Friday, February 16, 2007

The Contact Zone in the Classroom

Min-Zhan Lu's discussion of multiculturalism and the "contact zone" in the classroom is both fascinating and seemingly impractical. I was very interested in her observations of the extent to which students representing the "Other" are marginalized unless they attempt to conform to university standards--and, of course, by conforming they are giving up, in a sense, their heritage and cultural traditions. Yet, Lu's solutions seem to be rather impractical. I feel that if teachers tiptoed around the idea of multiculturalism to the extent that Lu seems to wish then nothing would ever be accomplished in the classroom.
I was also very interested in the idea of conflict, of students feeling as though they have to choose between their home style of discourse and the university style of discourse. I was interested in this because I can identity with this concept to some extent. I am not, and never have been, a "basic writer", and I am not a member of a minority ethnic group, but I too feel this sense of conflict, sometimes even today, this sense of having to choose between home and school, and feeling as if I am betraying my home style. I say this because although I am fairly used to the university's discourse style and its emphasis on the abstract, the questioning of societal norms, matters of inquiry that rise above the practical and everyday, I am originally from a rural area. The rural culture emphasizes pragmatism, the concrete, manual labor--it focuses on things like making money and putting food on the table. My dad is pretty well educated and extremely good at what he does for a living, but his field is very technical and very hands on. My mother has only a high school diploma and a semester or two of community college. She has never worked in a job above the entry level. Thus, sometimes when I get particularly carried away in academic inquiry, I feel a sense of discomfort and guilt, as though I am betraying the values that my family has instilled in me. I literally feel as though I go back and forth between discourses: the one I use at school and in my work, and the one I use at home and around my family members. And although to some extent I feel as though this could be an advantage in that I am able to see both sides of the coin, other times I am exhausted and anxious about trying to find just the right balance.

Friday, February 9, 2007

The Paradox of Basic Writing in the College Curriculum

I was most intrigued by the quote by Spivak that David Bartholomae used to introduce his article "The Tidy House." Basically Spivak makes note of the "unrecognized contradiction within a position that valorizes the conrete experience of the oppressed, while being so uncritical about the historical role of the intellectual" and claims that it is "maintained by a verbal slippage" (qtd in Bartholmae 171). I was unsure of the relevance of the quote, but then it made perfect sense after I read the article. In fact, it clarified his main point, bringing it into sharper focus. Bartholomae's take on basic writing within the college curriculum is that it is a contradictory concept: both an attempt by the university to be more inclusive and a policy that results in the mariginalization of the very students that the academy is attempting to welcome into their ranks. He discusses the theories of other critics who claim that rather than trying to change basic writers into purveyors of appropriate academic discourse, the academy should change the way it views its own policies and discursive practices and try to highlight these differences in culture, class, and education, rather than trying to eliminate and force conformity upon everyone.
I have mixed feelings about this article--for one, Bartholomae seems rather overly cynical about basic writing programs and the intentions of the academy in creating them, although he does have a point about the almost arbitrary nature of the term "basic writing" and what constitutes a basic writer. Does the university find it necessary to use the term to, in a sense, "create" basic other words, to make sure that there is always a group of students who fall into this category? Perhaps, because the university's very existence depends on a separate sort of discourse than that of the "regular" society. If they lose this divide, perhaps they lose their entire purpose, or at least one of their main purposes. I certainly see the point he and other critics are making about marginalization. Yet, the fact is, that is the nature of the beast. The university encourages high standards for all for the benefit of society and human understanding, and basic writers just need extra help to live up to their potential. Thus, basic writing seems quite necessary to integrate these students into the academic culture, rather than ignoring or belittling them. Certainly it's a complex issue, and I don't have all the answers.

Work Cited:
Bartholomae, David. "The Tidy House: Basic Writing in the American Curriculum." Landmark Essays on Basic Writing. Ed. Kay Halasek and Nels P. Highberg. Mahwah, NJ: Hermagoras Press, 2001.

Friday, February 2, 2007

Adrienne Rich

I think that reading Adrienne Rich’s essay “Teaching Language in Open Admission” is particularly appropriate to begin our class, because rather than discussing the beginnings of basic writing in a dry, impersonal, “academic” tone, Rich details her ideas by drawing from her personal experiences and describing in vivid, eloquent detail the poverty and difficult situations that many of these students face. Rich’s narrative style allows us to step into her shoes and imagine ourselves in her position–one that makes us possibly more empathetic to these student’s individual circumstances. No doubt, these disadvantaged or challenged students were all lumped into one category–that of the “hopeless students”–before Mina Shaghnessy’s revolutionary work with these students that she details in her text Errors and Expectations, and Rich touches on in her essay. I’m especially impressed by Shaughnessy’s, Rich’s, and their colleagues’ insistence on working with these students on their own terms and respecting their style of intelligence. For example, Rich writes that “students who could barely sweat out a paragraph delivered...dazzling raps in the classroom” and describes inner-city African-American students as being “politically conscious” (4,5). In other words, they may have not fit the standards of white, middle-class academia, but they were in no way untalented or lacking in intelligence. I appreciate the contributions of Rich, Shaughnessy, and the others who worked in these programs, because their work reinforces the idea that true learning comes from questioning the norms, rather than blindly accepting them.

Work Cited:

Rich, Adrienne. “Teaching Language in Open Admissions.” Landmark Essays on Basic Writing. Ed. Kay Halasek and Nels P. Highberg. Mahwah, NJ: Hermagoras, 2001.