Week of March 1st: identity and issues of identity


9 thoughts on “Week of March 1st: identity and issues of identity”

  1. While the subject matter of Royster’s article seems relatively easy to understand, it becomes more and more difficult and dense with each scene (at least, for me, it did). Not to say that the scenes she depicts were inherently confusing, but it was difficult for me to step outside my understanding of her picture to try to comprehend the scene from her point of view. Because of my subject position, it seemed nearly impossible; that is, to say, I have never been in such a position to have my place in society talked about in the ways that she has. I have never been an “Other.” That said, she does a great job of depicting situations that both make her uncomfortable and frustrated with the views that she encounters quite often.

    In her introductory section–prior to the first scene–Royster points out that she has often struggled with other people who try to take on her subject position when it is clearly impossible for them to do so. She writes, “I have been compelled to listen to speakers, well-meaning though they think they are, who signal to me clearly that subject position is everything. I have come to recognize, however, that when the subject matter is me and the voice is not mine, my sense of order and rightness is disrupted” (Royster 31). I can understand her frustrations regarding these situations entirely: how can someone who’s never encountered the things that she has explain her situation better than she can? It seems that, from reading through the scenes she depicts, that this is her biggest complaint: too often, those with the “power” to speak misuse it, and attribute things to others that may be purely erroneous and fictional. This is why she explores the idea of the contact zone and calls for better practices across disciplines–both inside and outside of the classroom–that will help people better understand how to address such topics.

    I also found the second scene pretty interesting. In the first paragraph, she writes, “I tend to be enraged at what Tillie Olsen has called the ‘trespass vision,” a vision that comes from intellect and imagination (62), but typically not lived experience, and sometimes not from the serious study of the subject matter” (34). I am entirely too guilty of this, and it seems like something that should be easily avoidable. When someone tries to assign facts or realities to others–without the experiences of the group–it becomes problematic. The second part of the sentence interests me even more, because, while study cannot replace experience, it can augment “intellect and imagination,” yet many people do not take this into consideration.


  2. Rose critiques what can be considered the tracking system in public schools, arguing “Students will float to the mark you set” (2). Although Rose sees the flaws in this method of placing students, in a way, he seems to also validate this system through his own experience. Rose states, “Mercy relied on a series of tests…for placement, and somehow the results of my tests got confused with those of another student named Rose. The other Rose apparently didn’t do very well, for I was placed in the vocational track, a euphemism for the bottom level” (1). Rose’s reason for leaving the vocational track was not because he was pushed to new expectations by a challenging teacher, but simply because he excelled in a class to the point that a teacher noticed the testing error and moved him to the other track. It would have been interesting to hear if the student he was switched with did “float to the mark” that was accidently set for him. Also, Rose does not discuss his own growth as a writer, he simply says, “MacFarland looked down at me – I was seated in his office – and said, ‘Listen, you can write,’” as if his writing ability was a given, also validating his original placement in the tracking system, making his story portray a respect for a teacher and an instilled passion in a subject, not so much an example of students rising to a new mark.

    However, this does not mean I disagree with the sentiment of Rose’s argument, but it seems it will take a cultural shift in the educational system to allow students to see the purpose of their classes and push them to their fullest potential. As Rose points out, students have often become so used to seeing academics as a hoop to jump through, that a teacher who finally pushes them will not have a large effect late in a student’s academic career. Rose makes this point when he states, “There were some lives that were already beyond Jack MacFarland’s ministrations, but mine was not” (5). However, this statement also adds to the Rose’s seemingly intrinsic inclination to the subject.

    Still, this subject seems more suitable for a discussion about younger ages. In order to create an academic environment that “invites” students to join the conversation, they must see academics as a conversation before they reach a point where they see it as a place that is “not for them.”

    What would it actually look like for a teacher to set a high mark for students to rise to? Rose gives the example of MacFarland, but what could this look like on a more day-to-day level?

    The idea of academics being a conversation relates also to Royster’s argument about the changes of power dynamics within the classroom. In what ways do you see this change in teacher-student power dynamics affecting a student’s view on education and seeing their place in the academic setting? Where do changes in power dynamics play a role in Rose’s argument?


  3. Beginning the first scene of her essay, Jacqueline Royster explains, “I have been compelled on too many occasions to count to sit as a well-mannered Other, silently, in a state of tolerance that requires me to be as expressionless as I can manage, while colleagues who occupy a place of entitlement different from my own talk about the history and achievements of people from my ethnic group, or even about their perceptions of our struggles” (30). Royster does go on to show why academic discourse is in need for a more equitable and conscious way of conversing and listening (33). However, I was, perhaps, most interested in Royster’s awareness that there is a particular distribution of “entitlement,” to which she too is a part. While she could mean this in any number of senses, I, contextually, take this as a reference to her entitlement to participate in (as well as listen to and critique) discourse as a professor in the academy.

    On a similar note Mike Rose, in an interview, explains that education can serve as “an invitation, it is an attempt to bring people into a kind of conversation, into a set of ideas, into ways of thinking and conversing reading and writing that is new to then.” Conversing with the host, he observes that, when done right, “It invites you into the democratic conversation.” This assertion, however, privileges educational institutions as constitutive of the democratic process. Rose also expresses a hesitance to the idea that he, having come from the “working class” (though he notes this is not the only and explicit reason), has a right to speak to a public. He notes the “hidden injuries of class,” something that “stays with a number of us who move up through the class system and end up in a profession that is highly status-laden.” Here again I see the “status-laden” and entitlement associated with positions in the academy. While I think both Rose and Royster make very strong claims about the empowering potential of a conventional education (though Rose seems to implicitly allude to the power of knowledge for particular groups), I also am hesitant to accept the extent to which they privilege the conventional academic system as a means of democratically achieving empowerment across divides of both race and class. It appears that, at some level, they too are aware of the extent to which the structure of knowledge distribution is “status-laden” and saturated with entitlement. However, it seems that neither Rose nor Royster are endorsing an instilled love of pursuing knowledge for self-enrichment (although Rose does tangentially allude to the importance of such). Rather, both grant the institutionalized education system far greater significance than the pursuit of knowledge outside of the classroom.

    Can teachers even approach the challenge of teaching students how to enjoy learning as self-enrichment, rather than for purely institutional or academic practices? Does classroom instruction not, contextually, only teach students how to enjoy learning within the classroom or institutional environment?

    Why do educational theorists and scholars continue to privilege the “status-laded” position of academic discourse, even as it appears more and more an untenable means of creating and distributing commodified knowledge and learning experiences? Isn’t the very structure of the academy’s discourse (including its means of sharing and questioning ideas (i.e., journal publications, conferences)) founded on exclusivity? What purpose would, as Rose discusses, inviting students into a conversation serve if this conversation may be out of their reach, financially/socially?


  4. Mike Rose argues in both an interview and an overview in his work Lives on the Boundary that any student that has been labeled as a “failure,” remedial, or any similar term is “full of potential” that goes largely unacknowledged. Rose seems particularly interested in both how he himself and others view themselves when labeled as “remedial.” Rose analyzes both Laura and Bobby, as discussed in Chapter 1, and how they respond and react to the demands, expectations, and assumptions associated within and about education. Laura repeatedly took an English course for fear of being “muted by the goddess Grammatica” with any nonstandard English she dared to write (2). Bobby, another student, was particularly successful as a high school student but is described as under-prepared to think and engage in the discourse expected of students in his courses at UCLA. Both students are depicted, I believe intentionally, as self-conscious, under confident and do not view themselves as deserving or prepared to be engaged in academic discourse.

    This same sentiment is demonstrated in Rose’s own experience as a high school student who was put into a vocational track at his high school when his exam results were confused with another student’s. He describes these remedial classes as the following: “They open their textbooks and see once again the familiar and impenetrable formulas and diagrams and terms that have stumped them for years. There is no excitement here. No excitement. Regardless of what the teacher says, this is not a new challenge. There is, rather, embarrassment and frustration and, not surprisingly, some anger in being reminded once again of long-standing inadequacies. No wonder so many students finally attribute their difficulties to something inborn, organic: ‘That part of my brain just doesn’t work.” Given the troubling histories many of these students have, it’s miraculous that any of them can lift the shroud of hopelessness sufficiently to make de-liverance from these classes possible” (4). He discusses his observations from his short lived experience in that track where he briefly also mentions Ken Harvey and his statement that stayed with Rose: “I just want to be average.” Harvey is described as attempting to “protect” himself from the feelings Laura and Bobby portray that are occur when students are labeled as under-performing or incapable of meeting academic standards. Rose calls for an entirely new language and perhaps cultural shift to happen in high schools and universities in order to address the growing demographics of education and engage students democratically: to give all students and not those who are just deemed as adequate with power, voice, and agency.

    Similarly, Royster uses personal narrative and experiences to question scholars and instructors on how to effectively listen to one another and students. As a female African American scholar, Royster calls for scholars to meaningfully “talk back” and not just “talk also” with one another (38). Written in the mid 1990s, Royster describes her experiences as an academic being ignored, silenced, or needing to defend her experience and research because of her identity. She describes similar emotions these experiences have caused her (and rightfully so) that perhaps could be one way to tie her article with Rose’s discussion of students in remedial courses. In different ways, both texts examine how instructors can listen to students (or scholars listen to peers) in ways that validate them as human beings, as manifestations of vastly diverse experiences, and as academics. While I don’t mean to imply at all that Rose’s experience in a vocational track and discussion of his working-class background is or can be equated with Royster’s personal and academic experience as a Black scholar, they do both seem to be calling for scholars to question the implications of instructors’ and students’ reactions to such labels in respect to ever-present hegemonic power dynamics within education.

    What language and values can we demonstrate as instructors within the classroom that value and encourage students’ experiences and voices (or should we?)? How can we balance that with the ever nagging question of power and authority with the teacher-student dynamic? And considering race, gender, class, ability, sexuality and other factors of identity in relation to Royster’s article, how much does subjectivity take ownership or authority of knowledge over academic objectivity in the classroom?


  5. Problems within the University: Gatekeeping, Remedial/Vocational Courses, and Being “Average:”

    “Our Schools and Our Children” touches on an aspect quite familiar to many of us with the discipline of first year writing: power dynamics and gatekeeping. This essay’s telling metaphor of “Grammatica” and its “squinting figure who breathes up to her side whenever she sits down to write” (2) gives insight to the fear many students have. Students want so badly to find their way into the academic discourse and attempt to not only acquire the language but mimic the academy. But how practical is this for the University to expect? Often times, as the controlling metaphor suggests, the actual fear of writing persists over any ability to write the students may possess. In the case of Dr. Gunner’s “English A” course, the students are there because they are labelled underprepared, remedial, and illiterate. These stereotypical categories create boundaries that prevent the students from fully learning. Often times, these remedial courses are used as another form of gatekeeping—protecting the university from the “illiterates.”
    Universities aren’t only frustrated (and dare I say scared?) of those who are labelled remedial; they’re confused as to what to do with “them.” As Mike Rose points out, vocational education is another track where students who “can’t write” are placed: “the vocational track, however, is most often a place for those who are just not making it, a dumping ground for the disaffected” (2). The disaffected, the underprepared, the illiterate—these are all gatekeeping terms that widen the gap between higher education/universities and students. Rose problematizes the school system, stating that the failure of the students is “the system’s” fault for creating students that are fearful, bored, and confused. It seems an even larger problem is at hand: what are the universities supposed to do? Students often assert that they don’t want to be pushed into a track that they aren’t interested in; therefore, vocational education is often times a wonderful outlet for students. Yet, Mike Rose finds issue with these vocational programs. Are they dumping grounds, or simply educational programs inefficiently implemented?

    More on the “Authentic” Voice:

    Once again, Royster brings us face to face with the haunting term of authenticity. Royster’s three separate accounts/events enlightened my understanding of what it means to possess authenticity. Royster engages us with a definition by quoting bell hooks: “a necessary aspect of self-affirmation not to feel compelled to choose once voice over another, not to claim on as more authentic, but rather to construct social realities that celebrate, acknowledge, and affirm differences, variety.” As a teacher, how do we decide what is acceptable if we have not lived the same experiences as our students? Do we have this right? Should we not listen to their accounts of which they hold moral authority on? If a student uses their “authentic voice,” do we [teachers] have the authority to “correct” them based off our understanding of what should be standard written English?


  6. Rose reveals some of the ways in which the American school system can lead students away from a successful future based purely on assessment. By labeling students with terms such as “remedial” and “basic writers,” our schools place expectations and limits on the students. In Rose’s heartbreaking example, students and parents may not have a complete understanding of how the school places students in particular classes. In his other piece, Rose relates how the term “remedial” brings a particular connotation demeaning the student and their academic abilities. One student, Laura, continually dropped remedial English because of the extreme panic she felt when thinking about the standard CTR practices. Laura thought she would “make lots of mistakes and look stupid,” and this shame she felt was a direct reaction to the label “remedial” English (1). Having these programs in place sets up the expectation that students in “remedial” courses will not succeed.

    Many high schools have programs such as honors and advanced placement (AP) to separate students with “advanced academic abilities” that typically come with life changing privileges. Students in these special “advanced” programs have instructors who fight to teach their classes. Jonathan Kozol continually questions the role of a teacher in schools that are underfunded and where the students have very low assessment averages. In one powerful message about a young girl facing racial adversity, Kozol asks, “How can you begin to teach this kind of child?” One teacher, Jack MacFarland, pushed Rose to look beyond the hyper masculine world around him to see “a critical perspective on society” and “beyond the limiting boundaries of South Vermont”(7). MacFarland worked very hard as an instructor; however, he probably did not teach students placed in vocational courses. How can teachers reach students placed in vocational courses based purely on a required assessment? In what other ways can these assessments segregate students?

    Rose clearly voices a problem, but he does not provide a solution. Royster also questions the role of a teacher in the classroom and the teacher’s voice. She advocates for the voices of students that are not heard while also suggesting, “we must learn to raise a politically active voice with a socially responsible mandate to make a rightful place for education in a country that seems always ready to place the needs of quality education on the sideboard instead of on the table” (39). How can we as teachers push students faced with adversity based on race, gender, sexuality, and overall “academic” ability to succeed?


  7. 3/1/17
    The back-to-basics movement that Mark Rose describes is triggered by the idea that more and more students are illiterate. The concept of “functional literacy” has changed in the past one-hundred years. A century ago, a fourth grade education granted one a literate status (6). Fast-forward to the writing of this article, and high school graduation is often the basis for literacy. As a result, the “truly illiterate” are subject to the horrors of Grammatica. I must say, Rose’s depiction of the grammar-correct beast as a mythological creature was quite enjoyable. Now, it’s equally terrifying descendent, Curricula, has reared its head into the writing program and academia as a whole: “we half find and half create a curriculum and deploy it in a way that blinds us to the true difficulties and inequities in the ways we educate our children” (7). I speculate that this hazardous phenomenon is due to an over-tendency to rely on numbers and statistics for information, not actual students. Perhaps it is an issue of power that results in those residing in the upper echelon of the university that are making decisions for students they do not even know, let alone see and interact with in a classroom setting. I cannot assume that all writing program directors, like Mike Rose at UCLA, are as involved with their students as he is.
    I enjoyed reading Mike Rose’s articles and watching his interview because he embodies the voice of one who was an unfortunate victim of the placement process. He writes and speaks from a perspective that he lives and represents. He is not some disembodied study published in an NCTE article. Rather, he is an example of Jacqueline Jones Royster’s argument regarding authentic voice. Royster’s discussion of cross-boundary discourse is an issue that stems from a larger issue of power. Those in positions of power lend a helping hand to “muted voices” in the classroom (36). And it does not always have to be rooted in race (as Royster seems to suggest but not say outright), but any opinion or view that acts as a voice of dissent from the accepted viewpoint of the classroom/university is listened to but not always heard. Many times it is simply endured and the discussion quickly shifted. In terms of institutions and their relationship with power, I turn my focus to Royster’s quote: “Too often, still, institutionalized equations for placement, positive matriculation, progress and achievement, categorize, rank and file, while our true-to-life students fall between the cracks” (38). Students like Mike Rose.
    Before ending this post, I think it important (and worthwhile) to mention that we have all had a Jack MacFarland in our lives: someone who inspired us to read, write, teach, etc. We may not all come from a vocational track like Rose; however, our MacFarland convinced us to move beyond average.
    What are some of the best-suited pedagogies that should be used in a basic writing classroom? How do we make the class about the individual students and not our personal preferences of an endless stream of theories (critical, feminist, collaborate, etc.) that may not actually be effective for each individual student? If we can agree that writing is not a one-size-fits-all activity, why not make the class about the students instead of a theory cited in researcher’s articles?
    Royster refers to the term “hybrid people” (37). Just for clarification, what is a hybrid person?


    1. Nick, I cannot resist answering your question about “hybrid people.” What Royster refers to is the term of hybridity that comes from postcolonial theories. She even mentions the theorists: Anzaldua, Spivak, Mohanty, and Bhabha. Hybridity, or “hybrid people,” is the result of the interaction of cultures that creates blended ones, mixtures of the native and “colonial.” The hybridity that Royster discusses, as far as I understand, comes from the interaction of African culture and American culture.


  8. Interestingly enough, Mike Rose’s essay “I Just Wanna Be Average” provides a glimpse into a life of a young boy, of the author himself, stuck in the “vocational education” track – “a euphemism for the bottom level” (1). Taught by underprepared and incompetent instructors, this track provides children with “dead-end” skills. While Rose does not explicitly refer to this course as the one that perpetuates inequality, Ira Shor’s article “Our Apartheid: Writing Instruction and Inequality” gives an account of what this type of course accomplishes. Despite the fact that “vocational education,” which Rose refers to, happens in high school, I believe that there are similarities between this track and what Shor discusses – Basic Writing (BW) course. While these courses are implemented on different stages of education, both are directed to non-elite students. Moreover, these courses do not prepare students for the future academic life. What is even worse, these types of courses perpetuate inequality on the institutional level, which makes them truly “apartheid-like.” By illustrating the lack of adequate instruction in “vocational education” track, Rose makes it clear that students cannot be possibly prepared for college after completing the track. Similarly, Shor argues that by implementing BW courses, colleges slow down students’ progress toward a degree, preventing them from earning higher wages.
    By illustrating his own experience on the boundaries of the classroom, Mike Rose presents the reality of classroom. In his essay “Our Schools and Our Children,” the author calls public to focus not on the statistics that are taken out of social and historical context but rather on real needs of students who were labeled as “slow learners,” “remedial,” and “vocational” (8). He mentions that it was “apprenticeship” that has ignited his interest to learning. Similarly, Nancy Sommers argues that teachers should engage their students and create an apprenticeship with them. So my question is: how does one create an apprenticeship-like relationships with students? How does one evoke the feeling of what Emile Zola refers to as “Oh! the sweet apprenticeship, the charming observations, the delicious discoveries”? Another question: Royster talks about “better practices in our classrooms” that should be aimed to voicing that is not only well-spoken but also well-heard. What does she mean by “better practices”? Contact zones in every classroom?


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