Friday, September 26, 2008

Content-Based Writing Courses vs. Writing-Based Writing Courses

Diary of an Anxious Black Women has an interesting discussion that complicates the concept of safe spaces vs. white male privilege in the classroom. I encourage you to check it out, as I believe her discussion to have interesting implications for rhet/comp pedagogy. Perhaps this can help some of us struggling with the writing as activity (writing courses with content-based themes) vs. writing as the subject of inquiry (writing courses with writing as the subject/content) debate that still plagues may first-year writing programs. With the rise of presidential election/politics/rhetoric, (at least in my mind ) this debate may seem to be resurrecting.

For some less familiar with this debate, there's tension in rhet/comp pedagogical scholarship to determine whether content-based themes (race, class, gender, politics, etc.) should be used in content-based first-year writing courses. Critics of this idea charge that more time is being spent debating these topics, while less time is being spent teaching students how to write. Critics also charge that we shouldn't introduce themed topics like race, class, or gender into the classroom, since writing teachers are not trained sociologists/political scientists/women's studies scholar/critical race theorists, etc.

Proponents of introducing content-based themes into first-year writing classes argue that we not ignore the identities students bring into the classroom because our students are raced, classed, and gendered and do bring with them their rich and extensive ideological histories. These proponents would also argue that their research is interdisciplinary enough to account for topics in women studies, sociology, etc., thus making them qualified enough to cover such topics in first-year writing. And finally, many of these proponents charge that in real writing situations, writers write about something. Therefore, why not have them write about topics that affect and influence our everyday practices?

Personally, I think a first-year writing class can do both (that, is cover content-based themes and keep the focus on writing). At my institution, our Tier I Writing Committee has worked quite extensively to make sure that the focus is still on writing, even though we have several content-based first-year writing courses that cover race, gender, class, service learning, technology, law and justice, American thought, radical thought etc. The key is making a shared curriculum with writing-focused/literacy focused assignments that are flexible enough to cover different content-based areas (we've composed a programmatic guidebook that speaks to many of these concerns). For example, the first assignment in our sequence is a literacy autobiography assignment. Some instructors adapt this by assigning linguistic literacy autobiographies using discussions of Ebonics (race, sociolinguistics, rhet/comp scholarship) as a lens. Others construct gendered linguistic literacy autobiographies, asking students to discuss how their language use is influenced by gender norms. For instructors whose courses focus on science and technology, they have students write technological literacy autobiographies that ask students to discuss their literacy acquisition to learning different video game technologies. So it can be done.

I digressed a bit, now back to the Diary of an Anxious Black Women post. I encourage you all to read her post because I don't want writing teachers to use the challenges that she experiences as an excuse to ignore white privilege, race, class, or gender discussions in the classroom. They can be addressed quite productively, while still keeping the focus on writing, since we are teaching a writing course, and not a Women's Studies course.


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

OMG: Someone Just Asked Me for Professional Advice

I'm an avid reader of Paul Matsuda's blog (BTW, I've met him briefly and he's a very COOL guy for those unfamiliar with our field). For those of you who are familiar with his blog, you'll find that he gives out a lot of solicited and unsolicited advice on professionalizing academics' work in rhetoric and composition, TESOL, the academy in general, etc.. I'm bringing up Paul's blog here, because I got my first round of professionally solicited advice, where someone emailed me (aside for solicitations from colleagues at my home institution: they don't count! LOL!). A prospective CCCC Scholars for the Dream Award applicant just emailed me wanting advice on how to apply for the award, and asked for my sample application materials (in case you didn't know, I was a recipient of this award last year). I gave them to the applicant, but also requested to see his/her CCCC 2009 abstract to recommend further advice. Now thinking back, I'm not sure if I should have acted so quickly. My materials are so disciplinary specific and focused on my own research (dissertation and beyond), though, that it would be difficult for anyone to use them for purposes that raise issues about academic dishonesty. Not that I am suggesting that the applicant would be academically dishonest and/or plagiarize (it would be kinda stupid since I just won the award and the Dream committee may still be quite familiar with my materials), since I trust that academics practicioners to act more ethically; however, I wonder if sharing materials the relate in some way to competition should be thought about more critically. Thoughts?

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Balancing Act (or Lack Thereof)

I'm having a bit of a challenge lately balancing teaching and other professional work. I've been preparing for teaching quite well, and as far as teaching goes, things are going well and I have a super duper smart class. Other than teaching and office hours, though, I have been home doing nothing. This is in part a deliberate break I promised myself for working 12 months straight with no summer break or vacation. And since I finished the textbook reader, guidebook, 2 exams, 3 articles + one revise/resubmit (I'm still waiting on the reviews for articles, some of which I submitted as early as May!), I thought I really deserved the break. But now, I feel really, really guilty about not doing anything other than teaching (even though I've done tidbits of dissertation writing here and there). Here's why:

  1. I was ill-prepared for a meeting today. A group of us are presenting at the Watson Conference in Louisville, KY later next month. We were supposed to have our power point slides drafted an sent, and for some reason, I just didn't do it.
  2. I've been home, had plenty of time to work, have done no housework, no cooking, no laundry, nothing in the past month even though I have time to do it. One would think that if I'm not working that much, I'd take care of these duties? Thanks to Mr. Clark, he's been doing all the housework lately (he's such a good husband).
  3. I've been sleeping during the day and night . Yeah, I could be more productive but sleep is good.
I've been dealing with this by trying to cut myself some slack; however, I still feel bad when I don't work [enough], so to deal with being nonproductive, I did the following things/will continue to do the following things:

  1. Graded 9 students' papers of 24 (and I just got students' first papers today). I plan the finish the sack by Friday.
  2. Did some revisions to Ch. 2 of the dis and made an outline for Ch. 3.
  3. I've continued a consistent daily workout regimen of yoga. Despite doing nothing around the house, I still managed to do at least 30 minutes of yoga a day.
So, I am making progress. I just need to get motivated to do more around the apartment.
And while I feel bad for not being as prepared for the meeting, I still think that it's not that bad of an idea to take it easy right now. I don't wanna burn out.


PS: I forgot to mention that during my hiatus that I did some preliminary research for the book chapter I'm writing with Nancy DeJoy. I guess I am getting things done; I need to just chill!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Anal Retentive Good Ol' Educated American Citizen

Last week Mr. Clark and I had to call the cops for a disturbance above our apartment. It appeared that the tenants above us have an untrained dog who barks and barks, and stomps and stomps and digs his/her claws into the carpet right above our bedroom at the wee hours in the night. It's so loud that when we audio recorded and played it for the cop, he could hear it very loudly! We didn't want to resort to calling the cops, since I wouldn't describe this as instance an emergency; however, we followed all rules for complaints designated by our complex, wrote letter after letter, etc. and still faced the same disruptions.

Long story short, the issue has sense been resolved and we don't hear much from the dog anymore. But what is really interesting are the things the cop said or implied to us as good ol' law abiding middle-class citizens (while not directly quoted verbatim, here's the gist of what was said):

Officer: I think you guys can settle this with the neighbors since you're obviously educated people

Me: *Raises eyebrows [hmmm. is this because I put on my white people soundin' voice, even though at midnight, I hadn't taken my dew rag off an let my hair down

Mr. Clark: silence...

Officer: *uncomfortably. Well, you know what I mean; it's obvious that you're model tenants (citizens?) and you're the type of people this complex what to keep -- I mean, look at this apartment. It's immaculate ....

Me: *proud. Thank you.

Officer: Just try to work it out with the neighbors and let me know if this still isn't settled. If we have to take this to court, it could take weeks.

Me and Mr. Clark: We'll try. Thanks.
While this post is not attempt to play any race or class cards (although both may be embedded in this discourse), or fault the officer in any way -- since I do believe he's really a nice guy and pretty much talked to us for roughly a half hour, as he tried to establish his rapport with our community. It does remind me of some issues that Lynn Bloom discussed over a decade earlier in her essay,"Freshman Composition as a Middle-Class Enterprise." For readers less familiar with this essay (although a common one in rhet/comp circles), Bloom identifies major elements of the middle class and how they are appropriated in freshman composition courses:

  • Self-reliance, responsibility
  • Respectability ("middle-class morality")
  • Decorum, propriety
  • Moderation and temperance
  • Thrift
  • Efficiency
  • Order
  • Cleanliness
  • Punctuality
  • Critical Thinking

While I'm sure tens of readers might associate any of these with the good, law abiding citizens, I will highlight how a few of these apply. Order and cleanliness are obvious ones as they both pertain to the officer's remarks regarding my apartment. And critical thinking (writing formal letters, problem solving with the officer, etc.) is also an obvious one that comes to mind. But self-reliance, respectability, and decorum are also implicated. Self reliance suggests that citizens be responsible for their own actions, and this was in part my and Mr. Clark's frustrations with the dog. We both assumed that because of the dog's tantrums, he/she was untrained, and that it was the responsibility of the owners to train their dog. And it may be assumed that when people don't train their dogs, they are not following decorum or ettiquette. Similarly to the freshmen comp class, "Teachers, implicitly equating propriety with good character as well as good manner" (660), and such was the case in my situation. When people don't follow appropriate decorum, issues of respect may also arise. We felt we were disrespected by the complex for not responding quickly enough (punctuality) to our complaints, even though we followed their procedures. And we also felt disrespected by our neighbors who were familiar with our complaints (at least according to the leasing office), but took too long to change their behaviors.

Suffice it to say, I'm well aware of critiques on the cultural biases associated with these middle-class attributes. What's more important, though, are the ways in which it is surprising when people of color subscribe or appropriate these same attributes that proponents of the white middle class often impose chastise people of color for not subscribing. This too, reminds me of the surprise at Barack Obama being articulate. And while I did attempt to resist some of these cultural imposations by wearing my head scarf (which many Black women wear to protect their hair), and although my apartment contains several paintings and sculptures of African American art (I even got a Black Jesus up in there too!), it was only noticed verbally the ways that my ideology attempted or was assumed to subscribe to the white middle-class.


Tuesday, September 16, 2008

My Birthday: Why I am Not as Excited

I usually love birthdays and am giddy like a 5 year old when they do come. But these year, tho I'm happy, my birthday seems more like a normal day. Prior to this year, it seemed more like a holiday, or something that, in my narcissistic mind, should have been a holiday. This year is different. I'm not as geeked. I really don't know why. I am throwing a big birthday bash at Cici's Pizza Buffet with a bunch of colleagues and friends tonight, which should be fun. But other than that, today's an ordinary day. I'm a bit older and wiser, maybe not old or wise enough to help creat the blackberry. LOL.


Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Why Don't They Comment on Our Blogs: An Issue of Audience

In today's class we talked about how we use language differently for different writing situations. For the first paper my students are asked to compose a linguistic literacy autobiography in which they analyze the differences between their home and school languages. In today's discussion we talked about the language of our blogs. Some students felt that because their class blogs discuss literacy and academic issues, most of them felt compelled to use some variety of Standard English in order to prove their credibility and ability to respond "intelligently" to academic arguments (we complicate this notion of a Standard and issues of intelligence, correctness, etc. in class discussions). Others attempted to draw on other varieties of English, including texting or digital language because of the genre that they're using. Since it's a blog, and since blogs are digital, they argue that digital language should be acceptable.

We then discussed the consequences for choosing a specific language variety. From this conversation we turned to issues of audience and what judgments our blog audiences may make based on what and how we write. I then informed my students that they are writing for a real audience and some of my colleagues even read their blogs. After revealing this (in case some students hadn't yet viewed comments on my own blog that respond to their blog postings), one of my students asked why viewers outside of the class didn't leave comments on their blogs. "Hmmmmm. I dunno," I told him/her. I also said that sometimes people take a while to familiarize themselves with the blog before they leave comments, and that it took readers some time before they even began posting comments on my blog. We then began commenting on each others' blogs in class to bounce off additional ideas for trying out new Invention, Arrangement and Revision strategies. Maybe if we create a stronger community of scholars and begin to comment on each others' blogs, those outside of our class may comment too? I also suggested that studentsm might view their profile views on their blogs to get an indication of how many people are checking out the blogger's profile, hence checking out the blog to see if people are reading. That's what I did before I started receiving comments.

What do you think? Why don't people leave comment on blogs? Isn't silence a language choice too?


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.


Thursday, September 4, 2008

Folks Have the Nerve to Talk about Sexism and Double-standards?

I usually do NOT blog about politics out of respect for my students whose views may differ from mine (I don't care about my colleagues views though! LOL!), BUT I'm fed up with hypocritical evangelical church folk (and YES, I am a Christian and a child of God). I've sat by fairly quietly and watched the media have their heyday on Sara Palin, all while knowing that she's probably not as intelligent as me, and thus not qualified to be president or vice president yadayadayada... I get that. But what really makes me angry is when those on the right try to justify they own wrongs but are ready to crucify other folks for doin' the same dang thang!

Now, I applaud Obama for taking the high road in stating that the media should leave candidates' families out of political spectacles; however, we have to hold politicians accountable when they excuse their own families and enforce policies by which their own families cannot abide. As Diary of an Anxious Black Woman pointed out, other folks' unwed teenage mothers are considered welfare queens, but Bristol is to be applauded for not getting an abortion. Huh? What about the "welfare queens" who kept they babies too? And how does one preach abstinence in the schools when it obviously didn't work for her own daughter? I'm sick of folk glorifying the "sins" of privileged women who happen to be fair-skinned, while calling our Black women hypersexed, gold diggin', hot mammas who can't keep their skirts pulled down. Maybe we should leave Bristol out of politics, BUT, let's not glorify/justify her or her family. It is what it is: an unwed teenage baby mamma.