We’ve been considering the importance of community literacies, community languages, and community sites of learning. It has surfaced through some of our readings, most recently in Brokering Tareas: Mexican Immigrant Families Translanguaging Homework Literacies by Steven Alvarez.
Alvarez chronicles the experiences of immigrant parents trying to help their children through homework that they don’t fully understand and of those students who are learning to broker languages – in these cases Spanish and English – as they simultaneously learn from homework mentors and help their parents learn as well.
While most of the vast linguistic repertoires that students have is due to sites of community learning, not classroom learning, there are few places that offer an overlap or an in-between. However, the campus Writing Center may be a space in which these two sites of learning could mesh.
The Writing Center is available to all students and faculty of UWM. It is promoted as a learning site separate from the instructor and the classroom that allows students an alternate learning site.
As a tutor, I’ve learned how highly the Writing Center values their space as safe from the tensions, judgments, and pressures that may be felt in the classroom. Our job is to be readers and listeners for writers at all stages of the writing process. We never write on papers or share information about students with their instructors. It is a confidential space for students to come and talk through their writing and learning processes with other writers.
Since I also teach English 101, I’ve been comparing my relationships with students in the classroom as an instructor and in the Writing Center as a tutor. What I’ve learned from these comparative observations is the importance of valuing sites of learning outside of the classroom.
How can we incorporate local community literacies, languages, and linguistic practices into the Writing Center, since it’s promoted as a site of learning outside of the classroom?
I recently worked with a student who was frustrated about not being able to voice their own opinion in a paper. I could see their personal connection to the topic, and their struggle with adhering to the instructor’s restrictions.
I encouraged them to see if the instructor would be willing to allow a personal voice in this paper, given the community connection that the student had to the topic, as it added a richness to the rhetorical situation of the assignment. Their powerful vocalization was deftly and rhetorically woven into their writing (in non-academic English) for a topic that affected a community they identified with.
I wanted to change the assignment for them. I wanted to show the instructor the linguistic and rhetorical choices this writer had made in order to craft this well-written (albeit first-person) paper. While I couldn’t change the assignment, or change how the instructor would grade the student, I could offer myself as a listener.
I listened as with thick emotion in their voice they shared about this difficult topic tied to their sense of identity in their community. I was reminded of Krista Ratcliffe’s Rhetorical Listening, which we read earlier this semester. She encourages us to find a space of listening in which we don’t project ourselves onto the speaker, but instead disengage ourselves from identifications and simply (thought it’s not simple) listen.
Alvarez and Ratcliffe stress the importance of listening in order to respect the identities of others and the community knowledge they possess. We offer a space for students to be heard and [rhetorically] listened to; how can we incorporate more than shadows of classroom practices? How can we make space for community literacies, languages, and learning practices?
In the Writing Center, there are still pressures, constraints, and consequences coming from the classroom, and students feel them. And so, I don’t really leave this post with an answer, but rather a question:
How can UWM’s Writing Center learn from local community sites of learning in order to better its vision and realization of being a safe site of learning outside of the classroom?
This fall, students at Shorewood High School prepared to perform To Kill a Mockingbird based on Harper Lee’s 1960 novel. Less than a week before the premiere scheduled for October 11, protests broke out because of the use of N-word in the script, and this sparked a heated controversy as to whether the play should go on or be cancelled. One outcome of the debacle was an event titled “A community conversation about race” which was organized by the school board and superintendent as a response to “the need to engage in these difficult conversations about race and racial inequities as a way to improve our schools and our village”.
Listening to the protesting voices at the community event on October 16, I heard several people emphasize the trigger effect of the N-word caused a re-traumatization of the students of color; some suggested the actors omit the N-word in the performance , a solution that proved unrealizable due to copy right laws. To frame the protesting voices within a discussion on literacy, Eric Darnell Pritchard’s Fashioning Lives conceptualizes, in the tradition of Paolo Freire and Sojourner Truth, literacy as “reading the word and reading the world” (80). In our case, we literally have a word that is situated in a context of colorblind racism; to help us see the potency of that word in that play, Pritchard’s conceptualization of “literacy normativity” - which describes literacies designed to sustain marginalization of racialized bodies, inflicting harm and pain - is instructive. In insisting on the play - an act of literacy normativity - to go on in spite of protests against inflicting harm and pain, that is exactly what is happening. Saliently, however, Pritchard also proposes the concept of “restorative literacies” which are literacies that heal. Pritchard writes, “Restorative literacies are part of the long African American tradition Elaine Richardson calls ‘survival literacies’. These survival literacies work to guard individuals against … ‘the living death of silence’.” (34). Indeed, the resistance expressed at Shorewood High School can be seen as restorative, an act of self-care and even love, which Pritchard defines as, “a radical praxis of freedom and self-care in the face of a social, political, and cultural circumstance in which you and your people are targeted for debasement, degradation, and in many cases, death.” (36).At the event, a student read aloud an Instagram message reacting to the protesters with racist and threatening content, reminding us these conversations do concern life and death.
Heeding the voices of resistance against the N-word in any context (and colonial ideologies that buttress it), I think the time is ripe to reconsider the benefits of asking high school students to read, and much less perform, Harper Lee’s novel. I understand that if the goal is to generate classroom dialogues about racism and equality, there are other novels and plays available that center and humanize people of color rather than representing them as minor characters (e.g. Lawrence Hill’s The Book of Negroes, Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give, and David Chariandy’s Brother). At the meeting, though, Shorewood High School’s drama director rather unapologetically claimed to have chosen To Kill a Mockingbird to encourage more “minority students to join [the drama club]”, and though his intentions appear to be harmless, he is, in fact, enacting a modern and subtle form of colonialism. Using Django Paris and H. Samy Alim’s Culturally Sustaining Pedagogies (2017) as a lens, we learn “CSP is about complicating, sustaining, and extending what is important to students and their lives, not just what is important to educators and their agendas, whether their agendas are social justice-driven or not” (Wong and Peña, 125). The colonialist aspect of the drama director’s actions lies in his setting the agenda for the minority students; in plowing ahead and disregarding what the students might have deemed important to dramatize; and in silencing their voices when they raised them in protest against having to listen to White students utter the N-word 44 times. Many people voiced the point that this is a play; it is White characters. - not White students - shouting the word. But guess what? Testimonials confirmed White students do habitually use the N-word, and even if they didn’t, does a White person get to decide hearing the N-word in the context of a play isn’t harmful? The epitome of the modern colonial spirit is when the colonizer dictates the terms of healing and reconciliation.
In the end, whether the voices of resistance were heard or whether safety concerns were given priority, the play was cancelled, leaving me hoping for climate changes in the community, and for instructional and staffing changes at the school. -GPF
Last Thursday, our class had the rare opportunity to discuss a book with its author: Morris Young generously answered questions about his book Minor Re/Visions: Asian American Literacy Narratives as a Rhetoric of Citizenship. We also extended our discussion about literacy narratives by looking at the Digital Archive of Literacy Narratives.
First, Morris Young contextualized his research in terms of Hawaiian history and personal history. He delved into the complexity of Hawaii’s history in terms of colonization, literacy and citizenship. Referring to colonization and “settler colonialism”, he explained how languages and literacy have become a “proxy for social class and race” (Young):
As an Asian American from Hawaii, Young grew up with this legacy. He mentioned how his mother went to English Standard school and talked about it with pride. In contrast, he noted that when he went to school, English Standard schools didn’t exist anymore, but that the Asian American community still experienced the weight of English norm, however more with resentment than pride. Influenced by Anna Ruggles Gere’s Kitchen Tables and Rented Rooms of the Extra-Curriculum of Composition, Young thus looked at literacy outside the classrooms and placed the start of his research at the intersection of two Hawaiian archives: the historical archives (in English) and the literary archives (in Hawaiian pidgin) trying to figure out how narratives could bring them together. That is also when he heard the emerging term “literacy narrative” in the field of rhetoric and composition. His research had just found a vessel.
Young then developed his idea of Minor Re/Visions through literacy narratives, practice that he has reflected upon and adapted to different body of students. His approach to research has been reflective too as Young defined Minor Re/Visions as dated. He explained how Minor Re/Visions are now seen as conservative because they position themselves in relationship with the dominant narrative, when minority communities don’t want to define themselves in this relationship anymore. However, Young wondered if it would ever be possible for minority communities to totally abstract themselves from this relationship…
Young is pursuing his amazing research in literacy narratives in other areas as well. Lately he has been looking at how places shape rhetorical activities, especially within Asian American narratives. He gave the example of graffiti in Japanese classical forms used to warn and to advise new migrants about what they would face after they leave the immigration station. He closed our discussion by letting us ponder about the wall that the U.S. President wants to erect and what literacy it might generate.
After our discussion with Morris Young, many in the class expressed the idea that Minor Re/Visions doesn’t seem outdated when one looks at how Standard English is still so pervasive in the U.S. educational system. We acknowledged that it takes time for new forward ideas to actually seep into the structure of a system and be implemented in term of practices. One classmate noted that Minor Re/Visions could be the first step towards wider deeper change. The discussion also led us to reflect on the valence of literacy. We all agreed that literacy is not inherently good or bad but that it all depends on what one does with it. As an example, we talked about the complexity and ambivalence of literacy during slavery in the U.S. We also worried about how neoliberal argumentations contribute in pushing towards Standard English as a norm. We finally talked about what we could take from the discussion in term of research: a method. We noted how Morris Young connected fields for his research–– literacy narrative/fiction and education policy. I am particularly interested by the pollination that can happen between different fields in term of research. How can research in poetry gain from rhetoric, and vice-versa?
Food. Comida. Nourishment. Fuel. Grub. Sustenance. However we choose to name what we eat, it's undeniable that our daily lives are directly affected by the substances we put into our bodies. Over the last decade, a groundswell of interest has been engendering social consciousness surrounding food systems, sustainability, and nutrition in the city of Milwaukee.
In 2007, Groundwork Milwaukee, began to address the relationship between the natural environment and human well-being, specifically seeking to revitalize natural areas within the city of Milwaukee. Importantly, Groundwork’s mission explicitly incorporates community collaboration as a means to further promote the social wellness of the city. Soon after, other organizations, such as Victory Garden Initiative (VGI) joined Groundwork in their vision for a better Milwaukee. VGI’s mission of empowering communities to grow their own food helped connect the dots of community engagement with socially-just and sustainable food systems. This orientation towards situatedness within local contexts—highlighted by working with and within communities—echoes much of what we’ve been reading and discussing in our class. Beginning with Lisa Delpit’s Other People’s Children and resurfacing again during our examination of Django Paris and Samy Alim’s Culturally Sustaining Pedagogies as well as Morris Young’s Minor Re/Visions, the contextualization of learning has been a key theme throughout the semester. We’ve discovered that students and communities can find more success when learning environments are constructed with rather than for them. In chapter twelve of Culturally Sustaining Pedagogies Amanda Holmes and Norma González assert that this “resource orientation” can be achieved by asking “how, when, by who, and for what purpose community knowledge is alchemized into pedagogical possibilities”. The work of Groundwork and VGI shares this orientation and applies it locally in Milwaukee by seeking to incorporate community collaboration within their projects.
Both Groundwork and VGI helped lay the foundation for the creation of contemporary programs that address the need for improved food literacies amongst low-income and underserved Milwaukee residents. Food literacy is the capacity for individuals to manage and understand how their choices of nourishment impact their health, the economy, and the environment. It’s evident that food literacy plays an integral role in how people manage their bodies as well as how they interact with their communities.
In 2016 I began volunteering regularly at the Fresh Picks Mobile Market , a veritable grocery store on wheels, created in partnership between The Hunger Task Force and Pick n’ Save. The Mobile Market stops at two different locations in Milwaukee almost every weekday of the month; brining fresh produce, meat, and dairy products to neighborhoods considered “food deserts”, providing much needed access to nourishing food choices. All items on the truck are offered at 25% below regular retail prices, helping to further increase food accessibility for all community members. The Mobile Market serves as an in-motion location for individuals who may not always have regular access to healthy choices to maintain and develop healthier food literacies within the context of their home communities. Are you interested in volunteering at the Mobile Market? You can join the effort by completing an online volunteer application.
Building on the idea of developing food literacies within communities, a newer Milwaukee organization has moved this effort into Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS). Through my work with FoodRight I’ve learned that the organization encourages youth to develop healthy relationships with food. In FoodRight’s Youth Chef Academy, middle schoolers learn to create plant-based meals by actually doing meal preparation in the classroom. Not only do students gain valuable preparation and nutritional insights through this experience, they simultaneously develop core curricular competencies, such as reading and math skills. FoodRight engages youth through the everyday practical activity of food preparation, taking steps to situate the learning environment within the needs and desires of the students. FoodRight’s pedagogical praxis is an example of what Lisa Delpit characterized as “meaningful context” which provides the best means to learn new skills.
The efforts of Groundwork, VGI, the Mobile Market, and FoodRight do not occur in isolation. Each organization notes that a direct connection to the communities they serve or to other community organizations plays a key role in achieving their missions. In particular it seems that by enmeshing the tools of food literacy within communities, FoodRight and The Mobile Market have the capability to allow individuals to manage their own relationships with food. This ownership empowers people to develop food literacy within their home context and in their own personal way. FoodRight and The Mobile Market demonstrate the situational nature of developing food literacies and might serve as exemplars for future programs to support social well-being.
Last week we read Culturally Sustaining Pedagogies: Teaching and Learning for Justice in a Changing World, edited by Django Paris and H. Samy Alim. Various contributors in the book advocate for pedagogical paradigm shift through chapter-length discussions where shedding light on the diverse experiences—linguistic, cultural and literate of the marginalized people is argued as a way to rethink dominant classroom practices. Such pedagogies, namely culturally sustaining pedagogies (CSP) may also effectively circumvent erasure of other people’s lived experiences. Personally, culturally sustaining pedagogies and culturally relevant pedagogies (CRP) are new. Some of the distinct threads of discussion that dominated our conversation in class about the book were a) the humane and touching rationale behind these pedagogies, b) the kairotic urgency to incorporate CSP-focused themes and action plans in the form of assignments and curriculum now more than any other times and c) last but not the least, the practical challenges that come along the way.
Thematically, Paris and Alim’s book aligns with last week’s read—Eric Pritchard’s Fashioning Lives: Black Queers and the Politics of Literacy. Pritchard's book also makes a similar urge to focusing our attention to love and compassion to fellow human beings. Culturally Sustaining Pedagogies added that incorporating these emotions in pedagogical practices can bring students closer to the authority figures—the teachers. Centering them can narrow the agency gap between the two parties—teacher and students. We also agreed on the role of teachers in opening up to the students as the book identifies that (opening up) as a key step in reaching out to the students. In connection with this theme, chapter 6 in particular, highlights the idea of “sacred truth spaces” where students feel safe “to engage in the often vulnerable act of telling and hearing multiple truths” (103). Classrooms in this context can be the “space” to foster this sense of safety which enables students and teachers to have “humanizing dialogues”. However, we also stressed on cautions teachers should exercise while opening up to their students, being rhetorical about it—knowing when and to what extent. Regarding caution, we also added how teachers sometimes can reinforce the existing racism even if they are well-meaning and trying to center marginalized students in the classroom. For example, sometimes a well-meaning teacher’s attempt to discuss indigenous/minority cultures may alienate those students in class as they may not be comfortable discussing those issues publicly. Also, they may not identify strongly with their heritage cultures. Considering the tentative complications associated with this issue, teachers may then be rhetorically strategic in approaching them. For example, talking to them in person about their interests and associations may be one way to go about doing this.
The introduction of such pedagogical theories in many cases and incorporation in some may only be a start in the long way that we need to go before we see tangible changes. This led the class conversation to the challenges that lie in incorporating them in the curriculum. One of the challenges teachers face in integrating these pedagogies to their classroom practices is the rigidity of institutional curriculum that hardly leaves any room for diversifying them. Another problem is the standardized tests that students have to take, and teachers need to teach them to. However, we all agreed that we can make individual steps, as small as they are, and insignificant they may seem. Even reading these books are part of the change we desire since they help us shape our own ideas about the desired changes.
Towards the end of the class, we talked about how love and compassion centric pedagogies such as CSP can be a way forward. This pedagogical approach does have the potential, for lack of better terms, to make a dent in the status-quo of the turbulent times we live in. The session concluded with positive vibes, hoping for a better (classroom) future. For personal resonance with themes like sacred truth spaces, humanizing classroom spaces this book really hits home with me. The book and subsequent class conversation got me thinking about situating CSP more in the classes that I teach since they are populated increasingly by students with diverse backgrounds.
Django Paris and H. Samy Alim’s Culturally Sustaining Pedagogies: Teaching and Learning for Social Justice in a Changing World (2017) presents essays written by Paris and Alim and other educators who work with youth from Xicanx, Latinx, Indigenous, African-American, and im/migrant communities in various programs, courses, and schools. Exploring the question, “what is the purpose of schooling in pluralistic societies?” (p.1), the authors decenter the norms and agendas of White culture and reframe questions about schooling around youth from communities of color.
Through the discussions of culturally sustaining pedagogies, a pivotal question in the book is, “what are we sustaining?” Though responses in the essays are complex and multifaceted, three intertwined strands we discussed in class are:
1. The cultural wealth and practices of communities
Though fluid and continually evolving, this cultural wealth is anchored in long-standing ways of knowing, learning, and being in the world and, in turn, sustains communities faced with colonial aggression.
One example several classmates highlighted was Indigenous “Elder pedagogies” which are rooted in the sacred and secular wisdom of the people and embodied by the Elders, and which sustain and situate younger generations in “the relational, intergenerational circle” that “ensure the collective survival, continuance, and transformation” of the people (Holmes and González, p.220).
2. The cultural and linguistic practices of students
Paris and Alim argue educators must “attend to the emerging, intersectional and dynamic ways in which [cultural practices] are lived and used by young people” (p.9). One example we discussed was Hip Hop pedagogies - not merely to superficially engage youth - but to understand, honor, and learn from youth and their cultural expressions while also teaching them to problematize the discourse of exclusion embedded in Hip Hop.
An important point here, which Ladson-Billings’s essay underscores, is the call for teachers to not be the expert, but to be open to learning and being led by the students’ needs as well as their expertise; thus, dismantling the normalized student-teacher relationship, students and teachers co-construct the space, the materials, and the terms of learning.
3. The ability to resist and interrogate the dominant culture
In the context of schooling, through Eurocentric and assimilationist curricula, practices and policies, the dominant culture sets the norms by which youth from non-dominant cultures are evaluated and routinely found deficient.
We discussed youth languaging which is linguistically innovative and often reflects the hybrid, multilingual identities of youth. From the vantage point of “the White gaze”, or the lens of raciolinguistic ideology as Rosa and Flores conceptualize it, “non-standard” language use is seen as inappropriate and a deficit that needs to be corrected. Why? Not because the language is wrong, flawed or in need of fixing; rather, the perception is “anchored in… ideologies that conflate certain racialized persons with linguistic deficiency irrespective of their empirical linguistic practices” (p.177). Deconstructing the ideology, however, teachers and students may adopt a different lens that frames youth languaging as a demonstration of linguistic flexibility, competence, and dexterity. As a teacher of English Language Learners, I realize there is a tendency in the profession and in my own practice to emphasize Dominant American English and “correct deficits” in student writing, so this struck home for me and is a call for critical self-reflection.
Vis-à-vis the urgency of a transformative critical consciousness, at the beginning of class and in response to the previous week’s two deadly hate crimes at a Kroger store in Louisville and a synagogue in Pittsburg, Rachel asked us to reflect on a tweet by Django Paris:
As the tweet painfully reminds us, CSP is not only about pedagogies that affirm and build on youth’s agency; it is literally about survival: survival of communities, cultural knowledge, and language – yes – but also the survival of living bodies subject to state-sanctioned violence in the form of police brutality or to hate crime and terrorism, as the tweet alludes to. Many classmates expressed despair over current events, a despair which I share.
However, a prevailing tone throughout all the essays in the book is one of possibility and resiliency. Examples include the survivance of cultures through enslavement, genocide, and other colonialist forms of oppression, but also individual narratives of maintaining hope, desire, love, and joy. Wong and Peña emphasize the necessity of considering “the joy that lives besides pain”, and, integral to CSP, “We need to work toward developing a literacy of joy and pleasure that lives beside a proactive attentiveness to discomfort and pain” (p.133). I want to end on this note because I think such a dual literacy is the essence of sustenance and a catalyst for social transformation. -GPF