Social Class Reproduction

Four Rules for Teaching Writing:
Image result for image: joy of writing
Always give writing assignments that

1. you will enjoy reading;
2. students will enjoy writing;
3. students will enjoy reading what others in the class have written
4. you will enjoy writing.

If any one of these conditions were not true, then it probably wasn't a very good assignment.

Advice I give to my students: When your words surprise you, you know you are writing.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Writing for Social Justice

On the WPA-l listserv, Kathleen Shine Cain asked for articles on writing for social justice. I think she has in mind a course teaching or encouraging students to write for social justice.  I wrote the note and created a bibliography below that I decided to repost on my blog, mostly because I was thinking of a course I might want to teach. Here's what I wrote to Kathleen and a list of references I created (actually, this is what I wrote after I wrote to Kathleen):
Writing for social justice can’t be divorced from how we educate and have been educated. I don’t agree with a lot of what is in the books below (except for what I’ve written), but you can see this is a rich and long discussion. I think most of the references concern how we should be (or not be) teaching students to work for social justice. Jessica Singer’s is probably the closest to making the argument you seem to be aiming at. 

I don’t think any of the books or articles address: here’s how you write for social justice. I would run this course by having students investigate social justice issues in the surrounding community.

I would work from their experience—having them write about their memories, experiences, perceptions of social justice, and work outward from there. I'm thinking of any times they or their friends have been the victims of social injustice--or instances in their communities in which they have witnessed social injustice (and if they haven't seen any--well, there's a topic for discussion). I would also want to them to write about how they reacted, how they would have liked to react, how they might have wished others would react.

I would them have them read and respond to each other and then write more, exploring from these examples thoughts about social injustice, what it is, why it is, what's being done or not done about it, what might be done--the kind of writing in which they look on the internet and find out what others have said and done about these issues. So they might write again, having written, read, and having been read.

Then I might have them explore the seriously pressings issues in this local community (Philadelphia) and/or their home communities. This could be online exploration and onsite exploration--done in teams. There is of course no end of problems in Philadelphia, beginning with the schools, poverty, homelessness, the high incarceration rate, literary rates, unemployment, community deterioration, community/police relationships. I would also have them ask what Drexel has been doing about some of these problems (we have several real and pseudo community-based programs). I would have them keep records and notes of all they are discovering and discuss in class that what we are doing is research and have them talk and write about the importance of research--how it can promote social action, social responsibility.

I would want them to write up the results of their research which might also point toward social action. I would have them investigate ways of publishing their research, what they have discovered through Drexel publications, through community newsletters, through newspapers. I would probably want them to explore ways of making a class book (it's easy; I've done this before - see  Writing Ourselves --  that we could put online; or as an alternative or supplement, a class blog and find ways of drawing readers into their class blog--really an issue blog, the issue being social injustice in our area. I would want them to finish the course with social action suggestions: what can be done from here; what they might do--or maybe reflections on the tension between the call to social action and their own struggles as they try to negotiate the demands of school and their dreams of finding work that will be more like play than work.

Frankly, I wouldn’t have them read anything--at least not anything scholarly. Well, I might have them read Anyon's classic article & maybe Burton Clark's article about The Cooling Out Function--and some excerpts from Lareau's book (and maybe try to get an interview with her--I think she's still at Temple).

[Now that I've written this, I think I've planned a course for myself].

Below is a list.  Again—when you’re talking about social justice, you are also talking about school system that perpetuate social injustice—as if that is in part their function (which it is [see Bowles and Gintis]):

Anyon, J. (1980, Winter). Social class and the hidden curriculum of work. Journal of Education, 162, 67-92.
Berlin, J. (2003). Rhetorics, poetics, and cultures: Reconfiguring college English studies. West Lafayette, IN: Parlor Press. (Original work published in 1996.)
Berlin, J., & Vivion, M. (Eds.). (1992). Cultural studies in the English classroom. Portsmouth, NH: Routledge.
Blitz, M., & Hurlbert, C.M. (Eds.). (1991). Composition and resistance. Portsmouth, RI: Heinemann.
Brodkey, L. (1994). Writing on the bias. College English 56, 527-47.
Clark, B. (1960). “The Cooling Out Function in Higher Education.” American Journal of Sociology 65, 569-76.
Dews, B. & Law, C. (Eds.). (1995). This fine place so far from home: Voices of academics from the working class. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.
Ellsworth, E. (1989). Why doesn't this feel empowering?: Working through the repressive myths of critical pedagogy. Harvard Educational Review 59, 297-324.
Friere, P.  (1994).  Pedagogy of Hope.  (R. Barr, Trans.). New York: Continuum.
Frey, O. 1998. “Stupid Clown of the Spirit's Motive: Class Bias in Literary and Composition Studies.” In Shepard, et al.
Gee, J. P. (2004). “Learning Language as a Matter of Learning Social Languages within Discourses.” In Language Learning and Teacher Education: A Sociocultural Approach, ed. M. R. Hawkins. Clevedon, 13-31. Clevedon UK: Multilingual Matters.
Kozol, J. (1991). Savage Inequalities. New York: HarperCollins.
Lareau, A. (2003). Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race, and Family Life.  Berkeley, CA: University of California Press
Peckham, I. (2007). The stories we tell.  In K. Cahill & L. Johannessen (Eds.).  Considering class: Essays on the discourse of the American dream (pp.  169-182).  Berlin: Lit Verlag.
Shor, I. (1992). Empowering Education. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Shor, I. (1996). When Students Have Power: Negotiating Authority in a Critical Pedagogy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Thelin, W. and J. P. Tassoni, ed. (2000). Blundering for a Change: Errors and Expectations in Critical Pedagogy. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook.
Finn, Patrick.  Literacy with an Attitude.
Greenbaum, Andrea.  Insurrections.
Singer, Jessica. Stiring up Justice.
Johnson III, Richard Gregory. A Twenty-First Century Aproach to Teaching Social Justice.
Also look at mine: Going North, Thinking West: The Intersections of Social Class, Critical Thinking, and Politicized Writing Instruction.
Those are some of my favorites. I can’t help but add:

Bowles, H. & S. Gintis. (1976). Schooling in capitalist America. New York: Basic Books.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Taking Writers out of Writing

On NCTE's Teaching and Learning forum, there has been a discussion about the use of first person and the writer's presence. I am going to make a claim: when we ask students to take themselves out of their writing (as David Coleman, Common Core) has said we need to do, we are mis-teaching writing. I recognize that some genres and rhetorical situations require authorial evacuation, but I am convinced that author-evacuated prose should in our classes be the exception, not the rule. At the elementary, secondary and post-secondary levels, we should bring students into our writing worlds, not create writing situations that make them want to be elsewhere. When the rhetorical situation demands it, people can write author-evacuated prose, but that should not be the stuff of our required writing programs.

As a consequence of the Teaching and Learning forum on first person, I asked my first-year students whether they came to our university expecting that academic writing would prohibit first-person prose. Sixteen said yes; two said no.

My colleague, Karen Nulton, and I have been surveying students' attitudes toward writing as they enter and leave our courses. We alway ask students whether they have been taught the five-paragraph essay (a prototypical author-evacuated school genre). Eight-seven to ninety percent say they have. And with rare exceptions, they say they hate it. They hate that kind of writing.

We know from our research that students want to write--but they want to have freedom of form and topic; they want to be creative. They hate writing when they have to stuff their thoughts into pre-conceived boxes, formula writing. They love to write when the thoughts unfold as they write, not when they are supposed to have the thoughts before they write.

I think the dislike of writing in boxes is obvious to people who love to write, who love to find out who they are and what they are thinking as the words roll out, almost on their own.

But we far too often teach a different ethos of writing--an ethos seemingly designed to kill the spirit of writing.

This is a long introduction to a frustrated comment from Dorothea Reiter--a high school teacher angry about what she has to teach when she knows that what she's teaching is the opposite of what she believes: Dorothea would clearly love to teach the love of writing.

Dor's comment below was the consequence of my post in which I asked, why are so many secondary teachers teaching a myth of writing that is seems like flat earth theology. Why are they demanding author-evacuated prose when that's not how many of us (and sorry for all you others) at the university level teach writing? Basically, at the secondary level, they are teaching counter-productive myths that lead to bad writing and bad attitudes toward writing.

Dor sent me the following (her frustration is probably widely shared among high school teachers):

Message From: Dorothea Reiter 

I absolutely think that the testing industry is the driving force behind how we teach writing in public schools in this country, and it is a travesty. What choices do we have when we are evaluated based on student performance on these mindless, student essays? How can we expect K-12 students to embrace writing as a contemplative process with many contributing factors, such as audience, attitude/tone, mood, etc.? If I do not adhere to and teach the formats required by the tests, how can I expect to continue in the position of a public school English teacher? The law now states that my district can fire me if my students do not pass muster as measured by their asinine test. What good can I do for students if I am not in the classroom? Add to the quagmire the current trend of heterogeneously placing students in "untracked" English classes and my need to differentiate my instruction for up to five levels of learners in every section, and it's a wonder we even manage to teach them the five paragraph model at all. AND, most of the new testing models lend themselves to a four paragraph essay, not a five paragraph essay. We are losing ground on every front. I could go on, and on, and on...


I am an ex-high school teacher. I hear Dor, the frustration of someone who wants to teach serious writing, not writing in boxes.

I think that for those of us in the postsecondary level, we have some obligation to fight against the testing industry driving bad instruction. We have to unite in support for teachers like Dor. There must be a way to do this. We have Doug Hesse president-elect of NCTE--and he knows. I think on our local level, we have to fight back against the testing industry and the consequent bad teaching of writing. I suspect we have parents on our side--parents who are unhappy about their children having to complete these awful writing tasks, as opposed to a child coming home and eager to write about some kind of fantasy or memory, about a way of thinking about all that he or she is feeling, she being front and center in her writing.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Mostly a Dream

This post will be a few words from me and then more thoughtful ones from Patty Ericsson.

If I'm interpreting Patty correctly, we both are deeply suspicious about the worth of the "research paper," complete with works cited (and like who really cares whether the works cited is in mla, apa, chicago, iieee, or namaste style (Patty's note was in response to my question--what's namaste style?--no comments please about my cultural ignorance).

Keith Rhodes has a good tactic: he said something like: I just tell my students if I can easily find what you found, then it's good.
[image: by theSong]

I make a practice of hyperlinking. If you hyperlink when you can, you don't  really need a reference in your works cited, do you?
I think I wrote in one of my entries below that I'm ok with research--but research of a special kind, let's call it naturalized research. There's nothing wrong with getting our students to check  their information or preconceptions against what others say about that (Ben Carson and Donald Trump should try that) or in trying to find out something more about something you're interested in. But there's everything wrong with asking your students to do library (scholarly) research on something they are not interested in and then write up a report, or what's worse, an argument, about what they discovered, complete with a works cited. I keep asking teachers who think we should be teaching that kind of nonsense: do you like reading those?????

From Patty (thanks, Patty [and Keith])

It is mostly a dream, Irv.  A kinder, gentler way to honor those whose works we build upon.  Kristin Arola has presented on (and is writing) a piece on Native American (especially her Objibwe) ways of collecting things from nature and the built world to prepare for a variety of celebrations.  Each collection is marked by acknowledging where the “assets” come from, thanking the provider (whether a tree, a plant, or a person), and also by leaving something in replacement for what you have taken—even if it’s a small token.  There is also an important element of community in this gathering and using. She calls her possible approach “slow composition."

So my jest of a Namaste style was (I realized later) influenced by her work, but also my my attempts to make my life and being more peaceful, grateful, and loving. If we would choose a thank you word or phrase that honors or somehow gestures toward an appreciation for the assets we bring to our composing, maybe that kind of citation would be better? What if we considered where the assets came from—the quote, the picture, the movie clip, whatever?  And considered in the context in which these assets were developed? And then finally considered more respectful ways of using/appropriating these assets in our work?  I guess I’m asking what if we threw out the pretty much meaningless forms (although there are some who argue that the forms have lots of meaning). I don’t think our student or us (for that matter) give much of a hoot.

In my pedagogy course this fall, I am asking new teachers to think of their syllabi and assignments as a narrative—that their course is a story and that it is told in the syllabi, assignments, and all the other supporting documents. All of their work is situated in the bureaucracy of the comp program, but I’m asking them to consider that part of the narrative as well.

I borrowed this (copied below) to help them:

I’ll let you know how they do with this.  At least they might have some fun!

Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Research Paper

A recent discussion on the WPA list concerning documentation styles made me think of some essays my students wrote recently. With Joe Harris and Patty Ericsson, I (I think I'm reading them correctly, but with Joe and Patty, one never knows) don't really spend much time with documentation style. Along with teaching the more or less decontextualized research paper, this is wasted instruction and really not a whole lot of fun. They all use Easybib, but as Joe said--who cares? At most, our students might have to use a particular documentation style in other classes; if other teachers think documentation is important, they can use their class time teaching students about commas here and there. Actually, I do spend a little time on this, but it's minor--somewhere in the orbit of the ablative absolute.

I  think research is important, but as I have probably written elsewhere in this blog, I like to naturalize research. Students are doing it all the time--they just don't know how to link it to the kind research we do--the kind very few of them will ever be doing in the post-collegiate lives.

I'm going to print a research paper from one of my students below.  I have the students first write essays telling the rest of us about their (the writers') previous writing experiences and their attitudes toward writing and themselves as writers.

These quick essays are fascinating to read. Students like to write them; they like to read them, and I like to read them--so that makes it a pretty good writing assignment. In addition, we all learn more about learning --and not learning about writing. We write these essays in class--about 15 minutes. They are remarkably good essays for coming right out of the students' brains.

Then we read and write back to each other. I really like doing this. I also ask them to take notes when they see something interesting that they can use for the next essay--which is to generalize about students' experiences with writing.

For their next class, I  ask them to take about thirty minutes and write a brief essay generalizing from their own experiences and from what they have read from others. This, of course, is research--going outside your head to check with external sources. The students have never considered something like this is research--or the results of their investigation, reporting what they learned, as a research paper. It is, however, my kind of research paper. When YOU think of it, it's not that far from the kind of research I and many of my friends on this list do.

Link to what I asked the students to do:

Directions for Generalizing

As far as documentation, I tell the students that it's kind to tell your readers where you got your information and let them know how to find it themselves. In the essay below, we didn't need to document because they all knew the writers and where to find the specific essay on our Blackboard site.

I like what Kiera did in her essay (30 minutes, but I suspect she might have taken longer--I'll ask her). I like how she takes her generalizations and moves outward or upward to theorize. She worked from her own experience, generalized from others, and let her mind go, theorizing about the function of writing. Nice.

From reading my classmates' reflections on their writing experiences, it seems a general trend that most prefer to write with a type of "freedom" (Nicholas), with "no restrictions or limits" (Ksenia). Lydia mentions her love of writing stories to make herself laugh, and Chris Z. mentions the thrill of storytelling, with "barriers lifted". Most of us have experienced the joy of writing, the satisfaction of creating a secret world or reflecting on the one we live in with no one to judge or stop the flow from heart to pen to page.

However, it also seems that many of us have certain prejudices against writing, some stubborn psychological aversion which tells us that we cannot write properly. We "worry people are not going to understand" (Chris J.). We continue to mark our writing mentally with the red pen of our teachers in high school, rating ourselves as "average" (Branston). These red markings may have damaged our view of what writing is, Zoƫ notes.

Kaila claims that there are too many structured papers demanded during high school, while Michael says he enjoys these types of more straightforward papers. Stephanie found her overall writing education to be "nourishing" to her personal growth.

There seem to be some discrepancies about who we write for, and why we write. High school has taught us "how to write", but what is the value if we have no desire to write? We must look at finding a balance by both writing for necessary assignments and also recreationally for ourselves and loved ones. I think we could also compartmentalize. If we think of academic writing as having to do more with skill than personality, we will feel less vulnerable about criticism of our academic writings. If we think of casual, creative writing as having to do more with personality, we may be more open to share with others through this medium.

We all agree that writing is necessary for our future careers, and this class seems to be a positive start to changing our perspective on the purpose of writing. If we learn to trust our writing more, as Bransten achieved, then we can come to know and trust one another, too. To know someone through writing, and to reveal oneself through writing, is a powerful tool. I do think the word "trust" is key.

Some of us have already taken steps toward becoming comfortable with our own writing. David was insecure about his writing abilities, so he joined the school newspaper to work on it. Sam discovered a passion for historical preservation and how this relates to writing and reading. Dr. Peckham versed himself in grammar and abandoned his romantic notions to discover the fulfilling reality of being a writer. He "ended where [he] wanted to be".

All of us are on a path to realizing how writing can enrich our lives by connecting us with one another and understanding more about our chosen career fields. If we make the choice to get past our existing ideas of writing, negative or positive, I think we will discover new types of writing that work for who we are and where we wish to go.
Going from here: 
The next obvious assignment (or series) is imagine and construct some kind of survey, distribute and analyze it; do some internet research on specific issues that come out of these exercises; look in the library databases for readable (i.e., not written by rhet/comp scholars--with some exceptions here and there) essays on the subject; then write up singly or in groups the results of what they have learned. At that point, I would like to have them tell readers--like readers of this blog--where they found the information and how the readers could find it also.The would need some kind of documentation.