Street Wise Because Teachers Have to Keep Learning: It's the Only Truth in our Truth Seeking that Ultimately Sustains Us.

A Collaborative Review of the 2002 Conference on College Composition and Communication
March 20-23, 2002, Chicago

– Reviewed by Jonathan Alexander, Christopher Dean, Will Hochman, Brad Lucas, Carol Rutz, and Stephanie Vanderslice, April 18, 2002
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Connecting the text to the street sounds like we can expect either pebbles in our pages or words in the concrete. Maybe books could fill potholes better than we do now, but personally I'm tired of conference themes. I've nothing against giving our annual conference color, but giving it a spin or linking the conference to a trend almost seems to give it an artificial flavor that sometimes leaves a bad taste in my critical mouth. For example, I think building a classroom sense of writing community is central to my pedagogy, but when "community" was a conference theme, it seemed to be patched into ideas that didn't need the conference theme to be good ideas while watering down some of the best notions of community-based teaching.

The funny thing about my reaction to the conference is that I'm a street-wise guy and even drove a NY City cab during graduate school, so I really love street wisdom. I came to our profession after a brief career in business and I truly understand the "real world" importance of our literacy work which our theme emphasizes. Chair Shirley Wilson Logan says she chose the theme to "emphasize the urgency of paying attention to the needs and desires of the various publics that we serve" but I don't think she meant that we need to include street dialect in our understanding of academic discourse. Two high point s from last year's conference were the nod to Creative Writing with Wendy Bishop's conference talk, and Peter Elbow's assertion that teaching writing with the grain of "mother tongue thinking" makes more sense than delimiting the mother tongues, dialects, and street wise language use that our students bring to our classes. In other words, the language of the street has a writing role in my classes because I think that students often need multiple languages and genres to find ways to articulate learning experiences. We may be schooling students to make their writing more useful to business and industry, but I wonder how much that mission allows us to really use the street wisdom of language that is changing and evolving beyond our more static notions of academic discourse.

"Connecting Text and the Street" may be carefully phrased to sound like it's a two way street, but most of us hear about "real world writing" as a one way street that really says we had better make literacy an economically useful form of domination because language styles reflects an institution's academic standards. We tend to issue costly tickets in the form of comments and grades to those writing the wrong way in a general flow toward academic discourse. Instead of seeing new literacy directions as worthy of our exploration and integration, we often enforce existing standards as a way of not learning new ones. In other words, we don't really want street language to shape academic discourse, though we know we should appear to remain open to multiple forms of expression. Even though some of our best theorists argue intelligently for a broader sense of language use in composition classes; social and institutional forces still push us toward understanding language as something that should be academic. Clearly, I think this must change, but will it? Will what we say and do in Chicago open up our ideas about language so that academic discourse is not a one way or even two way street so much as an open field? Is the field of Composition and Rhetoric closing it's language ranks and becoming more of a sub-field of English. Are we "growing up" to be the MLA, complete with more of us statically reading papers, wearing our Sunday best, and thinking our academic and intellectual ideas are worth more than what they would be worth on the street?

Just what is "the street," anyway? Where do texts really connect these days? The street that connects with the most texts best these days is the Internet. The last book that I read before boarding my plane to Chicago was Language and the Internet by David Crystal. The book is staying in my head despite my intense fear of flying because Crystal's discussion of "netspeak" seems to answer so many of my concerns about both connecting to real world writing and accepting street language in our classes. Instead of seeing writing with computers as an assault on the academy and the language it defends, Crystal, understands that the Internet is dramatically teaching us about learning language in context. He concludes his study by admiring the fact

that so many people have learned so quickly to adopt their language to meet the demands of the new situations, and to exploit the potential of the new medium so creatively to form new areas of expression. It has all happened within a few decades. The human linguistic faculty seems to be in good shape, I conclude. The arrival of Netspeak is showing us homo loquens at its best.

If we consider the Internet as a new way to create streets our culture is learning to explore and include in academic discourse, the multilinearity of hypertext theory helps to clear discourse traffic jams from our traditional one way or two way streets.

The point is not about loving the Internet so much as loving language and thinking that as our field becomes more professional, we may lose what made us become a field in the first place. Composition and Rhetoric is the one academic field I know of that privileges teaching as its most important research. If our ideas don't work in the classroom and the street, they aren't really worthy of this conference's attention. Our conference themes keep us appearing to be connected to each other and to our work, but how effective and honest that connection is will help us see where we are going. Will we professionalize ourselves into traditional English professors, or will we choose a different path? [WH]

Street Wise: How to Attend

Individual Session Reviews:

Miscellany:
Haphazard Conversation with Next Year's Chair

A Janus Anti-Style/Pro-Conference Bibliography

For more information on the conference, visit the CCCC 2002 Web site at http://www.ncte.org/convention/cccc2002/.

Publication Information: Alexander, Jonathan, Dean, Christopher, Hochman, Will, Lucas, Brad, Rutz, Carol, and Vanderslice, Stephanie. (2002). [Review of the 2002 Conference on College Composition and Communication]. Academic.Writing. https://wac.colostate.edu/aw/reviews/cccc2002/
Publication Date: May 7, 2002


Contact Information:
Will Hochman's Email: hochman@southernct.edu

Copyright © 2002 Jonathan Alexander, Christopher Dean, Will Hochman, Brad Lucas, Carol Rutz, and Stephanie Vanderslice. Used with permission.