Tag Archives: E110

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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Forcing the Issue: Talking about Race in E110 at UD

When reading Banks’ work, I couldn’t help but think of my own E110 classes at UD. My undergraduate university was extremely racially diverse, so I have learned first hand how useful discussions of race, power, and privilege can be in a composition classroom. That said, I think these conversations are only useful when the class contains voices that are diverse enough to contribute varying perspectives. Without these first hand accounts of the effects that race has on writing practices, a discussion about writing studies can very quickly become a discussion about race studies. And while this latter discussion is important to have, I am not convinced that the FYC classroom is the right place for it.

My unease about having discussions of race in E110 at UD stems from the fact that, like Banks, I believe that we should adapt our teaching voice to the communities that we serve. Banks explains the importance for this adaptation in his chapter on community engagement:

One must have a teaching voice, an active voice, a scholarly voice that allows one to teach, politic, build, act, plan, in the idiom of the people—whoever “the people” are in the settings in which we hope to work. And one must teach in the idiom—not just the language practices but the ways of seeing the world, the ways of being in the world, the values, attitudes, knowledge, needs, hopes, joys, and contributions of a people as expressed through their language (49).

I think that it is this belief that makes questions of race appropriate for some first year composition classrooms and not others. During my time at Temple, discussions of race arose organically and felt natural. Racial discussions were a part of the “cultural idiom,” so we never had to have a specific week when we sat down and talked about race. Yet at UD, it seems to me that the norm is to have “the race week” where there is one text about African American studies and the central question of race is put on the table. Even at places like UD, race is an implicit part of all conversations, but because it is not a part of UD’s explicit cultural idiom, it just doesn’t come up. So instead we opt for making it come up. To me, these discussions always seem forced and contrived, which is why I’ve excluded them from my own E110 classroom.

Moreover, I think there is a very real danger of discussing race in an E110 class that is mostly white. In all of my classes, I have had at least one minority student (but never more than three). And although I have never tried to have discussions of race in this 20 white people 3 non-white people environment, I imagine that it would make the minority students feel very uncomfortable—as if they suddenly had to speak for ALL minority students.

I know that not talking about questions of race does not remove the very real implications of white hegemony over academic discourse. But I don’t think that talking about race in a room of mostly white people does either.