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CCCC 2006 in Review

E19 Realizing the Global Responsibilities of US Composition: Inhabiting and Enacting Radical Pedagogies

The presenters on this panel all work together at the same institution, and I believe that is why their panel flowed so well. The three parts of this panel each reflect and aspect of a project that the presenters created to enact a "radial pedagogy." The panel starts with a discussion of the theory that motivated this project, then moves to discuss the curricula used in the classroom, and ends with a discussion of their results.

Rachel Goldberg, "Living Theory and Global Responsibility: Reconciling the Theory-Praxis Polarity"

Goldberg states that most students at her institution are comfortable in Standard English and/or want to learn Standard English. However, the Teaching Assistants (TAs, who teach their own sections) want to teach students the stakes in taking up a singular variety of English or other language. Goldberg asserts that there are imperialistic implications in a monolingual policy that is tied to corporations. In light of these highly motivating economic reasons, Goldberg states that it is "our job to help students understand an individual's role in continuing the oppression of others through the use of language, particularly through monolingual practices."

Goldberg urges us to consider the center spaces between students' desires and institutional expectations and to continue our commitment to social justice by talking about the imperialist tendencies in these center spaces. Goldberg states that while students acknowledge the need and even advantage of learning one or more standard forms of foreign languages, they do not readily recognize the need for non-standard languages. Goldberg suggests then making visible in the classroom the students' own linguistic backgrounds to counter the notion of one Standard English. In this way, she asserts student can become prepared for global interaction.

Cathryn Cabral, "Using Composition Curricula to Uproot Linguistic Imperialism: Strategies for Constructing Critically Conscious Spaces"

Building on Goldberg's presentation, Cabral introduces the research project that the three presenters conducted in their FYC classes. The guiding questions for this project were as follows:

Cabral reported that the strategy employed in their project was to "engage their students in reflection-turn inwards on ourselves as both perpetrators and victims" of linguistic imperialism. To this end, they used a series of activities and assignments that encouraged students to confront their own beliefs. The first activity, entitled "Taking a Stand" included several statements to which the students had to identify whether they strongly agree, agree, disagree, or strongly disagree. During this activity in two of the test classes, students were asked literally to stand under their answer, which was written on the board. Each group of students was then asked to "discuss the content of the statement and why [the students] identified the way they [did] before breaking out into a full class discussion." Sample statements used in this activity included:

The second activity, entitled Politics of Location, that Cabral presents is a common tool used in various courses that deal with identity, such as in Women's Studies, Ethnic Studies, and Cultural Studies. This activity is exceptionally helpful in getting students to problematize the concept of identity and move away from essentialist notions of the Other. Cabral states that students are asked to list at least 10 identity markers or categories that they belong to, such as race, gender, sexuality, class, and religion. Students also are encouraged to think of categories that may not be easily recognized such as Ebonics speaker, high school graduate, and Trekker. After making their list, students are asked to freewrite on one of their "locations." Their handout reads:

Define/describe the location or community as if your reader is wholly unfamiliar with what you've chosen to write about, and offer an experience of this location. You can write about a specific experience about being with likeminded individuals, being a Tool fan at a Tool concert, for example. Or you can write about a moment of "clashing" between two or more locations, i.e. being Japanese and Hawaiian at a Hawaiian Sovereignty meeting. Think about a single instance in which the location you've chosen became visible or noticeable to you.

Then, Cabral presented a short paper assignment and a long paper assignment to round out the series.

Jennifer Halpin, "Voices Outside the Safe Spaces: Will Students Exercise Sustainable Linguistic Awareness in the Global Community?"

Halpin reports on the relative success of the "radical" pedagogy project, in which they saw more success in their first two research questions (How can students be encouraged to view themselves as critically and socially constructed through language? How do instructors create a space in which students can see heterogeneity where narratives of homogeneity and normativity dominate?) than in the last two (How can composition instructors working under institutional constraints create and employ course content that resists linguistic imperialism in US composition? How do instructors, through activities and assignments, begin exposing cultural narratives of success and opportunity that depend on one's ability to master and deploy "English"?). In fact, what they found in their classes was that most students claim a "Standard English" background. Even in the Educational Opportunities Program (where students are considered at-risk, underprepared and often come from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds), some students didn't want to use their own language.

The positive results from their project, however, were the increases in linguistic awareness as evidenced in the student papers. For example, Halpin provides the following revised student claim.

Draft claim: However, according to some of Kimberlé Crenshaw's theories about narrative tropes and way they influence our ability to accept narratives, Ali and the narratives surrounding his life should not have been greeting with the acceptance they were.
Revised claim: Kimberlé Crenshaw contributes to Eubanks' and Silberstein's conversation by describing how the concepts of narrative tropes and double marginality-both of which will be discussed further in detail later in this paper-may hinder a narrative's capacity to be accepted. Using Eubanks' and Silberstein's analyses of what makes a narrative successful, we can comprehend how and why Ali's narrative was widely approved of.

Other examples include:

Draft: Languages developed unique to their specific cultural areas.
Revision: Languages develop unique to their specific cultural areas and/or countries.
Draft: We combine cultures to become Americans.
Revision: We combine cultures to become American.

While these student changes are subtle, Halpin purports they point to a change in the students' understanding of linguistic imperialism in the US. We might see these changes as simply students getting better at writing-such as being more specific in using "influence" vs. "hinder" to describe the effect of narrative tropes, however the subtle move to use the present tense of "develop" rather than the past tense of "developed" in referring to how languages work shows a student's acknowledgement that languages are living and still subject to change over time.

During the question and answer period, as those of us who follow "alternative discourses" (or Alt Dis) might expect, the question of evaluation was posed. When asked, "if half the class is using Alt Dis and the other is using Standard English, how do you evaluate student work?", the panel responded by referring back to their program's rubric. That is, student papers, whether they contain Alt Dis or not, are evaluated for effectiveness. In addition, students' self-evaluations (in the form of a portfolio cover letter at the end of the term) help illuminate what the student has learned in their relative ability to articulate the rhetorical choices they have made and the expected effect on their audience.

What this pedagogy hopes to address, ultimately, is the problem of the rhetorical situation that cannot be addressed by Standard English. While those not in the "choir" may not understand what such a situation might be, those with some background in sociolinguistics, anthropology or cultural studies, etc. will agree that there are instances where meaning is particular to language. That is, there are things that cannot be translated.

Another interesting discussion during the question and answer period was the issue of negotiation between institutional constraints and one's own "radical" pedagogy. The panel referred the question of how to deal with institutional pressures to teach "the right way to write" to their session chair and WPA Anis Bawarshi. And while some might not agree with a "radical pedagogy," Bawarshi's point here is key for our entire profession. Most institutions believe that we in composition aren't doing our jobs if we're not teaching grammar, and the "powers-that-be" are already questioning what the hell we're doing "down there" in our departments. Thus, our (rhetorical) move in dealing with the larger institution (and I would add the public at large) is to communicate better what it is we know as best practices, as current composition theory, as discipline-specific writing needs. We need to be "radical" in publicizing the utility and necessity of our own profession and the value of our collective professional knowledge.

—Meredith J. Lee

CCCC ConventionFor more information on the CCCC 2006 conference,
visit the NCTE Web site at http://www.ncte.org/profdev/conv/cccc/.