Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Cs Statement on Second Language Writing and Writers and the Presidential Primaries

As I read through the Cs position statement on "Second Language Writing and Writers" I couldn't help but think of the ongoing Presidential Primaries. Of course, my immediate thoughts were centered on the hate speech used towards immigrants and refugees. By now I'm sure you've heard Trump's catch phrase "I'll build a wall and Mexico is going to pay for it." I don't want to use this space to just bash Trump, so let me get to the point-- I have been hearing all this racist rhetoric, but what I haven't been hearing is a response.

To be more specific, the Cs position statement asks writing instructors and writing program administrators to "Recognize and take responsibility for the regular presence of second language writers in writing classes, to understand their characteristics, and to develop instructional and administrative practices that are sensitive to their linguistic and cultural needs." How can we do this if we, as a program, remain silent or stand-offish about what is occurring in our political system? Students will come in to our classrooms feeling unwanted and maybe having experienced some form of racism, which may negatively impact their learning experience.

In our previous classes, we discussed that there are institutional silences. Lately, I have felt like this has been one of them. I have found it very strange that out of three classes that I am taking this semester that politics rarely gets brought up.

Basically what I want to emphasize is if we want students to think that we value them and their language(s), we have to address the elephant in the room.


  1. Yes. But how do we do so without being misinterpreted as a teacher with a "liberal agenda"? Its not as easy as saying "just deal with it." I know George has confronted a hoard of Trump supporters who even wore the red hat and shirts to class one day. What is the best way to deal with that?! Especially given the sexuality and gender themed class model? It seems like it HAS to be confronted. However, George has struggled mightily with how to confront the issue without outing these students. In this situation, it is not that whiteness haunts the classroom (though it does). It is that open Trump supporters come to class, and even don Trump gear to class, presumably purposefully.

    For my ENG 605 class, we read JJ Royster's "When the First Voice You Hear is Not Your Own." In this text, which is a CCCCs chair address, she argues for a move toward cross boundary discourse. She argues that we must talk about race relations, and that doing so will benefit our classes by offering examples of subjective differences and instill in students a realization to read critically into the realities of situations. She argues that we must talk across boundaries WITH others, and not for, about, or around them. We need to make space for, and then listen, to Others.

    I feel like we know this, though. Given the genre of CCCCs address, this paper makes a lot of sense--its a sort of grand narrative arguing for this shift in focus. Above anything else, I think she is arguing for putting race at the forefront of our classroom discussions. Beyond this cognitive exercise, though, what are some hands on ways to confront the elephant in the room--beyond saying this is a safe space, or saying that I practice a feminist pedagogy, or explaining the importance of Other voices. There must be more practical tools for approaching (and confronting) race and race relations in the classroom.

  2. I agree with you completely, Abigail. As intellectuals who have a built-in platform in the classroom and as individuals who are in positions of social privilege, we should be responding more strongly and effectively against the racist rhetoric you mention. In doing the reading for both my classes this week, there were some really interesting connections that made me think more clearly about the obligation of the academy -- and composition specifically -- to confront political issues in ways that work toward social justice. For the Teaching in Composition class, we read a 1992 article by Maxine Hairston in which she argued that writing classes should not be political spaces. She seemed to be under the impression that bringing in political ideologies and issues surrounding difference was somehow getting in the way of students' learning. I was glad that I read this article because it made me think more clearly about how much I disagree with this notion. Just as we've discussed in this class about how pedagogy is automatically political, I believe the act of writing is automatically political as well, and it's not only appropriate but necessary to address these topics in composition classrooms in which we are trying to help students think more clearly about the power of writing and ways to write effectively as they think about audience and purpose.

  3. Man, I don't know where to start. Ok, yes I do. I CANNOT believe George had students come to his class in Trump apparel. What a statement they were making! I'm not sure what I would have actually done in that same situation, but I can imagine... I think an effective strategy for dealing with politics (and I don't mean just presidential campaigning) in the class is by first making space for difficult discussions (which I'm guilty of having trouble doing sometimes) and then using intentional questioning and discussion. Cut into the lesson plan. Ask students, what are they saying by coming to class dressed like that? (Bodies are texts. Clothes are texts. We read and interpret them.) What do they think about Trump's build a wall message? What does that message mean for real people--their classmates on campus who are from or have family from Mexico? What's the implication about Mexican people? And what, also, are the consequences of prejudice and segregation for white Americans? It's a dangerous conversation to have because people might say ignorant, hateful things... But if you open the discussion up, some of their more reasonable peers might show them a different perspective, and it won't all be on you. Even if it doesn't stick right away--and let's face it, a lot of people get more defensive and resistant before they come around--it might mean something to them later on, and that's good, too.

    About students' right to their own language... We have to see that English-only education movements, and even an emphasis on Standard American Academic English in writing, in the composition classroom, to the exclusion of other dialects and language varieties, is discrimination. It's not as overt as saying "build a wall." But it privileges English speakers by implying that other languages AND the people who speak them are deficient. When I attend to that, I make a political statement with my pedagogy, and I feel pretty good about it, too.

  4. I think the three of you bring up some interesting points, and you also emphasize how difficult it can be to negotiate political differences within the classroom. One thing that I think I didn't necessarily articulate so well in my original post is that a way to relieve some of that pressure on the individual instructor is by receiving support from the Writing Program.

    As the election progresses, and Trump is more than likely going to be the Republican candidate, I only see our students' values and ideologies becoming more divisive. What I am suggesting is that the Writing Program come up with ways to help the instructors negotiate these tensions within their classrooms. In other words, we will tackle them as a community, instead of feeling like we are isolated in our classrooms--probably like George did.

    Ball State has a statement on the Importance of Diversity and Inclusion, and the students chose to attend a school where a statement like this exists. Sometimes I think that students look at it as something that just gets said but isn't really significant.

    I feel like as rhetoricians we should be addressing this dichotomy that has been created: political correctness vs. "telling it like it is."

    So yeah, statements on diversity and inclusion and discussing gender in a classroom will be seen as "pushing a liberal agenda," because for those people who like the concept of "telling it like it is" we have no ethos.

  5. Like Cara, I was so against Hairston's main arguments that composition classrooms shouldn't be spaces where we address political issues. But how is that even possible when discussing rhetoric? Students often want to talk about these issues. I themed my Eng 104 class as monsters and left their research papers very open in terms of topics. I had several students choose to write about the ways governments or even specific politicians are monstrous. Other students wrote about war propaganda (super interesting papers!) and a couple of students wrote about the ways school systems "other" people with mental disabilities. So students care about political issues and it shows up in their writing, which makes sense because it gives them a space to research these important topics and try to be more open to alternative perspectives. I still struggle to address some of these topics in class because I worry about how to respond to people who make racist, homophobic, classist, able-ist, etc. comments. But I think I am ignoring opportunities to challenge students' ideologies when I sidestep these conversations. I hope that in the future I will make more spaces for these conversations.

  6. Abigail, thank you for, indeed, addressing the elephant in the room. I would agree that it's difficult to ignore politics in the classroom because, yes, we teach rhetoric and language.

    I too am confounded by the success of Trump. I'm going to be sick if he wins the Indiana primary tomorrow. I have some thoughts about Trump that I think fit into this discussion about language, politics, and the classroom. To me, it is so clear and obvious that Trump is racist, sexist, and xenophobic. So, it's surprising to me how successful and popular Trump has been thus far. Why don't other people see this? Then, I realized that even if people who are supporting Trump don't agree with or support his overtly racist, sexist, and xenophobic remarks, they agree with the sentiment those remarks represent: America is the best country with the best ideals, values, religion, and language. This is why Trump has made it this far. I think, therefore, that we MUST talk about issues of language and the supremacist assumptions we bring to the classroom about English and other languages students speak. We have to make our classrooms a space to interrogate what Trump and other candidates in the future really stand for.