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CCCC 2004: Review

Review: K 3 “‘I Can’t Read,’ Tina Whispered, Placing Her Gucci Bag on the Desk between Us: Defining the Categories of Race/Ethnicity, Class, and Gender in the Composition Classroom”
Reviewed by: Gwen Casey, caseygl@uc.edu
Posted on: April 27, 2004
Updated on: May 11, 2004

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I must admit that I came to this session out of curiosity because of the catchy title; only minutes into the session, however, and I was hooked. The chair and first speaker, Anushiya Sivanarayanan, addressed the issue of place and space for African/American middle-income students, many of which she teaches at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville. Her caring demeanor and persuasive style forced listeners to appreciate the conduct of these young students. Interestingly, she reported that they do not write about their world. They refuse to see themselves as a part of a community where they cannot use their language. In their communities, they are comfortable using the language of the street; consequently and as a reaction to being invisible, they occupy a staging space where they physically pose and speak selective jive. As a response to urban violence and urban glamour, these staging spaces become an area of performance that “gets” them attention. In the classroom, they enter five minutes late, again using space as a means to gain attention and visibility. Sivanarayanan’s presentation brought attention to characteristics of behavior probably unknown and problematic in the eyes of many. I began to think, no wonder that these young students have difficulty within a world where they feel they cannot use their language and where the language used is foreign to them.

Carla Drake Walker followed by reporting on a specific situation involving a Saint Louis Community College student. When approached to privately read to Walker, the student hid behind her expensive Gucci purse (hence the session title) and admitted that she could not read. Of course, the question became, how did she graduate high school, and further, how many other students are in the same predicament? Walkers’ student was functionally illiterate, having learned to survive without having to read and write. Interestingly, she held a full-time job as a civil servant within a government agency, wore nice clothes, and drove a Ford Expedition. With determination and through a tedious process containing much individualized attention at a program developed at St. Louis Community College, the student learned to read and to write. (Walker reported that currently, basic writing programs begin with writing a paragraph; however, in the fall of 2004, basic writing will begin with writing a sentence.)

To connect with Sivanarayanan, Walker emphasized that students must be able to write about what they know. Once they made a connection to the REAL world through their own discourse and experience would they begin to believe in themselves and see possibilities for making a contribution to the community from where they reside.

The heart-felt session was informative and thought provoking, making the case for better, more individualized, and more understanding remedial programs.

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