Sometimes It’s Where You’re from *and* Where You’re At: Bettina Love’s Hip Hop’s Li’l Sistas Speak

Love, Bettina. Hip Hop’s Li’l Sistas Speak: Negotiating Hip Hop Identities and Politics in the New South. Ed. Shirley R. Steinberg. 399 Vol. New York: Peter Lang, 2012. Print. Studies in the Postmodern Theory of Education.

hip-hop-s-li-l-sistas-speakBettina Love’s Hip Hop Li’l Sistas Speak shows that Black girls’ bodies are a major landscape of Southern Hip-hop music. In this ethnographic project born out of Love’s dissertation, she explores the lives of six teen-aged Black girls in Atlanta, Georgia (ATL), also known as the Motown of the South, and their relationship to Hip-hop music and culture. One of the most intriguing aspects of Love’s project is her focus on methodology and her positionality as a Black girl researcher from the North, from an earlier Hip-hop generation, who is also lesbian.

Black girls, positionality, agency, and identity

In chapter two: Hip Hop, Context, and Black Girlhood, Love demonstrated how age, geographic location, and sexuality necessarily play important roles in the context of her research as well as her and her research participants’ lives. Continue reading

Bridwell-Bowles – Discourse and Diversity: Experimental Writing within the Academy

Bridwell-Bowles, Lillian. “Discourse and Diversity: Experimental Writing within the Academy.” Feminism and Composition :A Critical Sourcebook. Eds. Gesa Kirsch, et al. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2003. 294-313. Print.

In this essay, Lillian Bridwell-Bowles utilized theories from Feminist Studies, critical pedagogy, and Composition and Rhetorical Studies as well as her teaching experience at the undergraduate and graduate levels to “imagine” and explicate the possibilities for the use of what she called a “diverse discourse” within the academy. She acknowledged the limitations of academic discourse and academic essays as a genre to connect with and express the full diversity of student bodies as well as meet their rhetorical needs. Despite the advances in composition theory through theories of cognitive process, social construction and advances in technology, Bridwell-Bowles argued that as long as our language remained inadequate (limited to academic discourse) our vision, thinking, and feeling will not be transformative (Rich 1979). Bridwell-Bowles alternative to exclusive academic discourse is “diverse discourse,” a discourse inspired by feminist discourse that allows for more languages and forms outside of academic discourse. She stated her conscious and political choice to not call it “alternative discourse” because it “does not allow us to reform thinking, to imagine the possibility that writing choices that are now marginal could someday be positioned alongside, or in place of , the dominant ones” (295). Bridell-Bowles does not argue for throwing out the pedagogical “baby (traditional academic writing components) with the bath water,” but asserts that in light of new theory these conventions should not be the only ones that count. While Bridwell-Bowles does not explicitly weigh in on the validity of bidialectalism for the speakers of language varieties outside of “standard” English, she does question its efficacy: “We may agree on its necessity, but not on its sufficiency. I also believe that linguistic and rhetorical flexibility may help students to write better conventional prose” (296).

Through her own experience and student examples Bridwell-Bowles admits she cannot provide concrete answers, but attempts to hypothesize the existence of a powerfully diverse discourse that allows for variation in race, gender, class, sexual orientation and other human variation. This work is challenging in complicated to do using a “patriarchal, racist, and classist variant of language,” because “it may not be possible to create feminist discourse with a “father’s tongue’ (Penelope) or the ‘master’s tools’ (Lorde, Master’s)” (298). She provides student examples of writing without argument and experimentation with form to illustrate ways that students have put themselves “back into their writing.” As she works to dot he same in her own writing she is candid about the privilege she has to do so as a tenured faculty member, but asserts that she intends to use this power to open more doors for others to do the same.

“The real change does not lie on the surface of language at all, where I have chosen to begin, but in the deep structure where language and culture interact. In these places, I treasure the new meanings that I and many others have discovered” (312).


Skilton-Sylvester – Literate at Home but Not at School: A Cambodian Girl’s Journey from Playwright to Struggling Writer

Skilton-Sylvester, Ellen. “Literate at Home but Not at School: A Cambodian Girl’s Journey from Playwright to Struggling Writer.” School’s Out: Bridging Out-of School Literacies with Classroom Practice. Eds. Glynda Hull and Katherine Schultz. New York: Teachers College Press, 2002. 61-95. Print.

In this chapter, Ellen Skilton-Sylvester, current Associate Professor of Education and Coordinator of ESL Programs at Arcadia University, uses ethnography to provide a contrastive analysis of a young Cambodian immigrant girl’s school and out-of-school literacy practices. This chapter was developed out of a larger ethnographic study of (Skilton-Sylvester, 1997) documenting the identities, literacies, and other educational policies that are part of the lives of several Cambodian women and girls in Philadelphia (65).

In “Literate at Home but Not at School,” Skiton-Sylvester focuses on the school and out-of-school literacies of Nan over the course of three years. The researcher’s fieldwork consisted of weekly tutoring sessions over a 3-year period with Nan and her cousins in either of their apartments (located in the same apartment building) focusing primarily on homework and structured around the needs of the girls in any given week (65). Over the course of time, Skilton-Sylvester says her relationship with the girls developed and their time together extended to include filed trips to local museums, parks, and Skilton-Sylvester’s apartment. The participants also gave her artifacts such as: drawings, painting, and writings as gifts, in addition to performing dances and skits, etc. for her. From these interactions Skilton-Sylvester took the themes that emerged from this data and later interviewed the girls about their points of view concerning  particular findings and issues. Skilton-Sylvester’s fieldwork also included visits to the girls’ school one year prior to beginning her study with the girls. These visits to the English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) classrooms and grade-level classrooms continued into her research with Nan and her relatives. Skilton-Sylvester is clear about her rationale to focus on Nan as her primary subject; stating that Nan provided the most dramatic differences between her in-school and out-of-school writing identities and products (65):

“Nan interests me greatly both because the resources she brought to school were often invisible and devalued and because I can imagine other possibilities when I see her out-of-school writing. In the right classroom, her enthusiasm for making meaning through print, pictures, and performance could have been a resource to build on in learning to use writing as a tool to do the social work of school.” (65-66)

Many of Skilton-Sylvester’s findings are derived because her scope included both in- and out-of-school contexts. For example, Skilton-Sylvester is able to conclude that the reason for Nan’s successful facilitation in her out-of-school literacy practices are rhetorical in nature and depend on Nan’s various rhetorical situations, particularly exigency and audience:

“I believe that Nan’s experiences with school writing in home and school contexts can be understood in terms of investment, identity, and the right to speak… What her out-of-school writing shows is that she could be incredibly invested in using and learning about the written word when she was granted the right to write and knew that there were those who really wanted to listen to her thoughts, experiences, and ideas.” (84)

Skilton-Sylvester found that when Nan was provided a meaningful purpose and an attentive audience in her ESOL classroom, Nan was able to claim the right to write within the classroom context. Therefore, Skilton-Sylvester concluded that bridges between out-of-school literacy and in-school literacy need to be constructed where they do not exist, which unfortunately is the majority of grade-level classroom contexts. Skilton-Sylvester’s study also makes an implicit argument for the expansion of valued literacy skills in school contexts that includes visual, oral, and performative literacies in addition to standard writing literacy practices, because Nan did achieve a degree of success in ESOL classrooms that sanctioned these broader literacy skills; however these broader literacy skills were not recognized in the grade–level classrooms.

Skilton-Sylverster argues that it is educators that need to improve their literacy skills as well:

“Nan’s out-of school literacy resources — and those of many nonmainstream students in the U.S. schools — can be a foundation for school literacy if we are able to read the words and worlds that children bring with them to school and help them to engage in new and related words and worlds as they use writing to do the social work of school… we, as techers, have as much to learn from Nan as she from us.” (88)

If this is the case, and I agree it is, then this study also makes a strong case for critical pedagogies that can disrupt the uni-directional flow of knowledge.

Thelin – Thelin’s Response to Russell Durst

Thelin, William. “William H Thelin’s Response to Russell Durst.” College Composition and Communication. 58.1 (2006): 114-118. Print.

In this response to Russell Durst’s critique of Thelin’s article “Understanding problems of Critical Pedagogy,” he acknowledges that he made himself vulnerable to sweeping generalizations by admitting that he had a disastrous section of composition. He asserts, however,  that the goal of the article was to scrutinize a problematic classroom in order to complicate the “this doesn’t work” response.

Thelin says Durst isn’t critiquing his findings, but is critiquing Thelin’s interpretation of critical pedagogy. He claims that Durst wants him to say that critical pedagogy is ineffective, but his data, he asserts does not support that. Thelin details the oversights, errors, and misunderstandings that he says Durst made in his critique.

Thelin also addresses Dursts depiction of critical pedagogy as confrontational: “Critical  pedagogy  is not confrontational. It is dialogic. Confrontation springs  from  authoritarianism  on  the part  of  the  teacher” (115).

Thelin says that while he did not appreciate the tenor of Durst’s critique, he can appreciate the concern and believes that the actual tenets and practices of critical pedagogy need to be discussed and that it needs to be discussed in more precise language. For example:

Critical  theory  is certainly  deployed  by critical  pedagogues,  but  in and  of  itself,  critical  theory  does  not  constitute  the enactment  of  critical pedagogy,  which  Russel  admits.  In  the  same  sense, students  can work  collaboratively,  as  they  often  do  in critical  classrooms,  but  collaboration  by  itself is not  critical  pedagogy.  Critical pedagogy  blends  these elements  together.  Some critical pedagogues do not  experiment  with  power sharing,  per  se, but  they still  adhere  to  Freire’s  belief  in  listening  to  the  students  and  asking  key  questions  about  whom the  classroom  serves  and whom it  acts  against.  The  students’  cultures  and  beliefs  are  accounted for  in  such courses,  as  critical  pedagogy  responds  to  local  conditions (118).

Durst – Can We Be Critical of Critical Pedagogy

Durst, Russell. “Can we be Critical of Critical Pedagogy.” College Composition and Communication. 58.1 (2006): 110-114. Print.

This is a direct response to William Thelin’s CCC article, “Understanding Problems of Critical Pedagogy.” Durst distorts Thelin’s argument. Thelin says the students were too unfamiliar with the critical pedagogy approach – not content. Durst suggests that students adapt to a variety of differences in coursework and unfamiliar discipline when they transitioning from high school to college; however, the banking model is fairly consistent in K-16 education. Therefore, there is not much to adapt to in terms of pedagogical approach regardless of content.

Durst critiques the notion of “blundering for a change.” While Thelin uses the term blunder, I do not think “blundering for a change” is his phrase. Durst asserts that critical pedagogy cannot be a series of ongoing mistakes and suggests that the “blunders” move instructors to “dislodge from our ideological comfort zones” and have “our outlooks complicated by discordant ideas,” just as we try to get our students to do so (113).

Thelin – Understanding Problems in Critical Classrooms

Thelin, William. “Understanding Problems in Critical Classrooms.” College Composition and Communication. 57.1 (2005): 114-141. Print.

In this article, William Thelin critiques critics of critical pedagogy in the composition classroom, Richard Miller and Russel Durst. In short, Thelin asks that baby, critical pedagogy, not be thrown out with the bathwater, challenges, mishaps, and uncertainties that may occur in the classroom. The critique, however, is not the focus of his essay; Thelin provides additional classroom research to show how imperfect critical pedagogy practices/ results can provide valuable insight into achieving the goals of critical pedagogy.

Thelin collected data in the form of student essays that critiqued the “failed” writing course they had participated in with him that semester and offered specific reasons as to why they did not meet their mutual expectations. The 21 students were a mix of white and African American  students across social class lines and genders.

He cites himself in an article with John Paul Tassoni to say, “Students empowerment and challenges to the status quo obviously could not run as seemlessly and still be what they claimed” (2). He continues:

If everything in a critical classroom worked as well as some accounts of critical pedagogy make it seem (see Rosenthal as one example), we would not have a transformation of a classroom. We would have a recasting of the typical hero model of teaching where the instructor rescues students in need of saving (127).

One of the main reasons (signified by five student responses) students gave for things not going well in the classroom was that students were “not used to freedom/ contradicted previous classroom experience” (128). No students argued that students should no co-develop curricula with the instructor (130).

Thelin interprets his classess’ “blunders” as learning opportunities for intructors and students. As an instructor, he sees opportunity to improve his pedagogy by listening to students’ voices more and understanding their understanding of democracy and education. For his students, he holds out hope that they will be better equipped to handle a critical pedagogy class in the future; more and not less critical pedagogy is necessary to have successful democratic classrooms.

Simmons and Page – Motivating Students through Power and Choice

Simmons, Amber M., and Melissa Page. “Motivating Students through Power and Choice.” English Journal. 100.1 (2010): 65-69. Print.

In this article, Simmons and Page share how they utilized critical pedagogy practices in a high schoool English class. The two were interested in finding ways to motivate and empower their students. Using Arthur Miller’s The Crucible as a text, Simmons and Page worked with their students to define the terms of the class project. Drawing on Ira Shor’s critical pedagogy methods, the instructors co-created the grading system with the students. They used the students’ language in the rubric, and developed an end of project survey based on Shor’s design to determine generative themes for future work.

Simmons and Page concluded that sharing curricular power with students served to motivate students to produce quality work and use power responsibly (69). They stated additional benefits:

By using these methods in the classroom, teachers can motivate their students to become active participants in their own education instead of bystanders waiting to be told what to do, when to do it, and how it should be done. (69)