In Digital Griots: African American Rhetoric in a Multimedia Age, Adam Banks creates a new framework for thinking about writing pedagogy, and digital writing especially, that allows black students a better entry point into the conversation of digital writing:
My argument in this book is that African Americans should take this griotic tradition to their engagements with technology, becoming digital griots, bearers of this tradition in digital spaces. I also suggest that the digital griot has much to offer teacher-scholars in literacy and composition looking for relevant models of multimodal literacies for their work and that of their students. (27)
In terms of his first goal, then, it’s difficult to see how it can be immediately applied to my own experience as a writing instructor at UD for the simple reason that my classrooms are almost entirely, if not always entirely, white. As some of you have said in your other posts, this makes discussing race and creating a multicultural classroom difficult in some respects. Yet, and this is where Banks’s second goal comes into play, I would argue that creating a multicultural writing classroom, a classroom dedicated to the ethics of diversity, is not only achieved through explicit discussion of race and cultural issues.
First, let’s take a moment to recognize that diversity comes in many ways–though race may seem most readily apparent, discussions of class difference or gender and sexuality issues might be relevant and useful for our UD classrooms if the lack of racial diversity is too daunting.
Beyond that, though, Banks’s text shows us the ways that our writing pedagogy itself is infused with particular cultural values. The assignments we choose, the technology we use, the texts we have students read, and, perhaps most importantly, how we choose to evaluate and how we teach evaluation of texts are all imbued with certain cultural values and biases.
What ends up being so brilliant about Banks’s promotion of the kind of writing pedagogy grounded in the “griotic tradition” is the way that it reveals the cultural context and social significance of any kind of discourse–it reveals all discourse to be culturally dependent.
A traditional writing classroom, one that does not follow Banks, preaches a certain set of values when it comes to writing (concision, structure, linearity, clarity, etc.) that are tacitly raced, gendered, culture-ed (a pun!) but are taught as if they were inherently “good” or “better than” or “academic.” In this classroom, student’s writing is “improved” and they become “better” writers–this environment can be alien and terrifying depending on how far removed the student is from the culture of the university.
What the “griotic tradition” asks us to do instead is teach students not to “improve” their own writing (to change themselves!) but to learn and try on news ways of writing, to understand writing as essentially a performance that you can put on and step out of without compromising your personal identity and without believing in any inherent value of certain types of writing over others. So, even for our classrooms with a marked lack of diversity, we can teach an appreciation for diversity and work to undo the assumptions of superior writing skill created by white privilege.
In the end, I think that Digital Griots does offer us a way to encourage a multicultural classroom even without a visibly diverse student population OR explicit discussions of race. Through a treatment of different texts and discourses that highlights their status as culturally-dependent, inherently-valueless performances, we can at least encourage an ethics of diversity in our students.
(I apologize for the late posting.)