The Dangerous Blog for Grad Students

A How-To Tale

“The Politics of Interface: Power and Its Exercise in Electronic Contact Zones” Precis September 30, 2008

Filed under: Precis — deduvick @ 3:31 pm
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Cynthia L. Selfe and Richard J. Selfe Jr.

It is interesting to see the boundaries and border lines that are laid out in our own well-meaning, striving-to-be-multicultural-and-accepting classrooms.  The problems of racism and classism lie within our own computers.  The machines that we use to teach students to further themselves present their own set of problems.  For example, Macintosh’s system is set up as a desktop, with all the items as implements you would find in any office building around the United States.  But, this really resembles a white-sensibility, middle class environment.  Another problems is with the languages/discourses of computers.  The default setting is always English and there are very few options to change it to – possibly one Spanish variant and no other English dialects.  This is especially problematic when there is offered a system that works in a different language, but in which the keystrokes correspond with the English words that computers are based off of. 


“The Politics of Teaching Literate Discourse” Precis

Filed under: Precis — deduvick @ 6:00 am
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Lisa Delpit

Where can we draw the line at whether or not to teach our students, who have grown up speaking and writing in different kinds of discourses, how to use the dominant, “white” way of literacy?  Some worry that it would only be oppressing these students, taking away their home discourse and restricting their power as people.  

I believe, however, that we must do the opposite.  We must teach the basics of that academic discourse – grammar, punctuation, spelling, structure, etc.  And in doing so, we must present it as an advantage to students of different discourse backgrounds, a way to learn the system so that maybe they can eventually  “cheat” or resist the system.

There is not a problem with students learning this discourse – yes, it may be hard at first, but it is certainly not impossible.  Plenty of people have been successful and have gone on to make something of themselves.  And many of them credit teachers who pushed them to be better then they thought they could be.  These teachers put in the extra time and effort to let them know that if they learned this discourse, they would have another option to express themselves in.  In that way, they could perhaps speak of their home and background and personal experiences and issues in their home discourse, but then turn to the dominant discourse for a political or social advantage.  

This educating should not rob our students of their personal histories and discourses.  Instead, it is merely giving them tools to forge their way into a future, whether academic or not.  Sensitivity is required, but it should not stop a teacher from outfitting students to succeed in a life where they will run up against that dominant discourse again and again.


“Diversity, Ideology, and Teaching Writing” Precis

Filed under: Precis — deduvick @ 5:05 am
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Maxine Hairston

Too many freshmen English composition classes are being founded on forwarding the professor’s own political agenda.  It is appalling and discouraging to see this regression of everything that we have gained for the study of composition over the last decade or so.  

Several theories have become less popular in the higher echelons of the university, such as deconstructionism, post-structuralism and Marxism.  These, however, have trickled down to stay with the required general English composition classes that all studies must take.  Teachers (though not all) enforce these ideas on their students, blatantly outlining their political leanings so that students know them straight off and can either agree or disagree.  This fails to encourage students’ personal writings though, in that they tend to be especially shy at offering up individual opinions, preferring to collaborate what the teacher said and making the grade.

Our classes should not run this way!  Instead, we as teachers should be focusing more on our students and the multi-culturalist perspectives they are bringing with them to class.  We should be encouraging them to write expressive narratives and essays that allow them to explore what they already know and feel and what they can learn through the process of fleshing this out.  Also, we should advocate prompts that allow students to explore individual and communal experiences and then have the opportunity to hear from their peers, in order to gain a broader perspective of the culture that surrounds them.  In now way should they be made to examine and expound on a political position that they are not interested in or uncomfortable with!


“Critical Pedagogy: Dreaming of Democracy” Precis September 28, 2008

Filed under: Precis — deduvick @ 12:16 am
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Ann George

Critical Pedagogy is supposed to be about liberating students – but how can we do that in a academy-controlled classroom, where we are the teachers, all-knowing (at least about what we are teaching, but usually not even though), and they are the poor, culture-obsessed students coming to us to show them the way to higher learning?

Well, step back – deep breath.  This is going to be hard going.

We want to show students the inequality in the power levels that exist all around them.  Can we do this?  Supporters of the pedagogy say that it’s possible – but it involves not taking advantage of our positions of authority.  We must give powers back to our students – the power to decide what to learn, how to learn it and what environment to learn it in.  They have the power and they must learn how it works when they handle it or when others hold it over them. Some students are not comfortable with this.  Situations happen where the teacher must simply go back to a traditional teacher-student relationship.  But there are perks…

Students can learn about the differences in the “oppressed” and the “oppress-ers.”  They can look at both sides of the coin – their relationship to other teachers or their position as an educated individual.  Where do they fit in in society?  Where do others? How can they affect those power dynamics democratically?  And how does this all make them a better writer?

Friere, Shor and others believe that this is the answer.  We just have to understand the eternal presence of paradoxes.  After all, we are all human, and so, the world exists with  an infinity of possible choices, creating those paradoxes.  


“English Studies, Aestheticism, and the Art-Culture System” Precis September 23, 2008

Filed under: Precis — deduvick @ 1:42 pm
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Joe Marshall Hardin

English Studies grew largely out of a need to acculturate students into the academic lifestyle.  They needed to know how to write so that they could show their knowledge of literature and how they applied theory.  Thus, this writing (composition) was perceived as a lower order than the literature that they were studying.  

That idea of “low order” and “high order” is very troubling and controversial.  There is such a way of perceiving things that are common or popular as “low.”  Out of this came the semiotic square, which pits high art, such as original pieces and the collection of them, against low art, like technology and anything unoriginal.  The other sides of the square are reserved for high culture (tribal crafts, historical or collector’s items) and low culture (anything commercial or odd/unnecessary).  This set up a dynamic which can be offsetting to the students attending the universities these days.  

With more diversity in our students, it makes sense that the material we put forth to be studied should be varied as well.  By taking away the titles of high and low and just presenting the piece for what it is, there is a better chance that our students would look at it more objectively and better understand what it is used for and how it significance politically or so on might be.  

Removing the art-culture system and the aestheticism (the unpractical appreciation for only beauty and art) would diversify our studies and English and open new avenues for exploration and criticism.  


“The Rhetorician as an Agent of Social Change” Precis

Filed under: Precis — deduvick @ 5:36 am
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Ellen Cushman

Just because we are academics doesn’t mean that we should cut ourselves off from the rest of the world.  Actually, because we are academics, we shouldn’t fall into that trap!  We have a specialized knowledge and the chance to share that (and learn something in return), which we should take advantage of.

Universities, at times, can be so cut off from the communities around them.  Instead, we should be building links to the members of these communities, conducting research and learning from them to expand our knowledge of cultural studies, how the world works, and how those peoples’ lives affect what we are professing to learn and cultivate every day.  

How are we going to help others (or teach our students how to deal with the great outside world) if we refuse to get our feet wet?

There can be many opportunities to begin bonding with the community or it may be that you have to find your own way.  Regardless, it is key to begin communicating.  That is the first step, important to establishing identification with the people.  After that, the relationships can grow, with each mutually helping the other and hopefully each party can get the most out of it.  

The world needs social change and we academics can help give the people the tools to make that happen.  We have had the privilege of an education experience and the best thing to do is pass that on to make a difference in the community members’ lives.  Step out of your little office and your libraries and learn first-hand through a model of teaching and learning simultaneously!


“Never Mind the Tagmemics, Where’s the Sex Pistols?” Precis

Filed under: Precis — deduvick @ 4:15 am
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Geoffrey Sirc

Where’s the harm in bringing pop culture into the classroom?  Where’s the harm in letting music, like that of the Punk movement and the Sex Pistols, overrun our students’ attempts at writing?  Where’s the harm, I ask?

There could be a lot of harm actually.  Harm that they throw off the stifling nature of by-the-book, teacher-taught processes and systems.  Harm that they might write about something they actually care about, even if it is a little off-setting to everyone around them.  Harm that they might not try to perfect something, but rather re-form something old into something relevant to themselves and, in doing so, something new.  

Harm that they might not see the academy’s side to things and refuse to join it or any other form of “civilized,” rationalized society.  Harm that they may become different, in dress, in body art, in writing style. 

The Punk movement asks listeners to listen before they move on to make their own art, rejecting the old on the way.  Do we ask our students to write, so that they can ultimately reject that too, and begin writing in a whole new way, original (or semi-) to themselves?  Maybe we should.  What’s the harm?