let me start out by saying that i’m a little peeved with technology today. firstly, i couldn’t get into the portal (i’m aware that sounds like something out of a harry potter novel). so grrrrr to that. secondly, i can’t like people’s blogs on tumblr today either. what the what? i feel very old timey. apparently, all i’m allowed to do today is read papyrus articles and grade your narratives by candlelight. :-/
some happier news: it seems like everyone enjoyed the article “obama’s english,” if for nothing else b/c it moved us outside the academic realm. what’s interesting about president obama is that he is a real-world example of someone who, through his mastery of various discourses (as well as other skills), has steadily acquired social and political power. many of you hit on the fact that indeed obama does have mastery over several marginalized discourses, which became extremely important while campaigning. but that alone would not be enough to propel him to the level of success he has achieved. lots of people can code-switch, but if they’re only code-switching from one marginzlied discourse to another, their chances of acquiring social power in more powerful spheres is certainly diminished.
we must also view the dominant discourse obama has control over. he has mastery many official and dominant discourses like that of law (as a practicing lawyer and law professor), academia (as a graduate of harvard and editor of the harvard law review) and that of the political realm (as a senator and then president). we could also bring in other facts such as his published memoirs and political manifestos, which are obviously a reflection of his mastery of the written word (and the publishing world) as well. regardless, as you can see, not only does he have experiences in those discourses, but he’s achieved mastery; in every category, he has reached the pinnacle. and certainly his mastery over less dominant discourses has helped him reach those heights, and continues to do so.
but in conclusion, a caveat: i would also add that his mastery over various discourses has sometimes proved problematic for obama. b/c of his abilities, he is often seen as an imposter or “less american” b/c he abandons white, dominant discourse with such ease. it’s easy to see the ways in which he has been marked as “other” b/c he does not fit the mold of past politicians, particularly that of presidents. my point is that it would be myopic to assume that simply b/c he has mastered several discourses, he has succeeded. a person of color who has mastered all of these discourses is often viewed suspiciously, especially by those who have been in power and must (reluctantly) hand it over to someone they view as lesser-than, particularly b/c of the color of his or her skin.
I really enjoyed, nay loved, reading everyone’s responses to Smitherman’s article. I do think the text hits a nerve, and I was glad to see that everyone was similarly frustrated by the scenarios she described. It’s a hard article to read, I know. Not b/c it has 20$ words or a 10 page lit review, but b/c it’s hard to believe that racism (and sexism, and all those other isms) happen on such a regular basis. In classrooms. In universities. Where we’re all supposed to be “englightened and open-minded.”
Several of you made excellent points in your responses. Jeremy wrote that “when thinking of who might be teaching a class on the college level, most high school students would probably get a mental image of some white haired man with a beard and glasses wearing a tweed coat right?” His statement made me think of a piece in McSweeney’s called “I’m an English Professor in a Movie” by Teddy Wane. While his piece is supposed to be humorous (and it is if you want to check it out) it also gets at some unfortunate stereotypes. Wane opens the piece like this:
Good morning, and welcome to Advanced English Literature—I’m Professor Anglosoundingname. As you can see, I have a mane of silver hair and wear a corduroy blazer with leather elbow patches stitched with corduroy threads that have their own leather thread-patches, and pace briskly into this lecture hall from the New England autumn just as class starts.
Jae hits on this as well when she writes that “media does define how a lot of things are approached.[…]While a lot of students do expect college to be extremely difficult when faced with something like a female professor or a professor of color (no matter which gender) the seriousness is somehow drained out of the room.” That’s really interesting to me that Jae made the connection between expectations of teachers/the media and that it’s somehow perceived as less serious if a female or person of another race is teaching the course. Cody also makes this connection in his post. He made the observation that “I think that the students expect their college to be what I imagined before I got to college, the older white male. I think with those expectations being let down, the students tend to not take the professor seriously and are more liable to not listen or take any instruction to learn.”
This would perhaps explain an interesting phenomenon I noticed a few years ago when I first started teaching at LWC. I would go into the coffee shop, where several of my students worked, and I would be greeted by a friendly “Hi, Allison” or “Hey, girl!” Of course, I was cool with that b/c I like my students to feel comfortable with me. But 10 minutes later, my male colleagues would walk in, and how do you think they were addressed? “Hello, Dr. _________!” or “Professor!” I get a “Hey, girl,” and they get “Doctor” or “Professor.” But it gets at expectations, doesn’t it? And perceived seriousness, as Jae states.
Ainsley also made a point similar to Jeremy’s that gets at exposure and thus expectations. She wrote that “throughout my schooling, it has been very rare that I’ve been taught by someone of another race.” She went on to add that “according to The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, only 5% of college professors nationwide are black. There is a super majority of white instructors in colleges and I feel like that is what students expect.” This connects to idea of Chelsea’s. She brought an interesting view using her Criminal Justice background by dealing with the concept of “product of circumstance.” She complicates the article’s argument by stating that “the students aren’t necessarily racists, they have just been taught to distance themselves from, and correct anything that is not formal English.” I think that brings a really unique and necessary perspective. Amie also gets at that cultural programming when she writes that “I feel like from a young age, we are conditioned to be aware of the past, and act accordingly.” This is especially true in the classroom. Darla connects this to homelife as well by observing that “everyone comes out of their own environment, and if these white male students came out of a “standard white male (father) dominated home” then they would be inclined to view white males are proper authority figures, and find fault with black female authority figures.” She is exactly right.
Consequently, Moriah also pointed out that “a lot of students feel uncomfortable talking about racial issues in the first place, so to be discussing that with a teacher who is of a different race than you, it puts a lot of pressure on the student.” It would, and if this is the first interaction one is having with a person from that race, it might seem even more tense. Rebecca also points out that in these situations, for many students, the power dynamic has been subverted. She writes “the student would share the same race as the teacher and, in turn, they would both be reading foreign texts, so to speak. However, because this TA is a black female, she has the upper-hand. Her culture and her language are the ones who finally get to take over the classroom. White students aren’t accustomed to that and feel threatened due to a lack of knowledge. Don’t they see that this is how black students have felt all along?” What a poignant question.
So what are we to do? Matt points out a unfortunate dichotomy in his thoughtful response. He writes that “while the academic community claims more diversity than ever before we can still see its lacking standards for such and its payoff into society. It is evident through these examples provided in the text that there is still a social backlash to this diversity. There are still students who do not expect to be taught by a woman, people of color, or any other minority. And what possibly incites them even more is the various discourses these educators bring in with them.” He gets at the issue that students are often more comfortable with these individuals and groups if they sound like them, i.e. middle class and white.
However, Rachel offers a helpful solution in her post. She states that “these students were negative and derogatory to the African American teaching assistants because they did not fit the “image” that they had in mind for academia. Their expectations were created by the media’s portrayal of academia: old white male professors who speak Standard English. Thus in order to change this, action must be taken to publicize the academic contributions of females and minorities.”
Overall, I was very pleased with this weeks responses. Everyone did well to meet the word requirement and thoroughly work with and against the text. Can you believe we only have four more online lessons left?
as i wrote in my responses to many of your blackboard journal entries, this hybrid thing is new to all of us. so. we’re all just feeling around in the dark for now, looking for the proverbial light switch. considering that, i think we mostly did alright. sure, there were a few glitches and some of the responses were a little short or hazy. but everyone said *something* that illustrated they’d gotten the aim of the assignment, and that was a huge relief.
bartholomae was a sort of strange article to begin with. it actually wasn’t initially the first assignment, and it wasn’t even intended to be the focus of an online class period. we were originally scheduled to read crowley’s work first, her historical account of writing in the university. somehow, though (no doubt b/c of one of my errors) , bartholomae ended up first, despite the fact that the article is complex and dense and opens with michael foucault. i can’t think of a meaner hazing. but i’m kinda glad. b/c it showed me (and more importantly you) that everyone can do this, even if the material is out of your comfort zone. or new. or i’m not there to explain it. not that i’m so smart, but i think we all doubt ourselves until we get verification/validation from someone else. i often don’t understand every component of a reading i assign until i get in the room with the class. we all learn together. any professor that tells you otherwise is lying.
as i said in class last week, the english program actually assigns “inventing the university” as part of its exit exam for graduating seniors; students have to write a five page response. i didn’t ask you to think abt that, but it’s interesting to ask yourself of all the articles in all the world, why we would assign this one. one of the reasons (and there are many) is that we couldn’t let our majors leave college without being aware of the ways in which The University, and its writing, has been used as a tool of power *and* exclusion. that when you’re graduating, you have participated in that privilege and will now (hopefully) benefit from it. but not everyone has that opportunity. or for some, it’s harder to succeed than others. if we didn’t point that out, we’d be perpetuating a very dangerous myth: that if a student is a good writer, they’re smarter than people who aren’t. that they’re better people than those who aren’t. that people who don’t write or talk or act like those in the academy are lesser-than. and that simply isn’t true. academic writing is ONE type of discourse. and it’s no better than any other. it’s no more sophisticated or special than anyone’s primary discourse. and that’s why we assign bartholomae. b/c we know our graduates will earn some cultural capital with their degrees. but we want them to understand how and why that’s occurring. it isn’t b/c they’re better. it’s b/c they learned to master a very powerful and dominant discourse, which anyone is capable of given the opportunity.
many of you got at this tension in your responses. i hope you’ll take some time to read each others work. btw, if anyone has any questions about “inventing,” we can certainly talk abt it this week. let me know.