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.


imcriswell said...

I feel roughly the same way about the University taking away individualism. I can't think like a slacker at school. Likewise, I can't think like a college student around my friends who aren't college students. I try and find a balance between the two worlds, but I just have to live with the dual life sort of thing. It's frustrating.

Reader1 said...

I enjoyed your personal example of struggling with multiple discourses. The blog was more engaging than if you had just analyzed the readings. Also, bravo on being able to articulately state your opinion of Min Zhan Lu's theory.