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.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Being Wrong

I'm going to make a detour. I usually write only about educational issues--well, in a sense, this is an educational issue. We are teachers. How have we uneducated so many people who would vote for president Donald Trump? This is a serious question. I don't want to make this post too long, but let me suggest a return to Dewey's hope for education (Experience and Education).

I have read tweets (me as a recent tweeter) on the debates. The general logic in these tweets should make any educator shudder--as might the discourse level of the conversation in the debates.

Let me address one issue: the class-based ontology of Trump. He was born into the upper-class. Stratification (class) research documents (Bourdieu) social-class characteristics. These aren't determined; but they are general, established by wide-ranging surveys and interviews. Upper-class people/children are taught that what they say is true, is true. They expect the lower--classes to accept the claims, they, the members of the upper class make. There is a religious link to this claim that I won't go into (who is closest to God).

Trump is displaying his class. If he says something is true, it's true. Because he has been born into wealth, he has been conditioned to believe in his infallibility. And he expects everyone to fall in line with his claims. If they don't, he goes into some kind of kingly rage.

The political conversation--well, really, I can't fathom it. I try, but I can't. It has something to do with anger, race, class warfare, divide and conquer. As a working-class academic, I do not respond well to Trump's upper-class ethos. I also have my problems with Clinton--she should have known better than to vote for that Iraq war amendment. But I have made my mistakes, too.

I am disheartened by the mudslinging tenor of this presidential campaign conversation. But I think at the end, voters should consider the tenor and temperament of their president. I don't want a president who can't imagine he or she on occasion has been wrong.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

We are born; with luck, we fall in love; with luck, we stay in love; we have children and pass on that love; we have grandchildren; we die.


I have  been communicating with some first-rate teachers, most of whom are—as I was—a non-traditional graduate student. Generally, that means we were first-generation and didn’t transition smoothly from undergraduate to graduate school. So we were late-arrivals. I won’t go into all the complications involved in being a late-arrival (linked to James Paul Gee’s notion of being true first-learners), but they often involve marriage, careers, locations, geographical dependency, children.

[An aside: I recently had a conversation with a close friend, born to wealth, who had no idea of what a first-generation student meant.]

I have been wondering how being a first-generation PhD (much less baccalaureate) shapes the new professor’s attitude toward academic discourse and the resistance or capitulation to it. This is just a question. I would assume first-generation PhDs might resist, for obvious reasons, more than old family PhDs, the genuflect to academic discourse (Gary Tate was a revealing exception).

I realize that by saying “genuflect,” I betrayed myself. Still, my suspicion might be worth considering. I have a deep-seated resistance to “academic discourse,” a discourse than announces itself as being other—exalted.

I remarked in a political diatribe elsewhere how people are basically monkeys. We hear chatter that seems to work, and we ventriloquate the chatter so that others will mark us. We of course love to imagine that our chatter is new, but it’s mostly chatter.

I wonder whether the more privileged classes intuitively know the secret of chatter and whether first-generation professors don’t.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Lost Voice

I haven't written about teaching writing lately-I think because I'm not teaching this year. Maybe I'll post a few thoughts about what it's like to have been teaching for forty-five years--and then not.

I'll focus on the social complications of teaching. I'm writing a book about my experiences and have come up against this contradiction: literacy is clearly a way of maintaining social class structures. This claim seems so self-evident that I don't want to argue it. It also seems self-evident that most of our protocols for teaching in our required writing programs reinforce social-class reproduction. How could they not?

But learning how to engage in dominant class literacy is also the way in for those who were born out. Again, this claim seems self-evident. People born into the lower social rankings have to adopt the discourse habits of the ruling classes to gain entrance into Burke's parlor.

I recently wrote a response to a dissertation chapter of an intelligent graduate student. Her message was smart: she was identifying the ways in which teaching practices reify social class privileges. I have written too much about this, so I can only say, duh? Professors are privileged, and we find ways of supporting our claims of privilege (think WaW). I will have to say this is more the case for the privileged classes in our field than in the oppressed classes: the ones who teach two classes a semester versus those who teach four or five.

My friend's chapter wasn't bad writing; it was just the writing one does to assert that he or she had done the required (documented) reading. By inserting these references, my friend lost her voice. She was, in fact, producing a dissertation.

Well, there it is. That's the way it goes. I hate to add the obvious: We change as a consequence of learning how to write a dissertation (see Jeff Schmidt, Disciplined Minds). And we change as we learn how to write articles that will get published and move us toward tenure and full professorship. Somewhere toward the end of our careers, we might look back to reflect on where we were and where we ended. But as a consequence of where we ended, we no longer understand where we were.

I should stop here. I wrote to my friend that I hoped (and I think she would) get her PhD and a good position. I think she will. But I don't want her to lose her voice. But . . .