The Dangerous Blog for Grad Students

A How-To Tale

“The Politics of Teaching Literate Discourse” Precis September 30, 2008

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.

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