Tag Archives: access

Silence is an action

Despite having the highest GPA in her graduating class, a black student (who also happens to be a mother) was forced to share valedictorian status … because having her as the lone valedictorian might “cause a big mess.” Amazingly, no one with enough power to do anything came forward to address the situation. The student then filed a lawsuit alleging a pattern of discrimination, stating that students at the school were often tracked into different levels of courses based on skin color.

This is why it’s important to teach about race and gender.

Reposted from Huffington Post:

“The commissioner of Arkansas’ education department and members of the state board are staying tight-lipped as well, refusing to make statements in support of Kymberly. … What Arkansas school officials fail to realize is that by staying silent, they’re saying plenty about their beliefs on the topic of Black student achievement.”


Online and Outsourced in Higher Ed

Inside Higher Ed today posted this story about a proposal for Nevada to create an online community college. This raises some great questions that I’ve had on my radar for some time, but that have really complex (maybe unknowable) answers:

  • Can online education really ever replace f2f education? What gets lost/gained in that transition?
  • How can we examine the social effects–both good and bad–of open enrollment (or “remedial,” as the article calls them) institutions? Of online-only programs?
  • How does the development of online education affect f2f education even in cases where it does not serve as a replacement?
  • All other things being equal, what type of education do students prefer–and why?
My primary concern at this point is that online open enrollment options may greatly increase the number of students who are forced (often by their employers) into educational situations that are financially, intellectually, and emotionally costly for them in really unproductive ways. That’s not to say that I don’t support the missions of online and/or open enrollment programs (I work at both types of places, and I wouldn’t do that if I didn’t support them). Rather, it underscores the importance for such institutions to keep student benefit at the forefront of their mission. 

Summer Reading 1

I’m trying very hard to be a good student this summer! I’ve started out by finishing up some reading that I really wanted to get done during the semester. I’m including here some of my favorite concepts and quotations (some with context) from these texts, which will hopefully create interest for others and job my own memory in the future. (Citations precede quotations/contextualizations/concepts.)

Bizzell, Patricia, Ed. Rhetorical Agendas: Political, Ethical, Spiritual. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2006. Print.

  • Lester Faigley’s critique of fast rhetorics because they risk creating “a culture where things are quickly used and discarded, a culture where the abuse of the environment and gaping inequalities are ignored” (9).
  • Harriet Jacobs’s “decision to be a fugitive (absent-present) mother” (Carlacio 319)
  • El Mundo Zurdo, quoted from Anzaldua
  • Christa Jean Downer recognizes her own privilege as “a light-skinned woman” (335). She says: “women-of-color feminists realize that labels and categories are important life strategies; they create visibility and break silences. However, women-of-color feminists understand also, that the act of joining in uncomoplicated solidarity around an identity category reifies oppressive relationships and, therefore, limits the efficacy of social movements that seek to change relationships of domination” (336).
  • Downer calls for women to base alliances on interconnections
  • Jung theorizes the potential flattening effects of over-identification, giving an example wherein her students, by over-identifying with bell hooks as victims of racism, were “able to avoid the hard work of contrasting the historical, material, and institutional contexts of their experiences with those of African Americans” (349). The students were able to gloss over the differences between individualized and institutionalized racism. Jung suggests that disidentification, listening for difference, is a potential solution to such defensive mechanisms.

Olson, Gary, Ed. Rhetoric and Composition as Intellectual Work. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois UP, 2002. Print.

  • Lynn Worsham suggests pursuing a deeper understanding of the relationship between intellectual work and ideology. “What I am suggesting, then, is that the primary work of ideology is more fundamental than the imposition of a dominant framework of meanings. Its primary work is to organize an emotional world, to inculcate patterns of feeling that support the legitimacy of dominant interests, patterns that are deemed especially appropriate to reigning gender, race, and class relations” (106).
  • Crowley says: “In a posthumanist dispensation, to say that bodies are not containers of something-else-that-is-more-important (that is, to reject the modernist body) is not enough” (177). Drawing on Halberstam and Livingston, Crowley suggests that the body is a technology that “both writes and is written upon; it is the scene as well as the aegis of representation” (178).
  • After proving the point with a quotation from Susan Bordo, Crowley suggests that because women’s worth has always already been connected to their bodies and how they use them, “women are particularly well placed to develop analyses and critiques of the body and of the regimes that govern bodily practices” (179).
  • Crowley: “we do not celebrate the multiplicity of sexes ‘given’ use by ‘nature’; rather, we presume that people whose bodies do not clearly comply with our bipolar definition of ‘true sexuality’ are inadequately or inappropriately sexed” (183).
  • Crowley: “What I learn from body studies is that no body is disinterested. And that’s why this work is central to rhetorical studies, which has always taken the study of partisanship as its province” (186).

(Literature) Pedagogy

The literature students at my school don’t have too many options in their coursework to focus specifically on literature pedagogy. As a result, a couple of smart students have created a summer mini-conference on this topic. This is its third year, but the first I attended, and I was happy to discover that much of what I learned was very relevant for rhetoric/composition pedagogy as well. I’m including some of the most important notes I took here. If any readers are interested in something below, let me know and I can hook you up with whoever presented on that topic.

Teaching Difficult Topics led by Chris Desantis, Julie Jung, Oren Whitesell

  • When discussing oppressive institutions–we’ll use race as an example–start by talking about the historical context. Don’t open discussion until after students have this common ground established. (In this phase, be careful to create a common vocabulary and to consider how themes circulate in language.)
  • Next, introduce social construction. (Note: It’s OK to “shut a student down” if she or he refuses to buy into the basic premises of the class. You can think of this less as silencing a student and more as eliminating an obstacle to other students’ learning. Hopefully it doesn’t happen often.)
  • Open discussion: Possible topics in this example include the collective silence on whiteness, connections between texts and student lives, and implications of physical spaces that produce whiteness and blackness, etc.
Ogbu’s definition of education: systematic eradication of viable alternatives (I’m not sure what I think of this. It sounds a lot like bell hooks’ definition of oppression)
Helpful readings:
Summative comments:
Teach not what to think, but how logic works
Always consider power relations in and out of the classroom

Teaching Digital Texts led by Cheryl Ball 

Remember: A 10-page paper is not nearly equivalent to a 10-minute video. A proficient producer of video typically takes 200 minutes for every minute produced. Consider a 2-3 minute video equivalent to a 10-page paper.


Sample digital project outline for a themed class – Using wiki technology to interlink all student work
  • Establish common key terms
  • Have an individual draft due by midterm
  • Have students read others’ drafts during second part of semester
  • Links/revisions/additional pages due by finals
Linguistics led by Aaron Smith
  • Consider that linguists study speech communities; historical linguists must use written texts (literature)
  • Take care not to apply sociolinguistic understandings from modern times to historical contexts
  • Consider how linguistic usage is used to construct literary characters. This may include elements like the a- prefix (I’m a-goin’) or h-dropping (‘umble beginnings).
  • Remember that ideology is shown in language
  • When teaching, narrow the focus. First, select a form to focus on, then prove to students that they know a grammar (disrupt their belief that we’re in some sort of historical grammatical decline), then choose texts with appropriate linguistic variation.
Making Sense of Evaluations led by Claire Lamonica
  • The most important different in evaluations is understanding the purpose of formative vs. summative evaluation. Summative evaluation happens at the end of the term; formative evaluation can be used to improve teaching.
  • 360-degree evaluation: Collect evaluations from self, supervisors, peers, students
  • For student evaluations, collect early so that you can learn during the class. Consider doing a 1-minute paper at the end of each class. This is where students quickly write the most important thing they learned and the muddiest point from the day’s work. Also consider incorporating weekly reports and/or a midterm chat to get mid-semester evaluations.
  • Frequent evaluation teaches students to think and write evaluatively; it’s not just for the teacher.
  • Take into account, when reading summative evaluations, the things that students are and are not really qualified to comment on
  • When working through evaluations, first categorize responses into positive, negative, suggestions, and other. Then synthesize results, count and a rank them, reflect, and prioritize. Remember to work on only one or two things at a time so that you don’t get overwhelmed.
Teaching with Film led by Sally Parry and Bob McLaughlin

Challenge: Getting students to engage films as texts instead of passive consumers
Advantage: FIlms are able to fill in more historical context
  • Remember to teach film conventions, often comparing them to parallel conventions in printed texts
  • Incorporate historical context. For example, study the Hayes Code and teach students to know what signals meant what sort of action (to get around the censors)
  • Defamiliarize students with film media by starting with (or only showing) black-and-white films
  • Teach and complicate themes. (For example, in film noir, the bad guy is often a veteran. Why? What does this mean?)
Some films to consider, taken from a WWII culture class
  • Snafu
  • Iceland
  • Miracle on Morgan’s Creek
  • Casa Blanca
  • The Best Years of Our Lives

Pedagogy and Oppression

The following is a partial response to readings in Pedagogy of the Oppressed and Teaching to Transgress done for a seminar class on pedagogy …

Investigating “the people’s ‘thematic universe’—the complex of their ‘generative themes’” through dialogic means seems to me a really smart place to start thinking about teaching (96). Whether it’s teaching to a group of peasants, potential revolutionary leaders, or a class at a public school in the Midwestern U.S., an investigation of the group’s guiding generative themes will help the teacher learn about the context of the class and adjust accordingly. I think most teachers (at least most teachers in our department) do this unconsciously, or perhaps just without explicitly talking about it. I know I’ve done it, without realizing it, in past classes that I’ve taught. After all, it’s hard to work at disturbing entrenched ideologies in, say, a critical inquiry class unless you first have taken the time to “investigate people’s thinking about reality and people’s action upon reality” (106). The difficult part of this process, I think, is to remember to involve the students—explicitly—in uncovering the generative themes of a group. If we forget to involve the students, and instead just study them IRB-style, as we have been conditioned to do, we are engaging not in Freire’s problem-posing pedagogy, but in an antidialogical model that perpetuates the teacher’s domination of the students. This requirement for student participation has always seemed to me to be the weak link in Freire’s ideal pedagogy. What is a revolutionary leader to do if the oppressed simply don’t want to be liberated? I suspect Freire believes he answers this question in his final chapter when he says that the oppressed must be awakened to their own position as victims of conquest, division, manipulation, and cultural invasion. He says that, “the leaders go to the people in a spontaneously dialogical manner. There is an almost immediate empathy between the people and the revolutionary leaders: their mutual commitment is almost instantly sealed” (164). I don’t buy this, even a little. Maybe the problem here actually is transference to an institutional classroom in the U.S., but I’ve never experienced this phenomenon as a teacher or as a student.

Though I love most of this book, and I can fully get behind the general attitude it espouses, I do encounter a number of difficulties like this in putting it to use. Perhaps what I’m feeling is a dissonance between the kind of open education Freire is actually theorizing and the institutionalized education system here in the U.S. It seems that there are just too many problems with picking up the “pedagogy of the oppressed” from the countryside of Brazil and plopping it down in the middle of Illinois. Are my students here really oppressed? But maybe this dissonance is the result of my subject position as a middle-class, apparently white, heterosexual person of privilege. bell hooks doesn’t seem to encounter the same problems that I do with this transferance, “Because the colonizing forces are so powerful in this white supremacist capitalist patriarchy (in the U.S.)” (47).

In an effort to make some meaning from Freire’s work that is relevant to my own teaching context, I’ve been searching out works that showcase the usage of his pedagogy of the oppressed in classrooms in the States. In doing so, I found myself relying also on hooks’s interpretation of Freire, largely because her words on his work—especially her thinking about “a generous spirit, a quality of open-mindedess that I feel is often missing from intellectual and academic arenas in U.S. society” (54) and her point that “ … notwithstanding that there is so much that remains liberatory … Freire’s own model of critical pedagogy invites a critical interrogation” (49)— have been so influential in my own understanding of it.