Thursday, August 30, 2012

Hanging with the Wrong Crowd of Words- an Inquiry

In my 1101 course we are embarking upon a journey of inquiry blogging - among other things  I started last summer with the UNCCWP SI group of 2012 with an inquiry around the rhetoric of help, where I got particularly caught up in Pickles the Cat - a character from a children's book.

I'm planning to keep that project moving and actually do an enthnography around the literacy and rhetoric of help along side my students.

But today' post, is a meandering one - inquiring a little more deeply into this idea of literacy and always it seems lately, connecting it back up to the rhetoric of help that has been pinging around in my head since class yesterday.

One of our readings for class last week was "Words Become Us,"  Convocation speech given by Ann Imbrie.  It's a say story of sorts in that one of the characters commits suicide and Imbrie goes on to ponder how the love affair with words, particularly borrowed words as teen agers led them to such different outcomes, she as a successful college professor and he as a victim of suicide.

One of my students picked out the line "it's possible that Gordon simply fell in with a bad crowd of words, that he borrowed the wrong words, that Milton's  words, say rather than Mick Jagger's might have redeemed him."

This idea of a bad crowd of words collided with the term "broken English" that can out of our dual conversation about Amy Tan's mother and another student in our class who has always made phone calls for her mother.

And it all made me think of the real, concrete power of words - and who gets to decide which words have power?  Is my English "broken" when I say "chester drawers" for bureau" or when one of my students who speaks multiple languages finds it easier to write in his first language to get thoughts out and then translate to English so that I can read it?   Right now, a big motivation for me is written on a white board in my home office "Dead discussion. You will not win cuz I will not loose." - It's a lyric from "Can't be Touched" - a song that I have to turn down when my children walk through the room and that I most likely wouldn't be blasting in my office in Cameron.  But it fills me with power when I need it.   Is allowing ourselves to "hang out" with these languages and words "falling in with a bad crowd of language?"    Is the code switching we all do, the lyrics and the movie lines, and quotes from books not in the cannon - the deviation from "proper" (whatever that is) English, hanging with the "wrong" crowd.

And so is the rhetoric of help bound up in this idea of "raising children up" to hang out with the "right" crowd of words" marking their home languages as "wrong" and broken?

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Literacy and Power

          "Literacy" is a vexed term with copious conflicting definitions, but an attempt at a working definition is useful here as I explore it with my 1101 students this fall.  I am defining “literacy” as more than the skills of decoding and letter formation, but as reading, writing and composing practices socially situated within culture and power structures.  By using the term composing, I am including digital literacies, music, art and orality. 
            Due to their social situatedness, literacy practices are not neutral.   They are infused with world views, “saturated with ideology” (Street, 1993, p. 435) and therefore carry with them ways of forming identity and reproducing institutions (Gee, 1996 qtd. in Mahiri, 2005).  Brandt (2001) pushes us to look closely at how dominant ways of being and knowing are reproduced with her notion of literacy sponsors.  She asks us to think about who is bankrolling literacy practices in order to make generalizations about power and literacy.  Sponsors of literacy pass on their ideologies to those whom they sponsor.  If one’s literacy sponsor is not a member of the dominant group, or, if that sponsor is a member of the dominant group that is best served by keeping the non-dominant group in that position in society, she can find herself on the economic margins of society. 
             As Brandt points out, literacy is “a key resource in gaining profit and edge” therefore “the powerful work  . . . to conscript and ration the resource of literacy” (p. 21).  Think for a moment about what the music and fashion industries stand to gain from “gangster” literacy practices (Moje, 2000).  Brandt asks us to think about who gets to decide which literacies are valuable, how they are valued, and which ones not valued. She asks us to think of how that valuing is infused with issues of power and powerlessness. 

Sunday, August 19, 2012

By Way of Introduction

I have two poems to share by way of introduction to our Fall 2012 1101 class.

The first riffs off Tom Romano's Where I'm From

Where I'm From:

I am from calculated risk, and trying again.
I am from close your eyes and jump and then be responsible for where you land.
I am from "when you are in a hurry, slow down," and "we make our own happiness." 

I am from my grandmother's yellow kitchen and buttermilk biscuits, chickens in the backyard and pigs out by the barn.

I am from field peas and collard greens and canning one more jar of tomatoes.

I am from West Meck high, circa 1992 and proud to be an Indian.

I am from the learning cottages of North Meck High, tracking through the mud to teach 180 students at a time. 

I am from writing groups and transformative dreams and conversations over a glass of wine with my Writing Project community and friends.

I am from re-writing and re-seeing, and re-visioning one. more. time.

I am from distance runs turned yoga practice.

I am from early morning reading and writing sprints and late night ponderings interrupting a perfectly delicious novel.

I am from the sigh of my sleeping junkyard dog while my children build some crazy contraption in our office as my husband and pal of 16 years and I look on with wonder at how we all got to this place. 

I am from a candle lit back porch and the quiet moments that breathe the intensity of living. 

And another with a little more edge . . .

Funds of Knowledge

            trial by fire.

High pressure
            “I’ve got your back”
            back to back
            leaning, learning, always

“That” kid from “that” school
            street cred
            street smart

            for now.

Stretching to show
            what you know
            I want to know.

And don’t forget
            to breathe.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

On Planning

It's that time of year for me.  I've been planning a week-long workshop centered around making the Common Core matter in the lives of students for 70 teachers about to start the 2012-2013 school year. Last week, I was in Chicago planning partnerships with 70 other National Writing Project consultants.  In and among all of this, I've been planning for my freshman composition course this fall.

What strikes me about all of this planning (other than how much FUN it is) is that my plans would never be the same without the community of educators I have around me that are as hyped up about planning as I am.

And then I'm  sad, and even angry, about how isolating teaching K-12 can be.  We get shut up in our own buildings and classrooms.  Any interaction with other teachers is often scripted by administrations in this era of "ridding ourselves of bad teachers."  It's so rare for many teachers in many schools to have the time and space to plan, to do what teachers do, to come up with creative, awesome plans for their students that make the teacher jump out of her chair and do a little dance because they are just so excited about what comes next.  (Okay, maybe I'm the only one who actually does that.)

Instead, teachers are forced to fill out forms in meetings to prove that they are "hitting" standards each day.  Standards are certainly an important part of our planning, but something is very, very wrong when those standards suck the life and joy out of the planning process as they seem to do in many of our schools with the highest needs.  In my experience, the teachers in "high needs" schools are some of the most creative and enthusiastic when it comes to meeting their students where they are and getting them to where they need to be, and yes, meeting standards.  However, they have to do all of that off the clock and behind closed doors.  And when they are "caught" doing it, they are labeled as "resistant" and "problematic," the same labels the students they teach carry with them.

And as a nation we continue to wonder where all of the "good" teachers have gone. It doesn't matter what standards we write and how great they are if we fail to recognize the professionalism, creativity and brilliance of our teachers.