College Composition Weekly: Summaries of research for college writing professionals

Read, Comment On, and Share News of the Latest from the Rhetoric and Composition Journals


Leave a comment

Cunningham, Jennifer. African American Digital Language. C&C, June 2018. Posted 06/07/2018.

Cunningham, Jennifer M. ‘“wuz good wit u bro’: Patterns of Digital African American Language Use in Two Modes of Communication.” Computers and Composition 48 (2018): 67-84. Web. 30 May 2018.

Jennifer M. Cunningham reports a study of three male African American college students living in Ohio as they communicated with each other via text messages (73). Cunningham analyzed the messages for features of digital language (DL), African American language (AAL), and digital African American language (DAAL). She compared the results with those from a 2014 study of 100 comments posted by 19 African American college students on My Space (72). Her goal was to determine whether the features of the three language classes remained consistent across the different purposes, audiences, and platforms. In her view, consistency across these different contexts indicate the degree to which a form of language use is a stable, rule-governed literacy (72).

The author contends that efforts within writing pedagogy to build on languages with which students are familiar and in which they are already accomplished in order to build a bridge to Standard American English can benefit from learning more about how people communicate outside of the classroom (82). Cunningham reports research showing that text messaging is a favored form of communication among both adolescents and college students (68). She argues that studies of digital communication provide a view of how literacies are used for “authentic communicative purposes in . . . non-academic spaces” (67), and, as such, offer important lessons for writing pedagogy.

Cunningham reviews work by scholars who have examined and classified features of DL and AAL language groups. However, her previous study of DAAL is unique in that, except for her work, “there are no existing theoretical frameworks or coding categories that specifically address AAL as it is used to communicate in a digital environment” (73). As a result, for coding, she drew on tables she developed for her 2014 My Space study (73-74).

The author notes that in some views, digital language is considered a substandard form of communication with deleterious impacts on the literacy of users (68, 70). Scholars, however, have argued that the ability to exploit “textisms” like “initialisms” (e.g., “lol”), “letter/number homophones” (e.g., “b4”), and various forms of “shortenings” or “deletions” indicates a larger language-use repertoire rather than a deficit (68). Research suggests that fluidity in the “code-meshing” (69) involved in DL correlates with better reading skills (68, 82).

Cunningham writes that, similarly, African American Language has been labeled “an inferior form of communication that can negatively affect literacy” (69). Scholarship has recognized AAL as a “rule-governed language and literacy” with West-African roots and an English vocabulary (69). Cunningham discusses use patterns in AAL that demonstrate the affinity of AAL with West-African grammar and phonology, including “zero copula,” which occurs because in these language families there is “no form or conjugates of ‘to be’” and the conversion of “th” sounds, which do not occur in the African phonologies, to various alternatives such “d” sounds (71).

She explains her coding process for analysis of 380 messages consisting of 3136 words (73-74). “Open coding” classified the 3136 “instances” into “one of eight DL subcategories, one of six AAL phonological subcategories, and/or one of eight AAL grammatical subcategories” (73). In both the text messages and the social-network posts, Standard American English (SAE) accounted for most of the instances, (54.9% and 59.1%, respectively), but “SAE was not further coded” in the study (73).

In each subcategory, Cunningham reports substantial consistency between the text messages and the My Space posts. She notes some areas of difference. For example, in the subcategory DL, punctuation tended to be missing in the text messages but “excessive” in the social media posts (e.g., !!!) (75).

Some differences could be attributed to specific word choices by participants. In the AAL phonological subcategories, the two sets of texts differed considerably in the feature Cunningham designates as “Syllables”: “Unstressed syllables may be omitted and two pronounced words in AE may become one construction in AAL” (76). The more prominent occurrence of this feature in the text messages may have resulted from the three men’s regular use of “ight” to mean “all right” (76). Similarly, the verbal choices of “specific interlocutors” accounted for a disparity in the use of “Replacement th” in which the “th” sound is replaced with “d”; “several participants” in the social-media posts tended to use a particular example of this construction (76-77).

The author analyzes the degree to which the features she examined affected “functionality” (78). DAAL appeared designed to “creat[e] concise words, phrases, and sentences that are noticeably different from SAE while also approximating spoken AAL” (78). Writing that AAL is already “a more concise language” (78) and “a pragmatic language” (81), Cunningham contends that DL as used by African American speakers reflects these tendencies.

The author examines scholarship that contends that DL itself is “a hybrid between speech and writing,” creating “a new linguistic system” (69). Cunningham contends that the combination of DL and AAL creates a literacy, DAAL, that employs representations that differ from Standard American English both visually and by “approximating spoken AAL” (78). She found that the features of AAL that were incorporated into DAAL were more consistent across the two corpora than were the DL constructions, suggesting that DL is evolving as it is used in different contexts while “AAL is a more established and less fluctuating form of communication” (80).

In her view, her results reveal DAAL to be a hybrid practice with features that are consistent across contexts and therefore can be identified as a literacy in which users “follow innate and learned linguistic and paralinguistic rules to compose consistent and somewhat predictable written messages” (81). She argues that as an example of enhanced “heteroglossia” and as a way for students to “combine, alter, and mesh” both academic and non-academic language forms in response to differing contexts (81), DL and DAAL should be valued not only as stable, rule-governed linguistic practices but as contributors to “rhetorical awareness and writing ability” (82).

 


Leave a comment

Dubisar, Abby M. Mother-Based “Buffer” Rhetorics. CE, Jan. 2018. Posted 02/11/2018.

Dubisar, Abby M. “Mothers Against Gun Violence and the Activist Buffer.” College English 80.3 (2018): 195-217. Print.

Abby M. Dubisar responds to a call to recognize, value, and study “knowledge production by women” (195). She finds that rhetorical studies has not paid adequate attention to such knowledge production, especially that by African American women (195, 211, 213). In order to show how attention to rhetorical work by African American women can illuminate important strategies to serve the needs of communities and causes, Dubisar provides a case study of the group Mothers Against Gun Violence (MAGV) in Syracuse, New York (195-96).

Dubisar’s focus is “mother-based buffer rhetorics” (212). She defines “buffer rhetorics” as “embodied position[s]” that can appeal to wide audiences; as “a networked tactic” that both allows interaction with audiences and serves as a “unifying” force within communities responding to grief; and as “a stance that ranges from presence to direct action, able to be mediated online as well as in person” (196). She finds these rhetorics at work in a number of contexts, “as activists strategize ways to put themselves between public audiences and perpetrators and their victims and mourners” (196).

Dubisar presents the work of mothers of slain gun-violence victims to demonstrate how buffer rhetorics enable activists to lay claim to effective rhetorical identities and keep issues publically visible (211). Dubisar’s project grew from the 2008 Ray Smith Symposium: Feminist Rhetorics for Social Justice, in Syracuse; she took notes on MAGV speakers and went on to investigate media coverage of MAGV (196-97).

The author connects her study of MAGV with other rhetorical scholarship that examines the use of “maternal activism” (197) to further struggles for social justice. “Public mothering” has been studied for its ability to foster identification across racial and contextual boundaries (199). In Tamika Carey’s words, mothering rhetorics are “rhetorics of healing” (qtd. in Dubisar 198) that can appear in public spaces and in social and public media as well as in fiction and nonfiction (198).

Founded in 2005 by Helen Hudson after her stepson’s death by gun violence, MAGV illustrates how, as a buffer rhetoric, the rhetoric of public mothering functions to intervene with the younger audiences most likely to be affected by gun violence at the same time that it empowers activists as “liaisons” between grieving families, affected communities, and institutions like police and hospitals (200). Public mothering assures young audiences that they are cared for and valued (197), while “[i]dentifications in mothering and expressions of love for children, even grown children” draw in “disengaged white audiences” who may tend to blame family dynamics for violence and crime (201). In Dubisar’s view, risks that the use of motherhood as a persuasive strategy will “essentializ[e] mothers as a monolithic group” (198) can be overcome by careful use of the trope.

Noting Jacqueline Jones Royster and Gesa E. Kirsch’s understanding of rhetoric as “embodied social experience” (qtd. in Dubisar 200), Dubisar explores the embodiment inherent in MAGV’s activism. She illustrates this embodiment with the example of vigils that reclaim spaces where violence has occurred, pictures of people holding hands as “physical touches of care,” and an image of Hudson hugging another grieving mother, an action that “protect[s] people from the camera’s gaze and exposure to others” (202).

Dubisar sees such “invitation[s] to grieve” as encouraging more embodied action as community members, especially young people, are moved to speak up when they see signs of imminent violence (202). Members of MAGV also interject their physical presences into events and make themselves visible through speeches and videos. Dubisar provides the example of Lepa Jones, president of MAGV, who was featured in a 2015 news story and video in Syracuse and again in a video interview in 2016 (203). Dubisar argues that Jones is able to translate her presence into an appeal for solidarity, casting community members as “family” who have shared embodied experiences (203-04) and standing in for young people who may be cast as the cause of violence by white audiences (205). These efforts, Dubisar writes, allow MAGV participants to “make a mourning stance an activist role” (204), one that can remain visible beyond specific moments and events (211).

Dubisar further discusses how MAGV action creates networks, both to share comfort and to reach young people “who need support and to hear the message that they are loved and appreciated” (206). This networking extends to public office and to participation in other service organizations such as the Trauma Response Team, which calls on MAGV to step in between the many actors involved in a violent event, like families, hospital personnel, police and sources of financial support (206).

Involvement in these networks as mother-based rhetors generates authority and expertise as well intervention that contrasts with that of officials and social workers (207). Noting that such action cannot completely combat the extant “systemic racism and pro-gun legislation,” Dubisar contends that the group’s rhetorics of care provide “essential” connections among diverse groups who are working to limit gun violence (207).

The work of MAGV, Dubisar states, is also “mediated” in that it expands through media and mediates in that it actively enters spaces where young people are likely to congregate to assure them that they are loved (208). She illustrates the media influence that derives from the group’s mother-based rhetoric with a public-service video narrated by Hudson and other members. This 38-second video, “Dead is Forever,” which was shown widely in the area in venues where young people would see it, spoke directly to youths, urging them to see themselves as the children of mothers who would suffer if they were killed. The public-service announcement, which claimed space between “a police-produced antiviolence PSA and a news report about gun violence,” urges young people “to identify with their moms in a new way” by imagining themselves as capable of “pleas[ing] their mothers and mak[ing] them proud” (210).

Dubisar cites the embodied, networked, and mediated work of maternal spokeswomen like the mothers of Emmett Till, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, and Michael Brown to illustrate specific examples of the “range of strategies African American women invent and adapt, both when asked to respond to violence and to sustain attention to an issue” (213). These strategies, in Dubisar’s view, deserve increased attention from rhetorical studies as forms of knowledge production by women.


1 Comment

Hall, H. Bernard. Hip-hop Based Education. RTE, Feb. 2017. Posted 03/10/2017.

Hall, H. Bernard. “Deeper than Rap: Expanding Conceptions of Hip-hop Culture and Pedagogy in the English Language Arts Classroom.” Research in the Teaching of English 51.3 (2017): 341-50. Web. 02 Feb. 2017.

H. Bernard Hall writes about the status of “hip-hop based education” (HHBE) (342) in English Language Arts classrooms. He advocates research in and teacher-education on the ways that HHBE can be effectively integrated into literacy education.

Hall presents conversations he has had at conferences and with colleagues about how best to include hip-hop in a curriculum, particularly one that is expected to accord with the Common Core State Standards (341-42). He reports that teachers seem interested in the potential of hip-hop as a means of “teach[ing] critical media literacy and foster[ing] critical consciousness, especially as they intersect around racial identity politics” (344). Some teachers need guidance in best practices for using hip-hop to engage students already involved in hip-hop culture when such a curriculum is explicitly prohibited by an administration (342).

Hall’s review of the past three decades of interest in hip-hop as a pedagogical intervention suggests that “teachers no longer need to be sold on why they should be using hip-hop in the classroom; they want to know how to use hip-hop in the classroom” (342; emphasis original).

Central to this concern is a question as to where hip-hop “[f]it[s] within the Common Core.” Hall answers, “It fits where you make space for it” (343; emphasis original). He argues that such efforts are aided by “the vagueness of the Common Core” and “the versatility of hip-hop texts” which allow “additive and transformative approaches” that can both exploit the strength of hip-hop as a pedagogical vehicle and meet the skills-based outcomes teachers must produce (343). Important to this process, Hall argues, is the power of hip-hop to undermine the Common Core’s “false binary of literary and informational texts” (343). In imparting knowledge through narrative, hip-hop becomes, in Hall’s view, “literary nonfiction” that moves beyond “just poetry” (343). Hip-hop’s aesthetic conveys argument and critique about important issues in students’ cultural experiences.

Noting that “[t]eacher effectiveness and student achievement . . . are located in why and how we teach more than in what we teach,” Hall asks teachers to articulate the “big idea driving [their] curricular intervention” (343-44; emphasis original). He gives examples of the ways such big ideas emerge from diverse applications of HHBE (344). To understand how hip-hop can best be used, he urges more ethnographic research into such applications “by real teachers in their specific contexts” (344).

Arguing that analyzing hip-hop as a text is not sufficient to release its potential as a source of “ideas, epistemologies, and dilemmas that can inform teaching and learning” (Petchauer, qtd. in Hall 345), Hall examines two aesthetic dimensions of the form. In its improvisational nature, freestyling is related blues and jazz; Hall contends that allowing students to move outside the restrictions of more conventional writing formats and use freestyling to “write without premeditation or fear of reprisal” (345) can provide new avenues for the prewriting and invention that lead to more successful academic work.

Similarly, ciphering, or an active participatory exchange that moves beyond “the mere arrangement of desks in a circle” to cast students as “feelers” and “righters” (346) can make use of hip-hop’s emphasis on the realities and environments in which Americans actually live (348). Hall gives examples of teachers who have accepted the call inherent in HHBE to become “cultural workers” in the manner of Henry Giroux (345-46). Effective methodologies for incorporating hip-hop can exploit the form’s focus on the lives of “black and brown students” and their relations to cultural oppression even through the study of traditional texts (346).

Hall takes issue with the position that only practitioners deemed sufficiently authentic can make use of HHBE. He writes that efforts to “’keep it [HHBE] real,’ in effect, stifle the potential of HHBE to interrupt the white privilege that dominates teacher education” (347). Development of HHBE must “work toward narrowing the chasm that exists between the black men who tend to dominate HHBE research and the white women interested in practicing HHBE” (346).

Moreover, Hall writes, scholarship on and practice of HHBE should be willing to determine, through “experimental studies,” in what ways incorporating hip-hop into ELA curricula helps students achieve outcomes like those promoted by the Common Core (347). He juxtaposes worries that working with the Common Core framework will necessarily constitute “sell[ing] out” with his admonition that scholars

must be careful not to essentialize the collectiveness of hip-hop understandings, experiences, and ways of knowing, nor to romanticize the agentive and/or reproductive aspects of hip-hop culture and pedagogy. (348)

He calls for “more models” that will underscore the role of hip-hop as a “microcosm of the nation’s challenges to manifest its rhetoric of multiculturalism, diversity, and inclusion” (348). Efforts to locate HHBE firmly in the mainstream of ELA education, he contends, are important because the exclusion of hip-hop from teachers’ options would palpably demonstrate that “black lives don’t matter” (348; emphasis original).


Leave a comment

Davila and Dickinson. Place as Racist Ideology. Comp. Studies Fall 2016. Posted 12/4/2016.

Davila, Bethany, and Hannah Dickinson. “At a Distance: The Encoding of Place in the University.” Composition Studies 44.2 (2016): 94-115. Web. 22 Nov. 2016.

Bethany Davila and Hannah Dickinson present a case study of the rhetorical effects of references to place in higher education, in particular capital-P Place, which they argue takes on the role of a totalizing marker that sustains racial inequalities.

Their study grows out of other research in which they interviewed students and instructors at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor about various aspects of college writing. Two interviews, one with an African American student and one with a white, male adjunct instructor, stood out for the researchers because of their visible use of place and Place to construct student identities (96). Davila and Dickinson analyze these two interviews to understand how the invocation of place can insert oppressive ideologies into discourse, often despite the intentions of the speaker (101).

They cite the relationship between the “prestigious” University of Michigan and the neighboring city of Detroit as an example of the way place functions as Place to influence the understanding of race at the university. Detroit, which is 83% African American, with a poverty rate of 39%, contrasts with UM, where only 4.65% of the students are African American; the poverty rate in Ann Arbor is 22% (95). Davila and Dickinson note that a ban on affirmative action has exacerbated this disparity (95).

Both low-come students and African Americans, they write, “perhaps especially those from Detroit, may see UM as unwelcoming” (95). A campus movement, Being Black at the University of Michigan (#BBUM), works “to increase awareness about racial inequality” on campus; the movement elicits many statements attesting to discomfort among UM African American students (96). The authors find references to Detroit particularly indicative of how place becomes Place and guides narratives of identity.

They cite the collection City Comp: Identities, Spaces, and Practices as an example of scholarship that explores how cities affect relationships, noting that whether the view of the city comes from inside or outside its boundaries affects the type of narrative that results (97). Their analysis draws on Michel de Certeau’s tropes of the “voyeur” and the “walker” as illustrating two types of interaction with urban contexts (97). The voyeur is “situated at a distance” (98); in de Certeau’s words, the view of the voyeur “makes the complexity of the city readable, and immobilizes its opaque mobility in a transparent text” (qtd. in Davila and Dickinson 98). In contrast, the walker is immersed in “the everyday practices of the city” (98), a relationship evoked by a number of scholars in rhetoric and composition who have studied Detroit (98).

Davila and Dickinson argue that talk about Detroit in many public venues, rather than being an accurate representation of the city, in fact works “as coded language, disguising racist ideologies” (99). They find such discourse to be a form of “white talk,” which they define as language that allows Whites to present themselves as talking about something other than race when they are actually making racist claims. Such talk, the authors contend, allows Whites to avoid the consequences of overt racist speech and to ignore the history of racist oppression that acknowledgment of race as an issue would expose (99).

While Place participates in these erasures among Whites, they argue that it functions in the interview with the African American student as well to establish identity and “reinforce racial inequality” (100).

In Davila and Dickinson’s report of their interview with the white male instructor, they note that he makes “a potentially productive teacherly move” (102) in noting that not all African-American students are alike, but his comments characterize students from Detroit based largely on the fact that they are from Detroit. Asked to “describe the students you pictured in your mind while reading these papers” from Davila’s study, “Simon” attributes the work to “Detroit African American” (102). In his elaboration, he characterizes these students as having “puppy dog energy” but being “really far behind. . . . at the bottom of the pack” (qtd. in Davila and Dickinson 103). The authors see such depictions as “racist ideologies disguised as commonsense understandings of Detroit” (104). In their view, Detroit becomes a code word for a particular set of assumptions about African Americans.

The authors’ analysis finds Simon attributing the deficiencies he detects in the students’ work to a poor educational system supposedly characteristic of Detroit and to the “culture” of the city, which Davila and Dickinson see as Simon’s attempts to elide the racist implications of his remarks with more acceptable “structural” explanations (103). Such elisions, they argue, provide the city with agency and deny such agency to the residents, who are damaged by what Simon calls “the unique tragedy happening in Detroit” (qtd. In Davila and Dickinson 105). This characterization of the city not only allows Simon to deny that his views have to do with race but also removes agency from residents of Detroit, who are at the mercy of the city (105).

Interviewing “Sean,” the African American UM undergraduate, Davila and Dickinson see him as the “walker” as opposed to Simon, the “voyeur” (107). In Sean’s discourse, the authors find indications that Sean also imparts agency to the city, but considers himself “unique” because he can cite Detroit experiences that set him apart from other African American students (107-08). According to Davila and Dickinson, Sean refuses to surrender his own agency to the city; he describes actions he took to “get out of Detroit” (qtd. in Davila and Dickinson 108).

The authors read Sean’s responses as evidence that, in Sean’s mind, relationships with Detroit “can be negotiated” (109; emphasis original); in their view, Sean feels that “to use one’s common sense and to keep one’s cool” are ways to manage the city’s power (109). They note that Sean associates passivity with Ann Arbor, where, they write, students may “adopt the kind of complacency that is possible in a location of privilege” (109). In contrast, Sean describes himself as “open or calm” and imbued with an agentive “aggressiveness” that allows him to function in his unique place (qtd. in Davila and Dickinson 109). Unlike Simon, Sean positions Detroit as the “inside” space, and UM and the suburbs as outside, overturning the commonsense definition of Detroiters as “marginal” (110).

Davila and Dickinson argue that like Simon, Sean uses Place as a means of talking about particular kinds of African Americans, potentially shutting down more nuanced discussions of race and oppression (110-11). They further posit that despite Sean’s alternative representations of Detroit, Simon’s are “more powerful . . . in shaping Detroit-as-Place” because of Simon’s location within the “university power structure” (111) and its kinship with “common outsider understandings of Detroit” (111).

The authors urge more awareness of the ways in which knowledge about where students are from drives assumptions about identity in classrooms. They advocate deliberate effort to generate “alternative perspectives” by listening to students rather than to commonsense assertions about place and to be alert to the ideological underpinnings engendered when place becomes Place (112).


1 Comment

Choo, Suzanne S. Cosmopolitan Literature Education in Singapore. RTE, May 2016. Posted 08/31/2016.

Choo, Suzanne S. “Fostering the Hospitable Imagination through Cosmopolitan Pedagogies: Reenvisioning Literature Education in Singapore.” Research in the Teaching of English 50.4 (2016): 400-21. Print.

Suzanne S. Choo, an assistant professor at the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, advocates for “literature education” as a means of fostering “ethical cosmopolitanism” in students as a response to increasing pressures from globalization.

Choo documents a decline in the perceived value of literature in the United States and the United Kingdom as fewer students enroll in the subject (401, 418n1) and attributes a similar decline in Singapore to a number of factors tied to economic incentives that favor science, technology, engineering, and math (401). Choo argues that debates over the value of literature provide a chance to “reenvision the teaching of English literature” to highlight its power to offset tensions created by globalization (401).

Choo finds the state of English-language literature instruction in Singapore instructive because of the city’s colonial history and its implementation, beginning in the late 1980s, of a “national literature curriculum” (403) leading to national examinations on prescribed literary texts and practices. Examining the place of literature education as a part of Singapore’s response to globalization alongside classroom practices that may counter these top-level policies provides what Choo, following F. Vavrus and L. Bartlett, describes as a “multilevel vertical case study analysis” (405). Such an analysis, in Choo’s view, allows researchers to “contextualiz[e] local school practices within pressures occurring at the national levels, as these are in turn influenced by global forces” (405).

Choo and colleagues examined 1,593 questions from the national literature exam, coding them according to “question type” and “question content.” Types included questions addressing “plot, character, setting and atmosphere, style, and theme” (406). The researchers considered three levels of content: whether the questions measured “interpretation”; “aesthetic analysis”; or

students’ capacity to evaluate the text’s stylistic representation of others and the ideological values it contains, as well as their capacity to connect the text to the real world in order to engage with its ethical concerns (ethical evaluation and engagement). 406

Choo’s study, over a six-month period, gathered data from “six to eight classroom observations” and “one-hour pre- and post-observation interviews” (406). Four teachers from two “integrated program schools” participated. These schools were “high-performing,” with populations composed of “the top 20%” of scorers on a high-stakes exam (407). Teachers in such schools, Choo contends, have more freedom to design the kinds of assignments that serve needs other than those dictated by national economic interests (407).

To examine the national literature curriculum, Choo advocates for a “cosmopolitan” ethos, but distinguishes between two kinds of cosmopolitanism. Strategic cosmopolitanism focuses on the economic gains associated with global connectedness and the creation of a “skilled labor force” (408) and is “nation-centric,” concerned above all with a state’s competitiveness in global markets (402). In such a view, education is seen as an economic “investment” (403). In contrast, ethical cosmopolitanism promotes a sense of relatedness among diverse peoples and is “other-centric,” valuing the well-being of all as world citizens (403).

Central to the ethical cosmopolitanism that Choo supports is the development of what Jacques Derrida called a “hospitable imagination,” which enables “openness to others without conditions” (404). Choo argues that the study of literature can encourage this ability to see through the “lens of others” (405).

She reports that an interest in English education arrived with the desire of the colonial government to inculcate British cultural values in Singapore’s citizens (407). After independence in 1965, literature was devalued in favor of English-language education, which was seen as a necessary tool in Singapore’s efforts to depict itself as a player in the global economy (407-08). By the 1980s, however, the “creative industries” began to be seen as important in Singapore’s economy, and teaching “aesthetic sensitivity” became a means of ensuring both cultural and symbolic capital, as students were required to demonstrate both the ability to discern aesthetic value and a familiarity with the canonical texts of Western culture (408-09).

Literature education in this climate focused increasingly on detailed studies of the style of certain prescribed texts and authors like Shakespeare and Arthur Miller. National exam questions dealing with students’ ethical engagement with texts disappeared in favor of “[p]assage-based questions” that required students to show their knowledge of the texts (409). In Choo’s view, this pedagogy is “grounded on New Criticism’s adherence to an isolationist approach . . . in which students remain in the lifeworld of the plot, character, and language of the fictional text” (411).

Curricula designed by the four teachers disrupted this isolationist approach by

  • having students read a canonical text like Animal Farm alongside a modern text like N. H. Senzai’s Shooting Kabul, which depicts the life of Afghan asylum seekers in the post-9/11 United States. This comparison foregrounds how Animal Farm can be linked to issues of “discrimination and bias” (“Tanya,” qtd. in Choo 412).
  • disrupting views of culture as fixed to ethnicity, history, or place by assigning authors like Amy Tan and Jamaica Kincaid, who write about their experiences with cultural “displacement, clashes, and mixing” (413). This curriculum encourages students to examine ties to local communities while opening themselves to “affinity with multiple others” with whom aspects of a fluid cultural identity may be shared (413).
  • challenging stereotypes by having students read the required text, Frankenstein, alongside a short story, “The Moon above His Head,” by Yann Martel, which raises questions, both textually and extra-textually, about how representation, for example in media, affects perceptions of others (415). This approach opens discussion about how others can be ethically depicted and how students’ own perceptions develop by “the continual destabilizing of fixed interpretations of the other” (417).

In Choo’s view, these teachers’ work in supplementing required training in aesthetic appreciation with ethically rich literary exploration demonstrates that “literature education powerfully mediates encounters with foreign, exiled, and alienated others” to “propel an appreciation of collective humanity” (418). This appreciation, she argues, can counter the instrumental force of strategic cosmopolitanism and is uniquely available through the literature classroom.

 


3 Comments

Yenika-Agbaw, Vivian. English Textbooks in Cameroon. RTE, May 2016. Posted 07/01/2016.

Yenika-Agbaw, Vivian. “Textbooks, Literacy, and Citizenship: The Case of Anglophone Cameroon.” Research in the Teaching of English 50.4 (2016): 378-99. Print.

Vivian Yenika-Agbaw reports on a study of English-language teaching materials in Cameroon. She addresses textbooks from four periods of recent Cameroonian history: the colonial era of the 1950s and 1960s, the postindependence period of the 1980s, the postcolonial years reaching into the early 2000s, and the “era of globalization,” which the country is now experiencing (381).

To investigate the colonial context, Yenika-Agbaw reviewed the Oxford English Readers for Africa (OERA), which, published in the 1930s, was a “staple in the curriculum” (379). Beginning in the postcolonial period, educators moved to “alternative textbooks,” including the Evans Cameroon Primary English series (ECPE), the Primary English for Cameroon series (PEC), and the Basic English for Cameroon series (BEC) (379). Yenika-Agbaw notes that the PEC and BEC are “current” (379).

Yenika-Agbaw chose these texts for analysis from lists of the most commonly used textbook series in Cameroon. The head librarian of the Penn State Education and Behavioral Sciences Library helped her obtain these lists as well as a copy of the OERA. She owned the EPCE and visited Cameroon to purchase the series topping the lists, PEC and BEC (384-85). She read all the materials, selecting “nonfiction” sections that addressed citizenship and national identity (385-86).

Yenika-Agbaw’s questions involve how educational materials in the Anglophone Cameroonian language-arts curriculum constructed students’ identities as members of Cameroonian culture and as citizens. Her theoretical focus derives from postcolonial theory as developed by scholars like Henry Giroux, Stuart Hall, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Homi K. Bhabha, and others (382). This scholarship analyzes texts to posit that colonialism and its outgrowths over time “produce a culture of hybridity” in which historical and evolving forces influence each other (382).

Yenika-Agbaw also cites work by M. V. Tlostanova and W. D. Mignolo that sees “the problem of the twenty-first century” as one of “dwelling in the borders” (qtd. in Yenika-Agbaw 382; emphasis original). Such “border dwellers,” this scholarship proposes, have the opportunity to address the inequality underlying colonialism.

Yenika-Agbaw argues that Cameroon’s trajectory through multiple colonial relationships and its deep multiculturalism, evinced in part by the existence of more than 200 languages, make it a rich source for study of the effects of colonialism. She notes tensions between resistance to what B. T. Kishani calls “languages of dependency” (qtd. in Yenika-Agbaw 380) and the social capital inherent in the use of these languages (380). She draws on the work of Ngugi wa Thiong’o to position her research in the study of how language conveys values and identities (380).

Yenika-Agbaw uses content analysis to draw inferences about the development of Cameroon’s educational practices from a reading of the textbook series in light of their contexts (382). She notes only two other scholars who have addressed textbook use in Africa (383). Her work, she states, differs from that of these researchers in that she is interested in the cultural messages in the four texts rather than “the linguistic expectations of well-intentioned professionals” about such topics as grammar and usage (383).

Her analysis of the country’s transitions reveals a trend of moving from outright adulation of British and European culture to a more nuanced awareness of Cameroon as a unique, independent country. The OERA, used during the colonial period, encourages students to admire European products and points to Christopher Columbus and Ferdinand Magellan as models of exemplary accomplishment (387). Citing Bhabha, she argues that during this colonial period, “[l]earning how to speak/read/write in English is thus synonymous with learning how to be British and earning one’s place in the British empire,” as well as in Europe with its material goods (387).

The ECPE, used during the postindependence phase, introduces village and family life as essential components of a Cameroonian citizenry. Cultural sites such as a “Handicraft Centre” are also presented (388). However, Yenika-Agbaw finds that British and European “famous people/inventors” continue to dominate lessons. Europe is presented as a place students should hope to visit (389). Thus this textbook series bridges colonial commitment to European supremacy and an emerging awareness of the distinctive nature of Cameroonian citizenship.

Yenika-Agbaw locates PEC, still in use, in the postcolonial era. This series addresses the global environment through a unit on the United Nations and its multinational peacekeeping efforts. The text explicitly presents Cameroon’s “National Day” as a marker of the country’s independent status. However, it also invites continued affirmation of the nation’s British heritage with a section on Cameroon’s involvement in the Commonwealth games (389-90). Students are encouraged to admire a wealthy South African male and two famous Western females, Diana, Princess of Wales, and Serena Williams (391). Yenika-Agbaw sees this mixed focus as “a struggle to assert Cameroon’s independence from colonialism while working with the tools inherited from this sociopolitical legacy” (391).

According to Yenika-Agbaw, BEC, also still current, expands the global context by asking students to consider their personal impact on “nature” and by introducing the complexities of refugees affected by the Rwandan crisis (392). These discussions are juxtaposed with sections on Cameroon’s official “Youth Day” and with presentations on Cameroonian Christmas celebrations. Yenika-Agbaw proposes that this text offers the possibility of “multiple citizenship,” in which students can identify with a global community while still identifying as members of their own country (392).

Yenika-Agbaw traces two persistent themes through the four series. A notion of “white male supremacy” dominates the early texts; the later texts work to transcend this focus, but can only do so by featuring women who are not from Black Africa, wealthy individuals with little to teach young Cameroonians about their own place in modern culture, and a Western version of Christmas not “typical” of Cameroonian practice (394).

Drawing again on Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Yenika-Agbaw posits that the authors of the textbooks, even when they are Cameroonian, may be influenced by their roles as “the first generation of Educated Africans,” entrenched in the legacies of their “Eurocentric education[s]” (395). A continuing view of Europe as an appropriate cultural model, she contends, may be “the price former British colonies pay” in seeking the perquisites offered by fluency in English (395).

She urges educators to remember the power of educational materials to affect students’ sense of their own place in world cultures and warns against a definition of citizenship that “innocently disenfranchises children within their continents and countries of origin and this leaves them culturally and literarily uprooted” instead of providing them with the tools to navigate a diverse world (396).


1 Comment

Coleman et al. Risky Equity Work. TETYC, May 2016. Posted 06/07/2016.

Coleman, Taiyon J., Renee DeLong, Kathleen Sheerin DeVore, Shannon Gibney, and Michael C. Kuhne. “The Risky Business of Engaging Racial Equity in Writing Instruction: A Tragedy in Five Acts.” Teaching English in the Two-Year College 43.4 (2016): 347-70. Web. 27 May 2016.

Taiyon J. Coleman, Renee DeLong, Kathleen Sheerin DeVore, Shannon Gibney, and Michael C. Kuhne recount their experiences attempting to deal with equity issues at Minneapolis Community and Technical College (MCTC) between 2005 and 2015 (348, 353). They argue that white dominance is entrenched in higher education and that faculty, administrations, and institutions must recognize and act on the material and emotional consequences of this dominance.

The article grows out of a presentation at CCCC in Tampa in 2015. It is structured as “Five Acts”; each author presents personal perspectives illustrating the struggles involved in making the curriculum of MCTC more responsive to the students it serves.

Michael C. Kuhne recounts his participation in curriculum changes designed to restructure the English department and its developmental writing program so that they no longer mirrored the pedagogical assumptions of the older white male faculty (348) but rather more nearly met the needs of an increasingly diverse student population. Of special concern in this shift was improving low retention and graduation rates, particularly among African American men and Native American students (349). The developmental sequence shifted from a “formal, structural approach” built around paragraph structure and timed tests to a portfolio system and then to the Accelerated Learning model in which developmental students enroll in regular first-year writing but participate in additional class time with their instructors (349-50).

These changes led to some success, and Kuhne was among the faculty instrumental in changing hiring practices to bring the faculty make-up more in line with student demographics (352). But Kuhne contends that because of his “naïveté and white privilege,” he “was not able to see that simply hiring faculty of color without changing the culture within the department and institution would not move equity forward” (352).

DeVore follows with a history of changes at the college that, she writes, show “How We Broke” (352). Central to her account is the effort to include a request in the hiring language that new hires exhibit “an awareness of Critical Race Theory [CRT] and a demonstrated connection to communities of color” (Position Description, qtd. in Coleman et al. 354). DeVore offers definitions of Critical Race Theory, including one from Tara J. Yosso: “A critical race curriculum exposes the white privilege supported by traditional curriculum structures and challenges schools to dismantle them” (qtd. in Coleman et al. 354). DeVore argues that the new hiring language “simply referred to the need for applicants who understand that we live and teach in a nation with a raced social order” (354).

Including these qualifications resulted in new hires, several of color, changing the department makeup. However, a white male adjunct who had not been hired brought discrimination charges against four members of the hiring committee (355). After a “yearlong investigation,” the committee members were cleared but were required to strike the CRT language from the hiring language (355).

Meanwhile, a new hire of color acquired funding for series of workshops with Tim Lensmire of the University of Minnesota (356). After the first workshop meeting, DeVore reports, “a majority of faculty of color asked to caucus out into two groups, one for faculty of color, one for white faculty, as levels of experience, awareness, and understanding of white racial identity formation and white privilege were painfully low in the combined session” (356). DeVore states that this practice was “a common move in racial equity work,” but in her view, it led to a drop in workshop participation; subsequently, the new hire resigned (356). DeVore recounts a final department meeting dominated by emotions as faculty of color expressed their frustrations with the department (356). According to DeVore, the program has not been able to return to constructive equity work in the three years since (357).

Shannon Gibney adds her account of returning to the mass communications classroom after a personal health and emotional trauma and attempting to begin a discussion of “the legacy of ongoing racism in American life” (357). A “small group of students” exhibited what Gibney describes as “animosity at this black female body in front of them” (357); their reactions led to a reprimand from the college vice president that cast Gibney’s “tone as ‘defensive, angry, and disrespectful'” (358). She was ordered to attend training sessions to “learn to model ‘civility'” (358). She reports being the only faculty member of the 172 who had faced student complaints to be “disciplined” (358). After two appeals, as her case was about to enter arbitration that would make the case documents public, the president removed a letter of reprimand from her file (358). She reports being “offered ‘a blank check’ to leave MCTC altogether” (359).

Gibney argues that her willingness to speak up led to the unease with which administrators and colleagues regarded her. In her view, institutional pressures generated within a white-supremacist system act to silence those who would critique the status quo (360).

Renee DeLong, a “white, child-free lesbian,” was moved to protest the establishment of a creative-writing associates’ degree because she sees such courses as invested in white privilege. However, she found her role in the discussion “just erased” in favor of the voices of the black women faculty (362). This experience, in her view, suggests the need for victims of oppression to recognize their interconnectedness, as called for in the 1977 Combahee River Collective’s Manifesto (363). She urges attention to black LBGT women (362) “through the lenses of both critical race theory and queer theory” (363). White faculty, she maintains, must move beyond making claims about their love for students of color to recognize that their motives, in her description, are born of a sense of themselves as students’ “white savior[s]” (363). She deplores “this grandiose vision of pedagogical prowess” as “damaging [to] the health and lives of colleagues and students of color alike” (364).

Taiyon J. Colman discusses the degree to which she contends most educators see dominantly white institutions and classrooms as “normal” (365). She draws on her own experience as a marginalized student to suggest that a context in which the majority of faculty and the bulk of the administration are “institutionally constructed as white” (366) cannot serve student populations that are largely non-white (365). She argues that racial constructions of the type she describes deliver a message to black students that they are “not supposed to be there”:

If I am not supposed to be there through the continued normalization of racially constructed and dominantly white spaces, places, and teaching positions, then who, too, is still not socially, historically, and institutionally constructed to be in the writing or literature classrooms? (366)

She agrees with Gibney that efforts to address this problem result in the derogation of those who speak up (366). She offers eight preliminary steps for addressing equity issues (367), focusing on rejection of “silence” and “rationalization”; attention to institutional and systemic accountability for the development of equity (367-68); and recognition by privileged faculty of their own responsibility for these changes (367). She emphasizes the importance of “moving forward collectively” because “achieving equity benefits all members of the institution and the communities that we serve” (368; emphasis original).