Monday, September 8, 2008

Why Students Assume Scholarly Texts Are Written by Men

In today's class my WRA 125 students discussed a chapter from Smitherman's Talkin and Testifyin ("It Bees That Way Sometime") in order to understand the linguistic features of Black English. We also discussed chapters 1 and 2 from Teresa Redd and Karen Schuster Webb's book, A Teacher's Introduction to African American English in order to analyze the invention, arrangment, and revision (IAR) choices employed by each of the authors (for an extended discussion of IAR see Nancy DeJoy's Process This: Undergraduate Writing in Composition Studies, Utah State Press, 2004). Based on my students' analysis of these chapters, they assumed and/or concluded the following:

  • That the authors were men. During class I had to correct some students who'd say, "I think he__," because he is really a she (based on the assigned readings for today's class). I then asked why they assumed the authors were men, some pointed to the academic writing style employed by the texts. Others weren't sure, and one students said that his/her English teacher instructed him/her to use he when they didn't know the author's gender. So much for gender neutral style guidelines for editors and writers in the academy. LOL!
  • That academic texts should cite people in order to be credible. Some students questioned Smitherman's lack of citations (in the traditional sense -- parenthetical citation, etc.). While this is not a new criticism of Talkin and Testifyin, as many have pointed out with her supposed lack of empirical work, my students were intially wary of the fact that no citations from secondary sources from sociolinguists were referenced in this chapter (this doesn't mean there weren't any citations in the rest of the book; they just don't appear in this chapter). Many students thought initially that Redd and Schuster Webb would be more credible since there are tons of citations. But one of my students brought up the idea of who Smitherman would cite, since most of her research in this chapter was original: In fact, Redd and Schuster Webb cite Smitherman's work just like er'body else and they momma doing work on Ebonics.
  • That a text can be academic, yet draw on different IAR strategies from those typically found in academic discourse. For example, in "It Bees that Way Sometime," students pointed to the idea that Smitherman includes a poem and comic about the ways in which people miss the point of an argument by focusing on whether or not the argument was presented correctly in Standard English. They concluded that comic was arranged in the middle of the text (right after the dense analysis of the grammatical features of Black English) in order to help explain the analysis visually, or to help the reader recover from the dense nature of the previous analysis. They concluded that the poem was arranged at the end of the text to help audiences members change their own attitudes about BE and linguistic prejudice (revision), as a lesson readers can take away
The moral of the story: Women are academics too who are capable of exhaustive and rich analyses of language, and all academics (including women) need not be limited in their ability to exercise more flexible IAR strategies than those typically offered in academic writing. Throughout the rest of the semester we'll see how writing can be Afracentric, and yet, fulfill the requirements designated for academic writing at the same time.

BTW: My students' analysis of the IAR strategies they see in Smitherman's or Redd's/Schuster Webb's text can be found on the side of this blog where links to their blog responses appear. Check them out if you want a better understanding of IAR.



Robyn said...

i like being able to see your students' blogs!! very cool!

Revvy Rev said...

Brody, Nick, Katerina 'nem awhight!

I Q said...

i don't but i have seen a lot been written by men. but i thought there are some positions in the market are more male dominant and i would be surprised or shocked if i was told that "he" is "she"
i think the reason is because the concept of Men are stronger than women is very strong and the media or environment or people's opinions advocate this concept.