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Johnson, June. Teaching the Literature of Witness. CE, Mar. 2020. Posted 06/27/2020.

Johnson, June. “Overcoming Reader Resistance to Global Literature of Witness: Teaching Collaborative Listening Using The Devil’s Highway and What is the What.College English 82.4 (2020): 351-80. Print.

June Johnson writes about the pedagogical challenges of using the “literature of witness” to engage readers’ emotional responses to suffering and injustice in the lives of people different from them.

Citing scholars Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson, Johnson lists the features of “literature of witness” as

a first-person narrator’s account of suffering and survival, the obligation to tell the stories of the dead, and grounding in cultural and geographic specifics. (353)

The goal of teaching this literature, in Johnson’s view, involves developing readers’ ability to care about strangers and recognize similarities of humanity, without, at the same time, “either subsuming cultural differences within our own cultural frames or accentuating them” (352). Paradoxically, Johnson writes, efforts to engage emotional empathy may exacerbate resistance and even trigger hostility to the sufferers readers encounter in these texts.

For Johnson, citing Martha Nussbaum, narrative writing and literature are the means best suited to draw out emotional responses (351). In the case of literature of witness, the effort to gain empathy through storytelling is “justify[ed]” by “the genre’s outcomes in the world” as attitudes and behavior change; as a result, Johnson considers these texts to have “an overtly persuasive purpose” (353).

Drawing on work within language studies on the role of emotions in decision-making and attitudes as well as in fields such as cognitive psychology and theories of critical reading and “collaborative rhetoric,” Johnson also turns to Krista Ratcliffe’s concept of “cultural logic” to explore the ways in which readers may resist the emotional force of works like literatures of witness (352). Noting that a cultural logic, in Ratcliffe’s words, is “a belief system or shared way of reasoning within which a claim may function” (qtd. in Johnson 354), Johnson examines ways in which these cultural logics may limit readers’ responses to the stories of suffering presented in the specifically situated accounts of refugees, immigrants, and others whose accounts challenge the preconceived assumptions of developed Western societies.

One form of resistance, in Johnson’s view, is “Shock and Fascination Followed by Patronizing Dismissal” (354). Readers may experience a “voyeuristic response” to horrors that seem unimaginable, then move on to cast such horrors as distant and irrelevant in their own lives. Geographical areas where suffering takes place can be seen as needing to “work their way out of their problems” on their own in order to emulate more “developed” countries (355).

Citing scholars studying efforts to ameliorate global suffering, Johnson identifies a second form of response: “Sadness and Indignation Followed by Emotional Overload and Helplessness” (355). In these cases, readers are overwhelmed by the enormity of the problem and “retreat into emotional self-protection” when no solutions are offered or seem possible (357).

Finally, readers may experience “Fear and Defensiveness Followed by Denial and Retrenchment” (357). In this dynamic, Johnson contends, issues of national security and economic well-being compound with protectiveness over identity to shift attention to questions of responsibility, as members of privileged societies resist blame for others’ suffering (358).

In order to alleviate the effects of these resistances, Johnson writes, respondents must fundamentally change, and she posits “collaborative listening” (354), practices that draw on work by Carl Rogers, Peter Elbow, Donna Qualley, Krista Ratcliffe, and sociologist Robin DiAngelo (353-54). To guide students into these “rigorous listening” experiences (358), she proposes teaching two specific texts, Luis Alberto Urrea’s The Devil’s Highway and Dave Eggers’s What is the What.

The Devil’s Highway recounts a non-fiction border tragedy in the form of a postmodern novel: a desert march by 26 Mexican migrants, 14 of whom died on the journey. Johnson argues that rhetorical features of syntax and structure immerse readers in transformative identity challenges in ways that traditional narrative strategies may fail to do (359). In her view, the text induces collaborative listening via such moves as a “disorienting narrative structure” that requires readers to “struggle to make sense of the text as the characters struggle to make sense of a journey” (361).

She writes further that the text creates “shifting character identities” with postmodern juxtapositions of characters including Border Patrol agents and “coyotes” or smugglers as well as the migrants (363). Dialogic narrative includes a shift to second-person through which she writes that readers are “[c]aught off guard” and “place[d] . . . directly into the shoes of the walkers”; this shift, Johnson claims, undercuts what Carl Rogers called “our very natural tendency to judge” (qtd. in Johnson 360). In Rogerian fashion, Johnson contends, the text also “listen[s] to” readers’ concerns and further opens a space for engagement (364; emphasis original).

Johnson also defines Eggers’s book as “postmodern narration” that “teaches collaborative listening” (366). The full title is What is the What: The Autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng, A Novel; Deng, a refugee from civil war in Sudan, worked with Eggers over many years, deciding with him that “a shift to fiction” with Deng as the first-person narrator would be most effective in conveying Deng’s story (366). Johnson writes that a “fragmented narrative” that moves forward and backward in time in recounting events from 1987 to 2004, from Deng’s experiences in the Second Sudanese Civil War to his life as a refugee in America, emphasizes the “unknowableness” of these experiences for Western readers (Elizabeth Twitchell, qtd. in Johnson 367). In Johnson’s view, this radical difference undercuts tendencies toward “ethnocentric representation traps of racial privilege and cultural superiority” (367). Instead, she believes it encourages us to collaborate in the search for “agency and meaning” (368).

The text also focuses on the irony that Deng’s search for safety in the United States led him to become a crime victim as well as a victim of cultural oppression (369), undercutting what Michelle Peek calls the “rhetoric of rescue and promise” in which Western readers might find solace (368). Johnson also explores the use of direct address to other “narratees, “ such as the young man guarding Deng while his apartment was robbed; for Johnson, Deng exhibits a “listening” stance that acknowledges readers and their views (370). She also argues that his “reflexive grappling with his subjectivity” over the course of the novel disrupts readers’ attempts to construct a familiar identity for the narrator, thus inviting understanding of the instability of comforting assumptions (372).

Johnson suggests low-stakes practices such as free-writes, journals, or letters to self that teachers can use to introduce students to difficult texts like the literature of witness. These activities should encourage students in:

(1) creating probing dialogues with self that address positionality; (2) curbing judgments and revising assumptions by living with/in multiple perspectives; and (3) embracing ongoing reflexivity that focuses on open listening as a rhetorical stance and an ethical choice. (373)

 

 


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Gonzalez Ybarra. Mujerista Literacies in an Ethnic Studies Course. RTE, Feb. 2020. Posted 05/18/2020/

González Ybarra, Mónica. “‘We Have a Strong Way of Thinking . . . and It Shows Through Our Words.’” Research in the Teaching of English 54.3 (2020): 231-53. Print.

Mónica González Ybarra describes an ethnic-studies course she taught in the summer of 2016 at an “(im)migrant housing complex” in a “semirural suburb in the Rocky Mountain region” (234; parentheses original). This complex, which González Ybarra calls “Comunidad Miravalle” (CM) (231), is home to “mixed-status families” whose heads of households work in agriculture or landscape; many inhabitants have lived in the community for more than ten years (234-35). González Ybarra moved from volunteering at a youth learning center in the complex to teaching a course called “Chicana/Latina Experiences” (235).

Arguing that increased scholarly attention to the literacies and voices of young women and girls of color still gives short shrift to Chicana/Latina youth, González Ybarra stresses the role of “community or nontraditional spaces of teaching and learning” for these populations (231). She examines the literacies of four young women who participated in the course during the summer of 2016, documenting the knowledge their cultural resources contribute to their meaning-making practices (236). In notes, she explains her decision not to necessarily italicize Spanish words and her use of the terms Chicana/Latina (249n1; 240n3).

In this seven-week seminar, the four women and six men collected and analyzed “oral, written, and digital testimonios from the community” and applied the results to broader sociopolitical contexts surrounding marginalized groups. The use and analysis of social media also provided resources as well as material for analysis. Students reflected in journals or via digital projects (236).

The four “young mujeres” featured in the article were high-school students at differing levels, identifying as either Chicana or Latina; all had “cultural, ethic, and national ties to México” (236). All ten students had known each other since they were children. González Ybarra recounts her own cultural connections as those of a “middle-class Chicana” with an immigrant family background and experiences attending largely white schools; she notes as well that because she has citizenship status that many of her students lack, she is afforded privileges they may not have, but states that her “cultural intuition”—her “critical knowledge” of Chicana/Latina environments—makes it possible for her to engage with the ethnic issues her students face (237, 238).

González Ybarra introduces the “trenzas framework” for studying the meaning-making practices in communities like that of CM. This theoretical approach differs from what is usually considered “normal, rigorous, and valid in qualitative research . . . in literacy education” in that it draws on cultural intuition, “humaniz[ed]” data-collection processes, and feminist theories to locate “intersections as well . . . as points of entanglement” in various approaches (237).

The methodologies she illustrates include the “testimonio.” This is a “performative text” that joins “individual experiences to a collective story—voicing the silences and exposing the knowledge located within marginalized bodies” (238). Students participated in “testimoniando,” sharing their experiences as Chicana/Latina youth in the larger white culture.

Equally in use were “pláticas.” These are “dialogic processes of meaning-making that take place in salas, at kitchen tables, and in other gathering spaces within Latinx/Chicanx communities” (239). Pláticas enable the use of “dichos (sayings,), consejos (advice), chismes (gossip. . .), and testimonios” as analytical resources beyond more traditional methods for investigating how cultural experiences shape knowledge (239). González Ybarra sometimes prompted in-class pláticas, but says that often they were student-initiated and -driven. She videoed and recorded these when they occurred in class, but reports that they occurred in other settings as well (239).

González Ybarra’s trenzas framework began with examination of her students’ use of and interactions with texts, broadly defined as encompassing modes such as “visual, aural, written, gestural, embodied, etc.” across a wide range of modalities. This examination included study of these textual moments across “raced-gendered bodies, space and place” including borderlands and homes (239). She used tools like screenshots and photos as well as scanned artwork to record these interactions.

“Thematic coding,” especially through “narrative writing,” allowed González Ybarra to build trenzas as an analytical methodology. However, citing E. Tuck and K. W. Yang, González Ybarra resisted the degree to which such coding created “settler orientations toward knowledge production” (240). As a third layering to counteract this tendency, González Ybarra turned to pláticas with the four mujeres of her study (240).

Central to the findings González Ybarra reports is the degree to which mujerista literacies focus on family and community, in particular the strength and wisdom of Chicana/Latina mothers. Drawing on quoted material from her four women students, González Ybarra sees feminism as practiced in these communities as “[em]bodied and [i]ntergenerational” (240); the experience of seeing their mothers and families resist threats to their survival from the larger culture, in González Ybarra’s view, becomes central to these young women’s world knowledge. She writes that her study belies the narrative that describes Chicana/Latina mothers as “submissive and subscribing to traditional gender roles”; on the contrary, she argues, the mothers supplied opportunities and models for resistance (241). The study points to a literacy that “center[s] the collective, situating literacies within larger sociopolitical discourses and lived realities of communities” (242).

Reports of exchanges between male and female students ground González Ybarra’s claim that the mujeres’ literacy is “disruptive,” as they speak up for the effects of larger systemic injustice on personal choice and against the potential for “othering” gay members of their communities (242-43). One plática she records, she argues, illustrates the young women’s sense of how public discourse can be dominated by “the young men, taking up space with their voices” (244). Finding their own space to express themselves, González Ybarra posits, allows them a better understanding of the politics of traditional school spaces.

Students’ deep reflection on the course reveals that, for one student, it served as a “spark” for otherwise silenced conversations (qtd. in González Ybarra 244), while another appreciated the vocabulary the discussions supplied for speaking to others about her realities (247). For González Ybarra, journal reflections reveal how the course led to “shift[s]” as students found a space to engage deeply with connections between their issues and lives (246).

The author notes that ethnic studies is not yet a consistent feature of traditional education and urges more effort to provide alternative opportunities to explore mujerista literacies. In such spaces, she contends, the degree to which these literacies disrupt normative narratives about Chicana/Latina youth become more visible (248). Her research, she writes, embodies a “mismatch” between the trenzas framework and traditional literacy research in that it

bring[s] together the lived realities of researchers, relationships cultivated within communities, pedagogical approaches, and critical theoretical orientations [that serve as] a legitimate lens for analysis to deepen ideas of literacy and literacy research. (248)


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Crawford et al. Public Memory, Hope, and Rhetorical Education. CE, Jan. 2020. Posted 03/29/2020.

Crawford, Anne E., Peyton Galloway, and Jane Greer. “Drawing Hope from Difficult History: Public Memory and Rhetorical Education in Kansas City.” College English 82.3 (2020): 255-80. Print.

Anne E. Crawford, Peyton Galloway, and Jane Greer present an upper-level English course, “Rhetorics of Public Memory,” taught at an “urban research university” in Missouri prior to the March 2018 College Composition and Communication convention in Kansas City, Missouri (256). Materials from the course were exhibited at the convention as a series of panels titled Deconstructing the Divide: Rhetorical Activism in Kansas City (264). The exhibit was also displayed at the Bruce R. Watkins Cultural Heritage Center on the authors’ university campus and at other educational venues (256). The resulting article recounting the development of the exhibit has been co-authored by Greer, instructor of the course, and two undergraduates who took part (256). Each author presents her experiences in a dedicated section of the article.

Crawford et al. write that an important exigency for the course and the exhibit was a 2017 NAACP travel advisory citing the need for African Americans to be cautious while in Missouri because of a “series of questionable, race-based incidents occurring statewide recently” (qtd. in Crawford et al. 255). Greer, as the instructor, was moved to ask how a college rhetoric course could address the troubled moment. The resulting course drew on scholarship on public memory and its relationship to “hope” to provide students with opportunities to develop their rhetorical skills while also examining their own situated engagement with their home city (256, 258).

The authors contrast studies of public memory with the study of history by citing Carole Blair’s distinction between history’s “legitimacy based on research norms” and public memory’s “overtly political and emotionally invested” nature (qtd. in Crawford et al. 257). Further review of research in English studies and in college classrooms grounds the authors’ claim that “public memory is a profoundly rhetorical enterprise” and thus a rich topic for rhetorical pedagogy (257).

Drawing on part of Stephen Browne’s definition of public memory as “a shared sense of the past” (qtd. in Crawford et al. (257), the authors note that this shared sense can be “created” for specific purposes (257); they develop a relationship between public memory and “hope” through the work of scholars like Stephen Fishman (drawing on John Dewey) and Paula Mathieu by arguing that despite its attention to the past, public memory serves to remind audiences of their connectedness to others and to engage them in dialogue that often serves as a “provocation” to become involved themselves (258, 261Fr). They cite Fishman’s claim that “for Dewey, hope always arises in the context of anxiety and potential despair” and is inspired by a belief intrinsic to public memory that “things could have been otherwise” and that people have agency to effect change (260). Because of its rhetorical nature, public memory becomes a shared activity that engenders the “fundamentally communal project” of encouraging hope (259).

The course exhibit made use of the relationship between public memory and hope both by reminding viewers of past injustices and also by enhancing public memory of activism that addresses these injustices. The course itself was a reprise in response to the NAACP advisory of one taught over nine years by Greer. As the instructor, she drew on Mathieu’s advice to create a “project orientation” rather than a “problem orientation” because student efforts could not realistically solve the major systemic injustices involved. Rather, the intent of the project reflected the approach advanced in Freeman Tilden’s Interpreting Our Heritage, which Greer identifies as “widely influential” in guiding “public historians, park rangers and tour guides.” Greer writes that Tilden sees the purpose of public memory not as instruction or persuasion but instead as a means of “spur[ring] ongoing engagement between the exhibit’s audience and the material being presented” (263).

The students drew on award-winning exhibits for models. From a 2016/2017 exhibit by university history students came the plan of designing freestanding panels that could be transported to multiple venues. From the curator of interpretation of an exhibit at the National Museum of Toys and Miniatures, with which Greer has partnered, students learned the importance of personal stories to generate immediacy (262). Greer details the multitudinous archives the students searched in order to collect “nearly fifty items/artifacts” relevant to “education, injustice, and activism” in Kansas City’s past (263). She notes that students’ interest expanded from attention to national figures usually associated with activism to “local stories” showing how “resistance,” “resilience,” and “creativity” can be used by lesser-known individuals from their own communities (263).

Students determined that Deconstructing the Divide would create separate sections to address “literacy activism, legal activism, and embodied activism” (264). Smaller groups of students worked on each section. Crawford worked with others on the opening panels (268), while Galloway participated in constructing the closing section (273).

Panels on literacy activism featured a Black women’s book club and a student poet at the only high school offering African Americans educational opportunities in 1918 (264). Legal activism encompassed a challenger to segregated graduate studies at the University of Missouri in the 1930s and a teacher who worked with students in their homes rather than at their unsafe school (264). Embodied activism highlighted students who demonstrated during civil unrest following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and Chicano/a students who organized a walkout to underscore the needs of multicultural and multilingual students (265).

Detailing her participation in the creation of the opening panels, Crawford posits that a “sentimental view” of her home city led her to become “perhaps complacent” as she failed to “appreciate the complexity of the history I had inherited” (267). She recounts the impact of images from the 1968 civil unrest, in which students in familiar locations confronted police in gas masks (267-68). She writes that the opening panels were intended to remind viewers of past injustice while pointing toward the activists included in the other panels (270).

Galloway writes of the revisions required to avoid “creat[ing] a false sense of unity among the preceding panels or to oversimplify” Kansas City’s past (273). The group moved from “imperative statements . . . in the second-person singular (you)” to images of a prominent building that they decided presented “too simplistic a story of progress” (273). The panels as finally completed noted “current social justice organizations” and an example of a communal effort that resulted in historical preservation and neighborhood revitalization (274). Galloway recounts responses via social media and in-person conversations that attested to the exhibit’s effects (274).

Both students report finding personal connections to their city’s past and present as well as renewed hope for the future. Citing the many rhetorical skills involved in creating such a complex exhibit, the authors emphasize the importance of public memory work as an act of forward-looking engagement, the goal of which is

not to present a definitive argument about the past, but to provoke and energize ongoing dialogue about what that future might be. (277)


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Jackson et al. HBCUs in the Composition Conversation.CCC, Dec. 2019. Posted 02/09/2020.

Jackson, Karen Keaton, Hope Jackson, and Dawn N. Hicks Tafari. “We Belong in the Discussion: Including HBCUs in Conversations about Race and Writing.” College Composition and Communication 71.2 (2019): 184-214. Print.

Karen Keaton Jackson, Hope Jackson, and Dawn N. Hicks Tafari note that scholars in composition have written about issues in African-American higher education, but they write that the voices of compositionists who teach at historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) “are most noticeably, and perhaps ironically, absent from this conversation in any consistent way” (185). They note scholars writing about the black experience in higher education are “well-meaning,” but that “very few” have actual experience in HBCUs (185). In the authors’ view, this absence casts HBCUs as “the well-mannered Other” referred to by Jacqueline Jones Royster in her 1996 article, “When the First Voice You Hear Is Not Your Own” (186).

The authors write to make the voices of HBCU faculty, especially female faculty, heard in the composition conversation, making visible the value to the field of HBCUs as places where black students are centered and the African American experience is “fully integrated and a part of the curriculum and campus life itself” (188).

Reporting the history of HBCUs, the authors explore the differences between HBCUs and other “minority-serving institutions” (MSIs). They write that only HBCUs and “tribal colleges” serve specific populations as their mission; in other cases, the colleges may be designated as MSIs based on enrollment and this designation may change as enrollments vary (187). The first HBCU, they write, originated in Pennsylvania in 1837 to serve African Americans who could not enroll in white schools; these institutions proliferated during reconstruction. At present, there are approximately one hundred HBCUs designated as such by a 1965 act of Congress (186). In 2015, 76% of HBCU enrollees were black (187).

Elaborating on Keith Gilyard’s 1999 article, “African American Contributions to Composition Studies,” the authors argue that the contributions he notes come largely from HBCUs in existence before the civil rights movement, whose faculty were “vocal, prominent, and actively engaged in discourse about the teaching of writing to our students” (190). They reiterate Gilyard’s reference, for example, to Melvin Butler, chair of the committee that drafted “Students’ Right to Their Own Language” in 1974 (191).

Jackson et al. write that students at HBCUs differ from African American students at primarily white research universities in that they are more likely to be first-generation college enrollees, come from lower-income households, and have experienced under-funded schools. Importantly, in the authors’ view, these students are less likely to have heard Standard English used frequently and are “more likely to speak AAVE [African American Vernacular English] consistently, with little experience with or awareness of code-switching or code-meshing” (189).

Acknowledging work by scholars who do address effective pedagogies for this population, Jackson et al. state that much of this scholarship appears in “‘special’ issues” rather than in the “normative” conversation in “mainstream” journals (192). The authors critique examples of this scholarship as “incomplete” in that it often involves very few students over short periods of time. Moreover, in one case they cite, they argue that including code-meshing in the curriculum as exemplified leaves out the facility with Standard English required if AAVE speakers are to successfully combine the two languages (193-94). In their view, research conducted by and with HBCU students and faculty would come closer to producing a “complete” picture of how such pedagogies work (195).

As an alternative, Jackson et al. discuss the 2014 HBCU Composition Symposium at North Carolina A&T State University, at which HBCU faculty and students collaborated with “nationally recognized faculty and scholars” (195). From this event, the authors recount two “unwelcome stories” (David Wallace) or “hiccup[s],” moments that illustrate the nature and challenges of “cross-boundary discourse” (196). In one example, an HBCU faculty member was invited to participate in a CCCC panel but was unable to attend because of lack of funding, a barrier that the authors argue is a pervasive limitation on the participation of HBCU faculty in matters in which their voices should be foregrounded (196). In the second unwelcome story, an HBCU student challenged a presenter who advocated for code-meshing, “critically interrogat[ing] the benefit” of this strategy in her context (199).

The authors contend that this exchange illustrates the concept of a “hush harbor” (199), a space in which the students in their population are able to speak freely and examine issues affecting them without being judged. Other concepts that the authors identify as guiding effective pedagogy for their students include “othermothering,” in which female HBCU faculty can mentor and nurture students as they enter larger contexts (205).

Similarly, they present “discursive homeplacing” as a process through which students in their classrooms can “explore language as a tool,” again without being judged (202-03). The authors present examples in which the students examine the role of code-meshing and Black English in events such as the George Zimmerman trial and in Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. Other pedagogical choices include the use of narratives to permit “double-consciousness writing” as students consider their “collective knowledge” about their complex environments. In the “safe harboring” provided by an HBCU, the authors write, students can practice complex cross-boundary discourse as they challenge teachers’ assumptions about their learning (202-03). Jackson et al. further illustrate their use of students’ social media skills and their strategies to provide literacy options for students for whom cost may be a factor (204).

In the authors’ view, HBCUs furnish students a “unique” environment: “the safe space or hush harbor to freely be themselves without feeling judged or attacked” (204). They illustrate the value of HBCUs by providing data on the prominence of HBCU graduates among African Americans who go on to distinguished and successful careers in science, engineering, and the humanities (209).

Concluding that the voices of HBCU faculty and the educational space they represent are essential if the field of composition is to fulfill its mandates of inclusion and empowerment, the authors propose resolutions to enhance their ability to participate in the professional conversation. Funding support to attend conferences and conduct research, as well as representation and designated board positions on national and regional organizations, they propose, would result in the kind of cross-boundary collaboration and discussion that would bring their students from the periphery of college writing education into the mainstream (206-09).


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Schey and Blackburn. Queering Normative Literacy. RTE, Aug. 2019. Posted 10/16/2019.

Schey, Ryan, and Mollie Blackburn. “Queer Ruptures of Normative Literacy Practices: Toward Visualizing, Hypothesizing, and Empathizing.” Research in the Teaching of English 54.1 (2019): 58-80. Print.

Ryan Schey and Mollie Blackburn discuss a study of their students in an “arts-focused charter high school in a Midwestern city” (64) as the students responded to Steve Brezenoff’s novel Brooklyn, Burning. The course was an “LGBTQ-themed” (58) literature course for juniors and seniors (64). The authors argue that the book created “ruptures” of normative literary practices, highlighting how readers’ responses to these ruptures could either shut down discussion or provide opportunities for learning (59).

Schey and Blackburn detail their research methodology, in which they combined ethnography and teacher research (63). Schey acted as participant-observer while Blackburn conducted “practitioner inquiry,” designing curriculum and assessment procedures (64). Materials for analysis included curriculum documents and student work, as well as field notes, audio and video recordings, and entrance and exit interviews (67). Thirteen of the fourteen enrollees in the course participated. Schey positions himself as a “white straight cis man” and Blackburn identifies as a “white queer cis woman” (66). Both have extensive experience working in support of LGBTQ groups.

The authors differentiate between LGBT scholarship and queer theory. The former, they write, “tend[s] to characterize sexuality and gender as stable, using positivist and modernist lenses” (60). In contrast, queer studies “destabilize fixed notions of gender and sexuality” (60). The authors review a number of studies that they feel can endorse not only “heteronormativity” but also “homonormativity,” when “binary framings” lead to “oversimplification” of students’ perceptions of sexuality and gender (61).

Literacy, for these writers, is itself ideological, influenced by context and extant power relations; they discuss how differently a student might read a text with friends as opposed to under the scrutiny of teachers (61). Classroom power relations make some forms of literacy response “normative and dominant”; queer theorists like those reviewed by Schey and Blackburn attempt to disrupt such processes and open the way for alternatives (62).

Reading experiences that confront students with ruptures in their normalized expectations, in the authors’ view, force them to attend to inherent possibilities that are otherwise obscured (63). Rather than addressing confrontations with such ruptures as “individual cognitive experiences,” the authors argue for a perspective contextualized within a social environment, an approach that they write requires more attention to race than is often provided (62). They turn to R. A. Ferguson as a scholar who, by “vehemently den[ying] the discreteness of any category such as gender, sexuality or race” offers a lens through which students can encounter generative ruptures (63).

Arguing for their ethnographic approach as a means to address “oppressive power relations,” the authors write that of their thirteen students, one was “white and Asian,” while the rest were white (64). A chart classifies the students, with a caveat that the students’ gender and sexual identities were “mulitiple, variable, and fluid,” with some changing after the study ended. Five were straight and cis gendered; a gay trans man was not named in the study, while another woman identified as queer and another as a lesbian (65). Three of the named students are listed as fluid in gender.

Brezenoff’s book, Ryan and Blackburn contend, functions as queer in that the “ruptures” it creates resist normative modes of literacy. They follow a brief plot summary with the statement that the novel “queers gender . . . but it also queers sexuality, families and homes, and time” (66). The gender of two of the main characters cannot be ascertained, nor can their sexuality. The novel contrasts the heteronormative contexts from which these characters emerge with a context in which characters play changing roles as partners and caregivers; moreover, an unusual chronology defies attempts to impose “order and stability” (66).

In the introduction to the article, Brezenoff suggests that his work reacts to attempts to assign fixed gender and sexuality through stereotypical, sexist characteristics; the authors write that his refusal to gender the two characters “destabilized not only sexist practices and ideologies but also those grounded in cisnormativity” (59).

The authors recount classroom discussions in which students grappled with “seeing” versus “visualizing,” “understanding” versus “hypothesizing,” and “connecting” versus “empathizing.” Some students expressed frustration that Brezenoff’s handling of characters made it hard to “gaze directly at the characters and find them legible according to [their] normative definitions of gender and sexuality” (69). The authors contrast other students who used the textual ambiguity to “visualize alongside” the characters, as if “looking over [their] shoulders,” thereby adopting new perspectives (69). Ambiguity, one student suggests, invites more readers to identify with the characters because they can imagine different characteristics.

Similarly, some students wanted to understand definitive answers to questions raised by the text, such as the cause of a fire (71). The authors contrast this need with the willingness of other students to “hypothesize” alternatives in which concrete characteristics were seen as contextual and fluid rather than fixed in specific bodies (72). According to the authors, the need to reduce ruptures to “fixed, stable, and singular knowledge” cast ruptures as “problems” rather than as “expanded epistemological practices” that invited “different ideas through different pathways” (76).

The authors recount a single mention of race as a rupture students struggled to address. One of the more resistant students said that he could not deal with ambiguity in race along with his uncertainties about gender and sexuality (72-73). Other students explored various ways of finding empathy across what the authors see as “white homonormative interpretations” (73), but the bell rang and ended the discussion. In contrast, the authors argue that the book’s depiction of a character’s addiction encouraged students to visualize the addiction as only one part of the character’s situation, thus allowing them to empathize in ways a narrower portrayal would have curtailed (74-75). Schey and Blackburn contend that the ability of several students to connect with characters with addictions but not people of color reflects national attitudes that equate addiction with criminality in Black people but with illness in need of care in whites (76).

In the authors’ view, presenting students with texts that create ruptures in their normal reading processes imposes risks, but that such ruptures can become “opportunities” rather “obstacles,” means, they contend, that “reading with ruptures is a risk worth taking” (77).


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Lewis Ellison & Solomon. African American Families and the Digital Divide. RTE, Feb. 2019. Posted 04/04/2019.

Lewis Ellison, Tisha, and Marva Solomon. “Counter-Storytelling vs. Deficit Thinking around African American Children and Families, Digital Literacies, Race, and the Digital Divide.” Research in the Teaching of English 53.3 (2019): 223-44. Web. 25 Mar. 2019.

Tisha Lewis Ellison and Marva Solomon address mainstream narratives that depict African Americans’ relationship with digital resources through a deficit model. Lewis Ellison and Solomon argue that “counter-storytelling” as a research methodology reveals a more accurate picture of the ways African Americans interact with digital environments.

The authors define digital literacy as “multiple and interactive practices mediated by technological tools . . . which include reading, writing, language, and exchanging information in online environments” (223). They see the dissemination of this literacy as imbricated in racial identity, yet believe its impact is overlooked in scholarship on race (223). In their view, stories drawn from African American experience with computers and other technologies must be “honor[ed]” rather than marginalized if a full understanding of the role of digital experiences in this community is to be fully understood (224).

Lewis Ellison and Solomon quote Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic to define “counter-storytelling” as a kind of narrative that “aims to cast doubt on the validity of accepted premises or myths, especially ones held by the majority” (qtd. in Lewis Ellison and Solomon 224). Such stories, in the authors’ view, are an important methodological resource in the attempt to move beyond misconceptions about cultures (238). Such stories, in this approach, are more revealing than data collection about actual practices in their portrayal of the ways people interact with and see themselves in relation to digital literacy (225).

The literature review lists studies that explore the use of digital resources among African Americans and that counter prevailing assumptions about the existence and nature of a digital divide. In addition, scholarship has explored how listening to counter-stories has helped educators improve learning opportunities for minority students in school settings (226-27). Still, the authors maintain, there is a “shortage” of studies of African American counter-stories about the interactions of race and digital access (227).

The authors write that the concept of a “digital divide” imposes “strict binaries” along social, educational, and economic lines (227). Citing Pippa Norris, they break the divide into the “global divide” among rich and poor geographical areas; the “social divide” that delineates “the information the rich and poor receive within various nations or social groups”; and the “democratic divide,” which addresses the degree to which “access plays a major role in an individual’s agency and power” (227-28). Lewis Ellison and Solomon argue that most discussions around the digital divide locate African American users among the poor with limited access and depict users as White, thus furthering a misleading narrative about “what Internet access looks like, who has it, [and] who does not” (228), with the result that digital resources are often not directed toward communities of color. In fact, the authors contend, research shows that African Americans are making substantial gains in Internet use (228).

The authors’ current research derives from two studies. Lewis Ellison used survey, interview, and observational approaches along with analysis of digital story-telling practices for a qualitative case study of the use of computers in the home by five African American families. Her discussion centers on “Chant,” a professor in an urban university in the south, and Chant’s nine-year-old son “Rem” (229). She asked,

In what ways did the digital literacy and story-making practices of an African American family dyad (mother/son) display evidence of agency in the context of a family-focused digital storytelling activity? (231)

Solomon conducted a “naturalistic inquiry” with eight African American first-graders at the school where she had taught for fourteen years in order to learn “what would happen if first graders had the opportunity to use digital tools in their own storytelling” (231). This study also collected surveys, artifacts, observations, and transcripts. Seven of the eight families studied had home computers. Solomon focuses on two girls, “Penny” and “Jordan” (232).

Lewis Ellison’s study of Chant resulted in conversations in which Chant provided counter-stories challenging the view that African Americans were emblematic of a digital divide. As a professor, Chant spent much professional time using digital resources, and she and her son did so at home as well (229, 237). Chant emphasized the importance of being included as “part of the conversation” for minority communities (233). She revealed the effects of the deficit model in that the less-affluent community where she chose to live was seen by Internet service providers as not in need of advanced online options; as a result, her community was forced to pay higher prices for home service (234).

Solomon’s study of Penny revealed another effect of inaccurate assumptions about African American use of digital resources. Penny did not have access to a computer at home, a fact that drove assumptions about her online competence. However, the authors note that she had access through her extended family, and in fact, Penny proved very adept at telling stories with computers (235).

Jordan’s teacher characterized her as “very creative,” and stated that students had many opportunities to use digital resources creatively (236). The authors state, however, that these opportunities were school-based prompts that prevented Jordan from exercising agency (236). Once permitted to write on her own for the study, Jordan produced images that “announce[d] her status as multiracial in a bivariate family and world,” revealing sophistication that had gone unremarked in comments from the teacher 237).

The authors urge educators to invite counter-stories from students and also from families in order to understand more fully how African Americans interact with digital resources and to dispel oppressive assumptions based on the expectation that they will be constrained by a digital divide (238). Using Adam J. Banks’s model of digital access (233), the authors found that their study subjects exercised all five kinds of access Banks listed: material, experiential, critical, functional, and transformative (237-38).

Lewis Ellison and Solomon conclude that

to date, there are no known opportunities to cultivate discussions and strategies for learning between teachers and parents (and particularly parents of color) concerning digital and nondigital practices. (239)

Awareness of counter-stories as a research methodology, the authors state, can serve as a corrective to deficit models that adversely affect classroom practice.

 


Marotta, Calley. University Writing as White Property. CE, Jan. 2019. Posted 02/20/2019.

Marotta, Calley. “Who Has the Right to Write? Custodian Writing and White Property in the University.” College English 81.3 (2019): 163-82. Print.

Calley Marotta analyzes the ways that custodial workers at a “Midwestern, predominantly white, public university” (166) experience writing through their positions as support staff in a cultural institution in which writing is central. Stating that studies of people in such positions are rare (163), Marotta reports on observations and interviews from a “larger qualitative case study” (166) to make her case that in such settings, writing is “White property” with which the minority participants she studied have complex relationships (164).

Marotta states that 53% of the fifteen custodial workers at the university were Latino; the seven who took part in her study were Latino and male. All but one were first-generation immigrants (166). She drew on “feminist and critical race theory,” as well as “Latino/a critical theory” (165) to examine the workers as writers both in terms of their social interactions and the material aspects of writing, such as access to equipment and production of artifacts (167).

Her research addresses scholarship that views writing as having cultural and exchange value, thus coming to serve as “property” in power hierarchies (165). Marotta sees this property as “constructed as white” by “those who regulate writing” and its circulation within power configurations (165). She cites scholars such as John Trimbur and Jenny Cook-Gumperz to argue that safeguarding literacy is an ongoing function of “dominant castes” who attempt to block access for those not considered deserving (164).

Her study presents cases in which the Latino staff members find their access to and use of writing affected by what critical race theorist Sara Ahmed calls “institutional whiteness” (165) as manifested within a “writing-intensive” setting (164). Marotta argues that even though the workers are seen as outside the privilege associated with writing, they “are indeed workplace writers, because they write in, on, and for the institution as well as for themselves” (164).

Her research results in four categories of analysis: ways in which the workers and their writing were surveilled and “overwritten” as well as ways in which the workers used “writing back” to create agency in their positions and were positioned to “serve” through their writing (168).

To illustrate her category of surveillance, Marotta describes her observations of “Roberto,” a recent hire at the institution who had been in the United States since the age of seven (168). For Marotta, Roberto’s job as collector of discarded materials is that of protecting the writing that goes on in the privileged spaces of classrooms and offices (169). Roberto discusses his uncertainty over being allowed to use “public kiosks” for computer work during breaks even though, in a training session Marotta observed, workers were told they could use these resources (169).

Marotta recounts that in this training session, a “white, male, English-speaking facilitator” drew on an anecdote of a “custodian” using a professor’s office computer while the professor was “log[ged] in remotely” to remind employees that they were not authorized to use computers in private spaces like offices (169). In Marotta’s view, this kind of admonishment “cultivate[s] an atmosphere of danger circulating around custodial writing, and specifically, the use of university property to create it” (169). Within this atmosphere, Marotta writes, Roberto brings his brother’s laptop to work to study for his GED, thus “negotiating university property figured as white” in order to act as a writer (170).

“André” illustrates Marotta’s claim that workers’ products are “overwritten” as the white institution reasserts that writing is White property. A native-born U.S. citizen identifying as Puerto Rican who previously attended the university as an engineering major, André took time off to reconsider his goals and signed on as “lead worker on the custodial crew” because he had an unfulfilled student housing lease (171).

André reports on a scatological graffito scrawled on a notice about proper waste disposal he posted in a restroom. Acknowledging that the graffito may have been the kind of joking text common in restrooms, Marotta argues that for the writer of the scrawl, the “joke” was “the idea that custodians could make requests and even demands of those around them via writing” (171). Similarly, when a wallet disappeared, André believed that flyers instructing employees to ask “suspicious individuals” if they needed help led three different people to ask him such questions while he was posting official notices. Marotta argues that “this flyer functioned to metaphorically overwrite” André’s notices, thus, again, claiming writing for whiteness (172).

The case of “Henry” explores how, in Marotta’s view, employees are both subject to “demands” from the white institution and able to “make demands of [the institution’s] actors in ways that, for some, may be worth the risk” (175). A lipsticked note on a washroom mirror asked questions about maintenance that Henry saw as attacking his work. Moreover, he found that his professional background as a college-educated electrician during his life in Cuba was discounted due to what he considered racism (174). At the same time, despite his difficulties with English, Henry wrote on garbage containers to instruct faculty and staff where to correctly deposit trash (174-75). This act of “writ[ing]back,” for Marotta, both “made [Henry’s] job a little easier and asserted his presence in the university space” (175).

Marotta reports that custodians wrote notes when turning in found property and often received notes of appreciation in return, writing that, for Marotta, documents their value to the university (176). This aspect of “writing to serve” is further illustrated with her study of “Jesus,” whose friendliness and collegiality across the university class tiers earned him written testaments to his worth to the institution from both the university and an individual student (176-77). Jesus is shown using his own literacy abilities to make signs that further the university’s mission. According to Marotta, when custodians are able to “negotiate” the university’s limits on writing in such ways, their efforts

reflect how the difference between custodial writing that is institutionally resisted and accepted is the extent to which participants seem to be writing to serve students and staff. (177)

Marotta urges composition faculty and staff to address workplace writing of the sort she describes as an issue of access and of who counts as writers. This project “can play a role in exposing such structures of whiteness and shifting expectations about who writes and has the right to do so within university spaces” (178).


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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).

 


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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.


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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).