Remixing E110

I’ve found, reading through the posts before I post my own piece to make sure I’m not repeating what’s been said, that for UD I have a stunningly diverse classroom, whereas the class generally looks like this:

http://www.tubechop.com/watch/2542308 (Vine by Eric Dunn).

By diverse, I mean I have four students of color (an African American woman, Asian man, Middle Eastern man, and Hispanic man) and one young woman who (while white) doesn’t match up to the average UD student in that both her parents are Polish immigrants and she herself is fully bilingual. That’s about 20%!

We have not discussed race as a class, although I have brought in questions of intersectionality when students conference research topics with me. The one moment where race came up slightly was in our discussion of Anne Curzan’s piece, Says Who? Teaching and Questioning the Rules of Grammar,” in which she discusses Standard English vs home languages. Still, I am invested in diverse conversations happening in my course as I gain more experience as an instructor. 

I am, however, highly cognizant of Heather’s point about the danger in assigning students the role as “Ambassador to the Other. Carol Powell’s recent campaign at Harvard, “I, Too, Am Harvard” offers one important visual here (of many key images):

http://itooamharvard.tumblr.com/
http://itooamharvard.tumblr.com/

I am especially wary of this given my own position at home as explainer and defender of all things bisexual. It’s an exhausting position to be put in and certainly not one I want to place upon any student in my course.

I don’t think Adam Banks, in Digital Griots, gives an explicit answer on how to incorporate black voices in a (nearly completely) white classroom. I do think, however, that digital media offers a way into this conversation for students. We have a multitude of voices immediately available to us. Instead of having students read three essays from the Arak about television, food, and art, an assignment can ask students to respond to “I, Too, Am Harvard.” The accessibility (though I recognize there are absolutely limits to access for many students) of digital writing means that white students (myself included) should no longer have the privilege of being nearly completely uninformed about other races and cultures in the US. The fact that I have the internet means that I can’t claim ignorance simply because the town I grew up in is 96% white (and that is the statistic).

I have a similar responsibility in regards to what I teach. Banks writes, “Every course we teach is a mixtape, a compilation of others’ texts and ideas compiled, arranged, and combined with our own in various critical gestures we hope will inform and challenge our students” (138). I feel as though, currently, my course is a monocultural mixtape (or, perhaps, just a tape in a cultural sense). I ask (require) my students to investigate their own writing processes, their writing itself, their modes of argumentation, and the argumentative and stylistic modes of others. I should be willing to challenge their cultural assumptions as well, at least in the context of language and writing (online or off). When I discuss digital writing as a remix, we can talk about “remix” as a term and its historical/cultural significance. When I talk about academic style (which isn’t too too often), I can talk about the problems with Standard English.

Banks, at the core of the book, argues not only that black culture must have a place in the classroom, but that composition courses should enable “intersectional analysis, intergenerational inquiry, intercultural connection” (33) and do so through the idea of the digital griot – the idea of remix. In talking about the issues Banks has raised and I’ve echoed here, for the UD classroom, the focus does not have to be on only race, which may consistently alienate one student. By building intersectionality into the course, I think that we can have productive conversations about the ways in which we write, argue, question, and think online and off.

 

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11 thoughts on “Remixing E110”

  1. Caitlin,

    Although I agree that we need to arm ourselves with texts that are far more interesting and engaging than the handful in the *Arak*, I don’t think the solution is just substituting one race-oriented text for others. It goes back to what Heather discussed in her post – how discussions of race in E110 can often feel forced or contrived.

    As much as I don’t agree with what I’m about to type, the most effective move we would need to make to achieve what Banks wants to see more of in composition classrooms is to completely restructure our syllabi, our expectations, what E110 is supposed to teach, and its core values, all around race.

    But here’s where I will agree with what I’m about to type: if we’re going to be more cognizant of inserting race into composition, then we need to pay equal attention to other Others: queers, those with disabilities, and practitioners of other non-WASP/Catholic religions, etc.

    And just a last note: what about races that aren’t white or black? I get the sense that a handful of other races fall under “ESL” and that’s that…

    1. Chris,

      I definitely see what you’re saying – and I think you’re absolutely correct in pointing out that a simple reading substitution is not really a long-term productive solution (and can also seem nearly complacent in saying, well on April 15 we talked about black students at Harvard…so my class isn’t exclusionary).

      I guess I am okay with conversations feeling forced though. At points my 8 am conversations with students about topic sentences, or Arak essays are forced because these students, as the class is a university requirement, are already forced to be there. I think though, here, I am looking at forced as something that might create discomfort but something that can still foster a genuine and productive environment.

      And in terms of other “Others” – that’s exactly what I was looking towards at the end of my post in talking about intersectionality – something I have a personal investment in as a female, bisexual, first-generation college student instructor; intersections of race, class, gender, and sexuality are crucial.

      All that being said, I think that (as Heather notes) a course such as this could quickly become a course on intersectionality and not on composition. I can’t say that I’ve done enough work with this to be able to answer the question of how to prevent the content from taking over. On the other hand, I almost feel as though since this is a topic students will want to engage with only at a content level, by directing classroom conversation, it’s possible to really hammer home the difference between engaging with sources’ content vs their rhetorical moves. I also think that these discussions really push students (in an ideal class) to critically examine how they think, how they construct their arguments, and how they then make those arguments.

  2. Caitlin,

    I wonder if you could talk a bit more about your concrete ideas for incorporating intersectionality into E110. I love this as an idea, as I think it has the potential to lead to the more “natural” discussions of race that I mentioned in my post. But I’m not sure what kinds of text could be both complex enough to facilitate such discussions but accessible enough that they’d work in E110. I think assigning “I too am Harvard” as a text to read and discuss could be interesting as a digital/multimodal discussion, but I still think that it would be largely a racial discussion.

    1. Oh man – concrete ideas. These are a bit off the fly, so bear with me, as I do think that you are right about a course like this slipping quickly into being what-centered.

      A friend of mine back at Bridgewater teaches her ENGL 101 class with a similar frame, so first I would go ask her for resources. I served as the outside writing fellow for one of her courses, though, and remember two of the readings she used. The first is Peggy McIntosh’s piece on white privilege (which grew out of her examination of male privilege) http://amptoons.com/blog/files/mcintosh.html. I think this one is accessible and challenging enough in terms of content, and also a piece that can be approached rhetorically. She sets up her evidence through a personal list – a unique approach for argumentation.

      The second piece is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “The Danger of a Single Story (http://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story), which is a Ted Talk (that has a transcript along with it), that could be used to look partially at the way oral texts are constructed (what are the affordances of speaking your argument vs writing).

      This is a post on tumblr about women on Doctor Who that basically does a rhetorical analysis of an anon message: http://whovianfeminism.tumblr.com/post/73242561817/the-doctor-will-never-be-a-woman-there-are-plenty-of (I’m not positive if I would use this one since I would be careful not to bring down the men in my room too hard…)

      I think assignments around these could work something like: first we would discuss these texts in class – the conversation would likely start around content and then I could direct it toward compositon, and then there would be some type of response paper/blog post that pays closer attention to the authors’ rhetorical moves.

      Another assignment could an ad analysis where the traditional elements of the ad are looked at Allyn and Bacon style, but that, in discussions of audience, students must be attuned to how the ad positions itself in terms of race/class/gender. That way this conversation is present but not dominant in the assignment – and ultimately the assignment is focused on rhetorical moves.

      Like I said above, I don’t know for sure how all this could work. And I also think it would take more than one iteration of the course to find balance. I think the potential payoff of the course, however, is high.

      1. Oh – and Jessica Edwards here centers her E110 course around these topics as well – so I’d probably go ask her for advice, assignment ideas, and whatnot. I really enjoyed her talk at the in-service earlier this semester.

      2. This is just a quick note of thanks for the resources and the suggestions on how they might be used. I’ve read McIntosh’s essay several times in various contexts (though have never taught it) and think you could definitely spin it as both a text whose rhetorical techniques one could analyze as well as something that would just be important for students to be exposed to and think about.

  3. Caitlin,

    This seems to me a conversation we need to find ways of having in the UD writing program. It’s not that all of our courses need to be about race—or gender or sexuality or class—but that we need to make sure they aren’t unintentionally about white middle-class culture and nothing else.

    Which is why I value what Banks is trying to do at the level of style—to force the issue of another discourse that can do the same intellectual work as a seemingly neutral academic register.

    Thanks for your work here,

    Joe

  4. Caitlin,

    You wrote, “At points my 8 am conversations with students about topic sentences, or Arak essays are forced because these students, as the class is a university requirement, are already forced to be there.”
    Amen.

    Also, it seems to we don’t need to see intersectionality and composition as two different things. By its very nature, the act of composing texts is already intersectional. We already require our students to “enter a conversation” with others, but we talk about “scholarly sources” as though that’s a neutral and equal playing field to which access is open to all. And we know for a fact that it’s not.

    So I would love to continue this challenging and fruitful conversation you’ve started here.

    Twitter seems like the perfect place. (Just kidding)

    Janel

  5. I have mixed feelings on intersectionality. I do think that it’s important to recognize and embrace the voices of people with marginalized or otherwise unique perspectives in the classroom and explore material through those lenses. But my worry (if I were teaching a survey class of language) would be that it would become a course that focused on the divisions and differences of race/gender/class/privilege/etc language instead of on writing and language itself as a way that *everybody* communicates.

    Granted, I’m not a language teacher and have never studied teaching, so I’m sure that there are methods and practices in place to ensure that those topics are part of the dialogue without losing the point of the class. I guess I’ve never been in a class where these frameworks have been used to explore language in a way that shows how they can work together without inadvertently emphasizing differences and contextual issues.

    Nice post, very thought-provoking!

    1. Gab,

      I think you bring up an interesting point here in talking about the way “everybody” communicates that I kind of want to use Joe and Janel’s comments to talk about. I think one of the issues at hand here is that currently these courses argue that academic language is some sort of neutral, equally accessible to all language in a way that is inaccurate.

      Also, I think in terms of E110, I would say that, although language is important in the class, ultimately the class is titled “Critical Reading and Writing.” The Anne Curzan piece, talking about such courses, mentions that we teach students in these classes to question a lot of things – authorial motivation, rhetorical moves, arguments’ logic, use of evidence, etc. – but we don’t question things like why the current rules of grammar are what they are and why we say that there is such thing as a “standard English.” In E110 so much is up for analysis and debate, and I think that there are possibilities to critically read and write around race, class, and gender as well. Possibilities that require a lot of conversation, trial and error, and all sorts of complications – to be sure!

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