We have fourteen weeks of theory resting between our ears. Throughout the semester, we’ve interrogated how language, culture, and race are theorized in the field of composition and rhetoric. Importantly, our understanding of these theories has not been developed in isolation. We did not read tucked away in the library or at our desks over our lunch breaks, only to sit and ponder these ideas in isolation. Each Thursday evening, we convened in a small simple room to talk, to question, to criticize, and to understand. We engaged in rhetoric to convey ideas and relied on literacies to understand our texts and each other. Through our linguistic repertoires, we engaged in a collaborative social process to develop our ideas. We navigated meanings, and hopefully, developed an attuned orientation towards the interaction of race, culture, and the practice of language.
This is where we are, shortly after our penultimate class meeting, in the moment that I sit down to converse with you about our experience. Our professor challenged us before our discussion, “What is theory?”, and an underlying question rose to the surface, “How do we apply theory in practice?”. These questions seemed to shape the conversation during the first half of our weekly gathering.
Echoing and enforcing our ongoing semester-long dialogue, we dug into the theory and practice of translingual approaches to literacy and writing. Drawing upon the words of Bruce Horner, Min-Zhan Lu, Jacqueline Jones Royster, and John Trimbur, one classmate oriented us towards a recurring theme from not only this week’s readings, but also from across the semester. We were reminded that stances of openness towards language and literacy practice require us to view “language differences and fluidities as resources to be preserved, developed and utilized” (Horner et al., 2011, p. 304). This flexible view of language, taking a position that language is an inherently dynamic process rather than a static perfection, allows the space to ponder Horner et al.’s recognition that “we are all language learners” (p. 304). In class there was an acknowledgement that, for some, this is a profound perceptual change to the nature of language. What are the implications of this reoriented perspective, of engaging in what A. Suresh Canagarajah terms “linguistic pluralism”?
No longer is language a thing to be tamed, taught, and tested. Rather, it assumes mutable organic qualities we often associate with living beings; growing, changing, responding, and evolving. The translingual approach pushes this concept a bit further. Language cannot be wrangled into a singular truth--because core to its nature is difference. According to Min-Zhan Lu and Bruce Horner, “difference is the norm” (2013, p. 585). In class we pushed this theory towards practice by recognizing that there is not a singular way of speaking or writing. Linguistic practices are not monolithic, and we ought to keep this orientation at front of mind when we work with students. We must create environments where students can draw upon their personal linguistic repertoires not only to navigate, but also to co-create the contextual language practice in our learning spaces. An act Lu and Horner have cited as language sedimentation.
After discussing Jerry Won Lee’s Beyond Translingual Writing we intentionally moved the conversation towards the practical application of translingual approaches. How can we make these ideas work for us and our students? Linguistic agency, the ability of language users to recognize and control their own practice and experience with language, can inform the way we understand our student’s language practices. We can assess linguistic agency by incorporating reflective writing into our curricula, and in conjunction, committing to engaging in dialogue with our students regarding their language production.
Even though we engaged in a rich and rigorous discussion, I still wonder about Won Lee’s linguistic social justice, something we only briefly touched on. Or, what about the relationship between language practices and power dynamics? These might be theoretical questions for the next class to tackle.
It is imperative to note that there is no set of practices, no how-to guide, no tricks of the trade. The translingual approach, is an orientation, not a dogma. Therefore, it serves as a guide that ought to be thoughtfully and lovingly applied in our specific contexts. The embodiment of this orientation in our practice might create a space where students--each in possession of a unique linguistic finger print--can freely engage in the social nature of language, collaboratively constructing the norms of practice.
Spaces, safety, and love are recurrent themes in our readings for #uwm812 (Shaughnessy, Pritchard, Delpit, Paris & Alim). Discussed mainly within the context of classrooms pedagogies we learn that we as educators must make sure students feel safe in our classrooms. Eric Pritchard, for example, in his book Fashioning Lives: Black Queers and the Politics of Literacy highlights his personal experience regarding how he felt displaced in school, and turned to other spaces, like the local library, to engage with restorative literacy practices for reading and learning. Drawing from bell hooks’ work, Pritchard talks about the importance of “love ethics” in which love is the center piece of anything and everything in our daily lives. As much as it is crucial to create safe spaces in the classrooms, we also should contribute to create similar spaces outside the four walls of classroom—ideally in the community we live in. United Way of Greater Milwaukee and Waukesha County is a non-profit that seem to be doing exactly this. They promote equity and inclusion as a part of their commitment to improve everyday lives of local communities through health, education financial stabilities. They also sponsor various community-focused programs. By participating effectively and actively through these programs, United Way makes difference in individual lives.
United Way shares success stories of their endeavors on their website. One such stories highlighted in their official website caught my attention as I was browsing it. United Way funded the Match Me Program at Ozaukee where Nathaniel, a 9-years old fatherless child met Dwight, a volunteer at United Way. Dwight helped him with his homework and also taught him how to drive a car. He also helped him with job application process and practice interviews for possible positions. Dwight’s dedication to volunteering has inspired Nathaniel as he is grown up now. This individual example of mentorship connects with some threads of “indigenous relational pedagogy” that Paris and Alim’s Culturally Sustaining Pedagogies underlines. Amanda Holmes in the book, for example highlights the significance and value the Elders carry in indigenous cultures. She remembers Rosalie Little Thunder, an Elder who deeply influenced her (Amanda) by her (Rosalie’s) lifestyle. Amanda was highly appreciative of Rosalie, “…her “practices” and manner, the protocols, values, and disciplines she spoke about—and was so keen to document, and that she lived.” Dwight was definitely a “role model” for Nathaniel, in his own words, his “superhero”. While defining Elders, Holmes does mention that they (the Elders) also “… act as role models, often assuming leadership positions in their communities.” (page#). Seen through the lens of indigenous relational pedagogies Homles underlines Dwight had tremendous influence on Nathaniel, acted as a “role-model” and helped him grow as a person—thus with Nathaniel’s “sustenance”.
Through a range of other programs they organize/fund and stories that United Way highlights in their website, I came to learn that they do provide a space for people in the community and thus build a united community where people feel safe and flourish according to their potentials. They also have plenty of volunteering opportunities. Under their “Seasons of Caring” program, United Way always recruits individuals who wants to touch lives and make a difference by engaging actively with the local communities. Learning about community-engaged activities United Way does makes me hopeful about future—creating safe spaces, spreading love
among people both inside and outside classrooms, we might one day see the change we desire—a better life-experience for people in the community—one that is built upon collective and communal efforts!