselves the following kinds of questions:
1. How can CCCC most effectively reach out to nonmembers with diverse backgrounds to encourage them to join the organization?
2. What more can CCCC do to encourage greater diversity in the membership?
3. What more can CCCC do to mentor new members from diverse backgrounds to encourage them to become future leaders of the organization?
4. What additional committees and task forces (http://www.ncte.org/cccc/committees) could CCCC establish to foster diversity?
5. What other kinds of sessions at the annual CCCC conference will foster further discussion of diversity?
6. What additional curricular materials can CCCC make available to support college writing teachers who wish to explore topics of diversity in their courses?
7. How can CCCC most effectively use the MemberWeb resources (http://www.ncte.org/cccc/resources/webresources) to share information about diversity?
8. What else can CCCC do with social media to promote diversity within and outside the organization?
9. How can CCCC most effectively use the National Gallery of Writing (http://www.galleryofwriting.org/) to promote diversity both within and outside the organization?
10. How can CCCC most effectively partner with other professional organizations to develop synergistic relationships that will foster diversity?
11. What additional Webinars could CCCC sponsor to promote diversity?
12. How can CCCC leaders work most effectively with the caucuses (http://www.ncte.org/community/caucus) to promote diversity?
13. What additional awards could CCCC offer to promote diversity?
14. How can individual CCCC members most effectively support diversity in the organization?
15. How can individual CCCC members work with community groups to support diversity in their localities?
16. How can CCCC most effectively embrace the widest possible range of voices in conversations about diversity?
17. How can CCCC foster the most mutually respectful discussions about diversity?
These questions are not meant to imply that CCCC is falling short in any area. Rather, they are intended to encourage further thinking and discussion about possible initiatives that CCCC could pursue. I look forward to reading your comments and responses to this post.
Thursday, July 22, 2010
Joseph Janangelo is immediate past President of the Council of Writing Program Administrators (wpacouncil.org) and associate professor of English at Loyola University Chicago where he teaches courses in composition, theory, and visual rhetoric. His publications include Resituating Writing: Constructing and Administering Writing Programs (with Kristine Hansen) and Theoretical and Critical Perspectives on Teacher Change. Joe's articles have appeared in such journals as College Composition and Communication, College English, Journal of Teaching Writing, Rhetoric Review, and WPA: Writing Program Administration. A longtime volunteer tutor for children living at Chicago House (a residence for families impacted by HIV/AIDS) and for adults incarcerated at Chicago's correctional facilities, Joe has often seen evincing support for some of the ideas and ideals that get called "diversity." In this blog, Joe and his friend Professor Doug Hesse debate that contested and mercurial concept.
I begin with the saying: “difference is the difference that makes a difference.” Of those words, we might wonder: what makes a difference for whom and to what? In asking such questions, our work both flounders and flourishes.
To me, diversity is not a thing; it’s not a SIG, a journal’s special issue, or a specific initiative. I suggest configuring diversity as viral--everywhere at once--multiply situated (comprising ethnicity, gender, sexuality, faith, experience, age, and aspirations/inhibitions) and peripatetic--always traveling, visiting, planting, threatening and, for some, behaving parasitically.
As teachers, we might ask: if diversity is so complicated, then how can we be inclusive while getting things done? One way is to visit its interests on every committee–to ask as we work--who might see or have problems working and living with the ideas, approaches or artifacts under discussion? That could mean seeing the difficulties, complications, and resentments within the alleged “opportunities.”
Two texts inform this view. One is Karen H. Anthony’s Designing for Diversity: Gender, Race, and Ethnicity in the Architectural Profession. Anthony discusses architecture—the spaces where we live and work—and notes that most structures are made for one kind of user, the able-bodied heterosexuals. She warns that “ironically, unless drastic changes are made, the profession will likely continue to alienate those diverse members that it needs most” (181).
Another text is Harry C. Denney’s Facing the Center: Toward an Identity Politics of One-to-One Mentoring. Denny describes writing centers as sites of diversity in action and in partial hiding, because identities are developed across perceptions of race and ethnicity, class, sex and gender, and nationality. Admirably self-critical, Denny writes that he “tend[s] toward warm and fuzzy conversations about diversity that raise consciousness but rarely upset or threaten—especially myself” (33). Admitting privilege/vulnerability as a white gay man, he wants students and tutors to work together by “parlaying shared experiences to new contexts, rhetorical conversations, and academic genres.” He writes, “The trick to pulling off that sort of conversation is honoring experience without the student coming to feel objectified or patronized” (79).
Anthony's and Denny’s work resonated when Joyce Middleton asked me, “What experiences with the Council of Writing Program Administrators (CWPA) have informed your concept of diversity?” At CWPA, our members, Executive Board, and leaders work to make our organization more open to the needs of the staff, faculty, and student constituencies we serve (in both a responsive and anticipatory sense). Our work includes:
Seeking and Valuing Intake
WPA continually experiments with ways of learning about, and acting on, members’ concerns. Our conference features a session called “WPA Listens,” where members discuss their mentoring needs and volunteer their expertise. In other sessions called “Meet the Executive Board,” members raise their concerns with 4-5 Board members in informal conversations. We also use idea cards (a practice started by past President Shirley Rose) so that members’ needs can immediately direct our organizational actions.
Focusing on the Work, Not the Title
Much WPA scholarship takes university models as tacit design concepts. Jeff Klausman
(Whatcom Community College) and I are currently conducting interviews to learn about WPA work at community-colleges which are often undervalued sites of creativity and instruction.
Since 2009, Tim Dougherty (a graduate student at Syracuse University), Michele Eodice (immediate past president of the International Writing Centers Association), Duane Roen (Arizona State University, Vice-President CWPA), Sheldon Walcher (Roosevelt University) and I have collaborated on “The WPA Mentoring Project.” As co-chairs, we approach mentoring from multiple perspectives. Recognizing that our members are multiply situated, we don’t assume that one definition or approach fits many, much less all, graduate students, adjunct and full-time teachers, Writing Center Directors, and WPAs.
To invite conversation, we circulate online surveys (designed by Sheldon) to get membership input about things WPA needs to change or improve. We then post our findings at http://www.wpacouncil.org/mentoring_report. This post helps us to find members' suggestions for organizational action. So far this has resulted in redesigning signature events (for example, the WPA Breakfast is becoming more interactive than ever), and there are more member-driven sessions at the WPA Conference. Another strategy we use is to thread inclusive comments into our pre-conference institutes. In 2008, WPA offered an institute to help teachers address the needs of English Language Learners. In 2009, we invited Doug Hesse, Susanmarie Harrington and Duane Roen to lead an institute to help experienced WPAs achieve mid-career renewal.
Lest this sound like unfettered good news, let’s remember Anthony’s idea that without major change, organizations “continue to alienate those diverse members that it needs most” (181). Those “warm and fuzzy conversations” (33) may leave people “feeling objectified or patronized” (Denny 79). My hope is that we can use any “progress” as provocations for more change.
The following ideas are on my "keep (re)doing” list:
--Be leery of inherited designs. Re-read your organization’s documents and practices with a critical eye and revise them as needed;
--Make changes, but don’t simply design or re-design changes for people, but with them. Use conversations and technology for intake; then circulate the “findings” (which are also narrations) for scrutiny and critique;
--Understand that people have good reasons to be unhappy with professional organizations. Listen when members say why they are discontent; ask former members why they left. Recognize that struggle and resentment are often fueled by histories of invisibility and mistreatment; recognize that anger can be an energizing source of purpose, creativity and change;
--Become critical readers and authors of your organization’s story. If your organization wants to diversify, ask yourselves, “what are we really trying to do?” If the answer is to grow your organization or to retain members, start again.
A case in point: In the ADE Bulletin (2008), “The Color of Leadership and the Shape of the Academy: Talent Search 101,” Dolan Hubbard notes that African American scholars are in high demand. But he also states that many universities can pay this “talent” more than the HBCUs can. Therefore, Hubbard writes (citing Doug Steward in the ADE Bulletin of 2006) “it is in our enlightened self-interest as a profession to improve ‘the pathways to faculty careers in English for African Americans and other minorities.” Here difference makes a difference, but for whom? What’s really changed when most universities can outbid most HBCUs?
I’ll close by suggesting that it is critical to keep finding and probing the provocations within any successful moment or success story. Teachers and students are optimists; we’re good at giving change and reconciliation many chances to work. But optimism should also embrace vigilance, even if that embrace is painful. If it makes sense that diversity is viral and peripatetic, then learning more about it may give us some unsuspected means for noticing, responding to, and anticipating the many opportunities for indignity--and for dignity and good will--which abound in our students’and our own lives. To be real and to move forward would involve the hard work of re-reading and revising our defining documents (e.g. mission statements, committee charges) and practices to learn more about the founding designs and (de)evolving deployments that helped get us “here” in the first place.
Note: A year ago, I invited Doug Hesse write a response to this blog, but after an extended editing process that required trimming this entry, Doug asked me to cut his section. He's posted it online, and you can read it at https://portfolio.du.edu/portfolio/getportfoliofile?uid=164174.