More of that Alchemy You Were Writing About?

In Rhetoric and Composition we frame the inexorable bookends of our field as theory and practice. We publish reams of articles attempting to forge this divide, to meet our scholarship with our teaching, our disciplinarity with on the groundwork at particular institutions. We try to point out the relationship between intellectual with material concerns. For example, in dealing with issues of contingent labor, graduate student professionalization, the role of public rhetoric or the academic rhetor in the public, etc., we front load theory and download action.

Alchemy of Race and Rights

In Alchemy of Race and Rights, Patricia J. Williams observes the how “implicit requirement of documentation imposed on blacks walking down public streets in Howard Beach” is a synecdoche for blacks as interlopers. As an African American, Cherokee Native American, Chinese American, English American who has lived her entire life (scholastic, residential, recreational, etc.) in white spaces, her comment resonated with me. Because my entire life is conducted in white spaces, I have no ability to code-switch. I don’t move between worlds.


So, the thing is, I agree with Delpit very strongly, but it’s the very strength of that agreement that makes my concerns about some of the specifics so troubling. A few particular quotations that, in combination, illustrate those concerns:

“Black children expect an authority figure to act with authority. When the teacher instead acts as a ‘chum,’ the message sent is that this adult has no authority, and the children react accordingly” (35).

That's What I Said! Delpit and the Master's Tools

For most of this seminar we’ve engaged in discussions about education systems that do not seem to be serving the needs of minority or poor (oftentimes the two are one and the same) students. I’ve insisted from the beginning that we do these students a huge disservice by encouraging them to speak or write in their home language discourses, when the institutional structures/systems of power that exist in the United States do not value those discourses. So you all have to know how excited I was to read Delpit’s text. A few of my favorite quotes and a bit of commentary:

Other People's Comics

In Other People’s Children, Lisa Delpit quotes teacher-researcher Gail Martin’s description of teaching writing to Arapaho students: “One of our major concerns was that many of the stories children wrote didn’t seem to ‘go anywhere’… When I asked Pius Moss [an Arapaho storyteller] why Arapaho stories never seem to have an ‘ending,’ he answered that there is no ending to life, and stories are about Arapaho life, so there is no need for a conclusion.

A Book on the Boundaries

There is just something approachable in Mike Rose's text. Familiar even. He weaves his narrative in flawlessly, smoothly. He knows himself, his students, and introduces us to everything. It's almost like a dinner party with familiar faces and moving conversation. Perhaps this is what makes critics (at least those listed) call this book a classic, seminal text for educators. But this familiarity also highlights some key issues. In fact, some of this text seemed a bit too familiar--and I'm not just talking about the narrative structure here ;)

What kind of university are we creating?

The first half of the book addresses Rose’s personal experiences with education, particularly secondary and postsecondary ed. I understand how this portion builds Rose’s credibility in the latter half of the book, but in my opinion, Lives on the Boundary shines when he addresses the problems with “remedial education” in the research university from the standpoint of an educator. Rose frames the arguments over preparatory education as getting to the heart of what sort of university we hope to create.

a confluence of Mikes

A while back, I went on a date with this guy who came to be known as Not-Funny Mike. (The name’s coincidental; this isn’t about to spiral off into a story of how I once dated Mike Rose.) Not-Funny-Mike (we’ll call him NFM after this) was nice. We shared many interests. We liked the same movies. We read the same books. He was a good listener. Polite. And so on and so forth et cetera ad nauseam.

He also bored the living shit out of me.

Will and Need

I feel pulled apart by this text. On the one hand, there is more than an implied thread of a Horatio Algier myth (as much as Rose wants to say otherwise) in "Lives on the Boundary". His pedagogical and administrative approach, as Adam pointed out, does betray a very classically Greek influence, which poses some very big problems.

Telling Stories

What I like most about this text is what I’ve liked the most about some of the other texts we’ve read: Rose’s ability to weave the narrative of his own (and other’s) educational experiences with an analysis of the educational institutions, policies, and structures that precludes some our most vulnerable citizens from gaining said education.

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