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
In English 812 this week, we created timelines of the major events and concepts in writing and English pedagogy that we’ve read about and discussed over the last few weeks. Interestingly, some of us brought larger social movements into our timelines, illustrating the effects of cultural context on pedagogical trends. These timelines helped us to track the ways in which the approaches to teaching English have evolved and fluctuated in tandem with these larger social movements.
We then shifted our focus to the book Language Diversity in the Classroom (2003), which was written in part as a response to surveys conducted by the CCCC and NCTE. These surveys revealed a disconcerting lack of teacher knowledge about language diversity. This book sought to fill in some of those gaps and provide a platform for discussion among scholars in the field.
On Erasure and Forgetting
Some of us raised the specific issue of teaching in the field of English as a Second Language (ESL) and questioned if the field has or has not changed in terms of approaching English as a “global language.” In Language Diversity in the Classroom, Victoria Cliett explains that English teachers should not focus on “a solely domestic concept of ‘standard English’” as to do so would put the field at a disadvantage in the global community (67). Cliett goes on to discuss the Honolulu conference which, in 1978, “produced a formal statement…that affirmed the need to continue inquiry into the development of English as an international language,” essentially calling into question the primacy of Standard American English (68).
To this end, a group of student teachers were studied to determine what effect knowledge of World Englishes would have on their attitudes and pedagogies. These TESOL masters students were provided varying levels of instruction on World Englishes and language diversity; the results, not surprisingly, demonstrated that teachers who had exposure to more, and more complex, instruction on language diversity had indeed developed more nuanced perceptions of students and their varying languages.
All of this 1970’s studying of and pushing for an increase in language diversity training for student teachers raised the question of why this largely doesn’t seem to be happening even now in 2018. It is concerning that so much work and thought has been put in on this subject, yet the average English educator in America may still not be receiving training on language diversity. The work of decades passed seems to go largely unrecognized, and sometimes erased, in the larger field.
That said, more small change may be occurring than we realize. For example, there is at least one course – titled Language Acquisition for Children of Diverse Backgrounds – that is focused on linguistic diversity as part of UWM’s teacher training program.
The concept of work erasure was once again raised with the discussion of the CCCC committee’s compiled materials for teachers, a project the team worked on for four years in the 1980s, but then decided not to publish. The ultimate choice not to go forward with the work was in response to the diminishing conversation about language diversity in the classroom at the time.
Another 1980s event that is discussed in Language Diversity in the Classroom is California’s passing of the English Only law. California was the first state in the nation to pass such a law in modern times and it is explained that the state was targeted for this action as a result of its very diversity. We discussed the ways in which this targeting can be read as a form of racism and an attempt to silence home and family languages and diminish cultures.
Thinking in New Ways: Think Tank session
To delve into the subject of tangible classroom changes, we held our own think tank session to begin breaking open our own perceptions of teaching and learning. To do this, we thought about classroom spaces, where learning occurs, activities for learning, assignments, means of giving feedback, and what we perceive as positives experiences of language and culture. We placed these concepts alongside the goals of dialect equality, awareness of language diversity, contextually-responsive pedagogies, and rhetorical effectiveness.
Some of the key points from our think tank included:
There are many additional books on the value and intentional use of varied dialects. Code Switching: Teaching Standard English in Urban Classrooms by Rebecca S. Wheeler & Rachel Swords and Code-Meshing as World English (Vershawn Ashanti Young & Aja Y. Martinez) are two such works for further reading.
This week we examined the assumptions educators and institutions have about students for whom standard American English is less accessible or for whom it is accessible but only at the expense of their own cultural language and individual identities. Our readings, Mina P. Shaughnessy’s text Errors & Expectations: A Guide for the Teacher of Basic Writing and La Vona L. Reeves’ article “Mina Shaughnessy and Open Admissions at New York’s City College,” served as the basis for this discussion.
The Complexity of Basic Writing
Turns out there is nothing basic about the often maligned “basic writing” (BW). Shaughnessy’s examination dispels notions about writers of basic English as unintelligent, illogical, or careless. Shaughnessy focuses on errors precisely because “teachers’ preconceptions about errors are frequently at the center of their misconceptions about BW students” (Shaughnessy 6). One class participant asserted, the errors themselves are intelligent errors that occur when one confronts a written system that differs from one’s own.
Our discussion also delved into cognition and practice, two related aspects of learning that are sometimes incongruent. A student of any age or ability can know the rules that govern writing or even the mistakes to avoid but that knowledge does not necessarily prevent errors from occurring, especially for a student whose language, culture, or class has competing or contradictory linguistic rules of usage. By contextualizing learning, teachers can better serve their students. Essentially, “a teacher must ask not only what he wants but what the student is most ready to do and what, from a reader’s viewpoint, is most important” (Shaughnessy 120).
The Academic Writing Trap
Our most lively discussion centered on Shaughnessy’s assertion, “for the BW student, academic writing is a trap” (Shaughnessy 7). This resonated with us as graduate students because though we had successfully navigated the academic landscape, one presumably easier for many of us because of our privileged positions upon entry, we too had experienced some of the “traps” of education.
Academic writing can be subjective, and professors often have idiosyncratic preferences that influence how they assess student writing. Students potentially confront inconsistencies in instruction that compel them to alter their writing for the purposes of pleasing a teacher. The writing then becomes increasingly less authentic and purposeful.
Codes and rules of academic writing and academic success overwhelmingly favor those already familiar with them. As Delpit expressed, “the rules of the culture of power are a reflection of the rules of the culture of those who have power,” so “success in institutions…is predicated upon acquisition of the culture of those who are in power” (25). These codes however are not easily mastered because what
may seem “simple” or even “universal” to a native speaker is incredibly complex and often obscured for someone positioned outside the culture of power (Shaughnessy 38-39).
The role of Class
Several of us commented on the role of class and how it might affect an individual’s likelihood of success. This week’s readings explicitly referenced economic and social class as factors in education. Reeves’ article “Mina Shaughnessy and Open Admissions at New York City College” dispels the assumption that students who take advantage of and directly benefit from open enrollment and nontraditional matriculation requirements are overwhelmingly students of color. In opposition to public perception, the City University of New York’s (CUNY) largest “enrollment increase had been in non-Puerto Rican Roman Catholics, including the city’s Italian, Irish, Polish, Haitian and German youth—first and second-generation Americans” (Reeves 123). Although examining current data related to nontraditional educational programs and the populations they benefit is necessary to substantiate a similar claim today, few would argue that class is a factor in access to education.
We found the readings both stimulating and bewildering. Among other questions, we asked, how can we prepare students for success or expand the current possibilities for success without a transactional exchange that requires a loss for a gain? Why are we not learning other dialects or celebrating linguistically rich communities instead of adhering to an antiquated education model that has proven inadequate? How does teacher education contribute to the prevailing assumptions and practices and how might it improve?
While there are no easy answers to these and other questions, the readings gave us much to consider going forward.
Delpit, Lisa. Other People’s Children: Cultural Conflict in the Classroom. New York: The New Press, 2006. Print
Reeves, La Vona L. (2002). Mina Shaughnessy and Open Admissions at New York’s City College. Thought & Action, 17(2), 117-28.
Shaughnessy, Mina P. Errors & Expectations: A Guide for the Teacher of Basic Writing. New York: Oxford UP, 1977. Print.
Our focus this week was on process theory and its frictions. We read two foundational texts in process theory, Donald Murray’s “Teaching Writing as a Process not a Product” and Peter Elbow’s “Freewriting Exercises,” alongside Lisa Delpit’s book Other People’s Children: Cultural Conflict in the Classroom. Murray and Elbow’s essays are part of the expressivist movement that shifted from professors teaching students to students teaching each other.
Delpit’s book asks us to reconsider process theory by looking at the different learning needs and cultural interactions with authority that students bring to the classroom. These needs and interactions are often misinterpreted by well-meaning teachers as problems instead of as a call for a blended pedagogy. Delpit argues that problems generated by a process-heavy classroom arise from a lack of both awareness and diversity within educators that creates a homogenous, unquestioned set of teaching practices (40).
Reading these texts together evoked an emotional response from me. I have used freewriting exercises each semester since my first composition theory class during my MFA where I learned the technique. As a creative writer who spends most of her time in product-focused workshop classes, I have embraced process pedagogy when I teach composition. It is a practice I have valued and never questioned until I read Delpit’s work, and I felt angry – both at myself and frankly, at Elbow, for not recognizing the layers of privilege inherent in favoring a process pedagogy.
"In Order to Teach You I Must Know You”
The 2006 edition of Delpit’s book begins with two of her most well-known essays: “Skills and Other Dilemmas of a Progressive Black Educator” and “The Silenced Dialogue: Power and Pedagogy in Educating Other People’s Children.” Delpit’s main argument is that “teachers need to support the language that students bring to school, provide them input from an additional code, and give them the opportunity to use the new code in a nonthreatening, real communicative context” (53). In conversation one classmate pointed out that in this way teachers can honor what students bring to the classroom while recognizing the skills students need to take away (DK).
We considered the practices of valuing interactions with students’ home languages in the classroom and framing class discussions on how home/heritage and academic/Standard Edited English (SEE) both have important rhetorical roles in society. In order to do this, teachers need to overcome their fear of articulating differences, for as Delpit argues “pretending that gatekeeping points don’t exist is to ensure that many students will not pass through them” (39). Children are already aware of codeswitching in action. Teachers can use this awareness as an opportunity to discuss these linguistic changes and why they happen. We might ask children how they speak, then write their language on the board, and have a parallel, SEE version so students can see the differences as choices. By doing this we remember as teachers how much knowledge students already have.
There is a false dichotomy that pedagogy is either teaching grammar or “letting them do whatever they want.” Delpit argues for a balance that takes into consideration the learning needs and goals of each particular community of students.
Reviewing Process Pedagogy
Our critiques of Murray were filtered through Delpit’s eyes. We connected Murray’s advice for teachers to “shut-up” with students not feeling helped, and questioned the value of “unfinished” work in the reality of deadlines both in academia and professional careers.
Delpit’s work highlights how well-meaning teachers may seek to give power to students as part of a process pedagogy, but in doing so they must also consider how this removes the teacher as a resource, and unequally influences students during assessment. Students believe grammar is important, and want clear instruction on how to fix their mistakes, because this is how they are graded.
We considered Elbow’s “babbling... jabbering exercises” and how students might perceive these as teacher laziness or a lack of authority (3). Elbow also presupposes a level of grammatical fluency where in revision the student can focus on higher order concerns.
Key Points from Our Discussion:
Questions Moving Forward:
Intersections with other fields’ pedagogies have already started appearing in our class discussions, and I’m interested to see how both Writing Center and Creative Writing pedagogies might complicate and inform our future discussions.
Murray expresses concerns over the term “teacher” by giving a litany of alternatives and Elbow’s essay appears in the book Writing Without Teachers. Writing Center scholars have also considered alternate terminology than “tutor,” worrying it will lead to an assumption of prescriptive suggestions. How might our pedagogies be different if we were to shift more towards claiming these titles? How is this complicated by graduate student identities where neither “Instructor” nor “Professor” feels quite right?
This week, we read Juan Guerra’s book, Language, Culture, Identity and Citizenship in College Classrooms and Communities, as well as Michelle Kells’ article, “Welcome to Babylon: Junior Writing Program Administrators and Writing Across Communities at the University of New Mexico”. While much of Guerra’s book focuses on theory and clarifying terms and concepts, the end of the book focuses on the WAC (Writing Across Communities) program at UNM, which is also the focus of Michelle’s article.
In our class discussion, we talked about how our FYW (First Year Writing) classes might (and may already) integrate some of the WAC ideas in order to empower students not only to write in the academic register but to engage rhetorically in public spaces. UWM’s FYW is already undergoing positive improvements in this area; however, how can we keep pushing towards a more empowering space for students to practice rhetorical action?
In her article, Michelle Kells would encourage such questions. She suggests that we should be complicating issues like these, not trying to contain them (Kells). We do this each Monday night in class, and I hope that these discussions can lead to tangible ideas and practices to incorporate in the FYW classroom. Here are a couple of considerations to make when thinking about whether more WAC principles should have a place in FYW programs at UWM.
Scholars have researched and critiqued limited programs similar to WAC. Guerra refers to some critics of college writing programs, including one which states that “limiting the focus to academic discourse in a WAC program disempowers students” (Guerra 146). These critics insist that “students need to figure out how to become effective readers, writers and rhetoricians in a rich array of personal, professional and civic spaces as well” (Guerra 147).
Academic research and conversations surrounding writing programs confer that students need to be expanding their practices to reach outside of their own community in order to engage across communities. WAC provides tangible ways to do this.
FYW programs should be willing to change – and that’s not a bad thing. FYW at UWM might need to consider how to work with other departments in order to give students real practice in engaging with concepts from various genres and subjects. Michelle Kells advocates for this strategy: “Writing Across Communities does not fit neatly into any one institutional category or space. It cuts across the academy, engaging what I call the ‘four P’s of the writing process’: poetics (cultural aesthetics), pragmatics (rhetorical contexts), polemics (political possibilities), and pedagogies (educational practices)” (Kells).
In order to allow students space to practice what it means to be a rhetorical agent of change outside of the classroom, they need access to more than just English and Composition content. In public spaces, various subjects are folded into discourse. How can students be learning these ‘real world’ strategies before they leave college?
WAC principles can allow students to regard the FYW classroom as a new space in which to find their voice and empower themselves. Instead of enforcing a space of enclosed power dynamics in FYW classrooms, UWM Composition instructors have been trying to find ways to give students more agency in the classroom. Guerra states that “we cannot prepare students for active participation in the personal and public spheres of their lives if we do not take into consideration what they bring with them to the classroom” (Guerra 106).
Altering the power dynamics of the classroom allows students to bring their own knowledge, experience, and identity into their creations. It may even change the classroom into a different space, a type of ‘third space’.
As one member of our seminar class suggested, each student should be allowed to speak from their own seat of knowledge. Each should be recognized in their positionality – not as a student that needs to learn from an instructor – but as a person who brings unique ideas and perspectives that can have a voice both in the classroom and in public rhetoric.
WAC principles can allow students a space to gain the confidence to stand up from their seat of knowledge – their culture, identity, experience, and positionality – and be rhetors in action. Thus, empowered, they can help to rewrite the structures of the educational institution, enabling more student empowerment.
Students are rhetorical agents. The most important and empowering aspect of WAC is that the driving force of this program is the students. Guerra cites Porter el al stating: “Institutions, as unchangeable as they may seem (and, indeed, often are), do contain spaces for reflection, resistance, revision, and productive action. This method insists that sometimes individuals (writing teachers, researchers, writers, students, citizens) can rewrite institutions through rhetorical action” (Guerra 154).
If UWM is to continue improving FYW, it will not be through systematic changes to curriculum (though that is happening), but through graduate students and undergraduate students who are empowered to take rhetorical action.
By allowing students a space to learn about and practice writing across communities, by being willing to grapple with the ensuing complications of WAC principles, by experimentation and lots of trial and error, and by empowering students to take rhetorical action, UWM can build a collective of students who are writing and communicating both in the classroom and in public spaces in order to make change on campus and across communities.