Pedago-ing the polemic, sign one

~~I’m posting my blackboard post for class below to show in what ways a teacher of discourse and rhetoric can begin to implement more critical pedagogy in the classroom or tutoring session~~

What are we doing when we work with language?

I ask this of myself as a tutor, an educator, a human being. I feel this is the most important question to ask, and keep asking. This question has no easy answer, nor is it ever fixed. The meaning for praxis, which is, essentially, the term for asking this question here in this class situates itself in the center: the center of the writing in academia as well as the center of who we are as people. For me, these are one and the same.

I feel Denny when he says that the writing center is the center of the university because it is where all meaning-making occurs. I say this without a specific page because I feel this is in his entire work. In the writing center, we are always (and never without) positioning and negotiating between who we all are as people, as individuals, and as writers. The writing center is where people make themselves—we are what we are writing and sharing. Therefore, it is essential that we begin to accept this truth, not as a simple polemic written by some unaccounted-for graduate student here in English 530, but as an entire community of educators who genuinely—honestly—care about the work that we do with people who matter.

Non-coincidentally, the practice of community is not lost on us compies and rhetors. The Everyday Writing Center takes up Etienne Wenger’s theory of communities of practice to relate to the specific liberatory pedagogy that we, as tutors and teachers, can adopt to lessen the appropriation of race upon identity. They imagine,

When we imagine our writing centers as learning cultures, we enact a hopeful, participatory model for education, one that is poised to engage in transformative institutional work. As we change our own understandings of ourselves in relation to others, we become change-agents in our other, overlapping communities of practice. Wenger writes, “[L]earning—whatever form it takes—changes who we are by changing our ability to participate, to belong, to negotiate meaning” (226).

There is something to this way of being optimistic, utopic, I find here. As the quarter has progressed, I’ve consistently challenged myself to find modes of waxing and unwaxing the utopic toward initiating—sparking—change. This has been a struggle of thought. Yet, the more I read for this class, the more I realize that I have been implementing the very practice of the pedagogy I seek: enthusiasm.

Waking up every day knowing that I get to interact with students and their composed selves is one of my most positive traits. I am lucky to get praise for my enthusiasm from teachers, mentors, friends, and students, alike. And I cannot help myself. I truly love what I do; it shows in the ways I approach my work. EWC is speaking directly to this type of enthusiasm. Once we position ourselves within our various ways of being—our myriad of identities—we become conscious of how every one of us compose ourselves in our discourses and literacies. And when we are conscious that each one of us are composed selves, we (hopefully) can be more apt to care for assisting one another in how to negotiate our multiple identities in our writing.

The practice of writing and tutoring meet at these moments in the very negotiations between who we are, who we need to be in our papers, and who we can make ourselves become. Existential positions.

There is a road-block to this thinking: how can we do this; how do we negotiate ourselves; how do we become conscious? Composition studies tells me that I cannot provide any hard-fast rules here. But I like to argue with rules, so I’m going to polemicize (there’s a post on my blog about this). Harry Denny can come in at this time to help me explain what it means to teach social consciousness to our students whether we are tutors, teachers, or students ourselves (or pieces of self). He relies upon Gramsci’s term “organic intellectualism”: “To commingle a pedagogy of empowerment with community building and consciousness raising was a praxis not entirely different from conventional activism” (22). To be socially conscious of the construction and reappropriation of our selves means becoming an activist. Yes, an activist. (:D ßa great tutor-human made this while I stepped away from my desk; and I’m keeping it because he is a lovely person to know)

What does organic intellectualism mean in light of social consciousness toward the construction of race, and the imposition of it upon our bodies? It means that we need to actively seek understanding of the how/why/when/to what ends we use language to commit institutional, ontological appropriations on each other. What does that mean? It means that we are either proponents or deconstructors of racism depending on the way we negotiate discourses and identities. We either work for the Dominant discourse of racism or we dismantle and subvert it when we see it at work. Denny argues, “Having diversity isn’t enough or a necessary end; instead, we need to process whether and how it happens and to what consequence” (38). We are always going to have diversity. I think we all can agree on that. So it is time we pull off those middle class bootstraps and figure out how to accept that. We need to really look at racism, and see who we are.

Denny uses Omi and Winant to define race:

…race, like any other form of identity, needs to be viewed as a primary means by which society is organized. Put another way, our discourse and practices can’t be understood without the role of race factored into any analysis; that any understanding without it is partial and incomplete, that race is irreducible to other historical features of identity and domination as well as they to it. (39)

We can begin to look at race by knowing what we are dealing with, and how it imprints itself on our bodies. Learning this makes us what Gee calls powerfully literate (you all remember that?). Once we know what race is and how it operates, we can begin to teach modes of subversion at best, or its properties at worst. Denny ends this chapter on that idea. He provides, “To empower students means giving them agency and opportunity to interact with all worlds possible through a range of terms and devices” (55). This is where all ambiguity lies therein; we may never fully know what our students take or learn from us—that’s sorta impossible. However, we can always approach our tutoring conferences, lectures, class discussions, and even daily conversations as pedagogical, didactic moments.

Indeed, I am suggesting that we teach inside and outside of the center—everywhere. I am a public citizen, thus I believe that change needs to be implemented in every practice we do. But as a tutor and a teacher, I know that the classroom is a great space to show the discursive properties of race and the modes of subversion. We can make a focus on language the point of our days; we can instruct our students on how to notice when language is working against us; we can discuss how our lives are appropriated by race; we can agree to disagree; we can share our stories of oppression; we can be our selves.

And if we dare to can, we will become…


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