Session 10: Bad Ideas About Writing (Excerpts)

Ricki’s selection of essays from Bad Ideas About Writing focused on writing teachers and, well, the bad ideas that people have about them and about the field of writing studies in general. The first essay, “You’re Going to Need This for College,” as well as the last essay, “Anyone Can Teach Writing” mesh well together and call to mind some of our previous discussions. These essays speak about the problems with the English curriculum in both high school and college. “You’re Going to Need This for College” discusses issues with the high school English curriculum and how it often places a great emphasis on continued college education instead of focusing on the here and now, helping students to learn how to write well whether or not they intend to continue on to college. This essay also tied in with “Secondary School English Teachers Should Only be Taught Literature” which expands on another problem in high school English courses: the teachers are taught how to teach literature to students, but not to teach students how to write. This is not a problem with the teachers themselves but with the education system. “Anyone Can Teach Writing” helps to talk about the reflection of these problems in colleges: adjuncts, who often have little training in teaching writing, are paid and treated poorly and made to teach introductory college writing courses. If students are not being taught how to write by people who are trained to teach them such things, in both high school and college, then it’s no wonder that college professors complain about students writing capabilities.

“Dual-Enrollment Writing Courses Should Always be Pursued” was interesting to me for its emphasis on the differences between a high school English class versus a college-level one. This should be required reading for any (college professor!) theorist who is going to posit solutions for high-school-level English classes without actually teaching any. The things that work well in college-level courses often cannot even be implemented in high-school-level courses because of the curriculum and the constraints of the modern education system.

The two articles that I found most interesting (given our current global situation) also go hand-in-hand with each other: “Face-to-Face Courses are Superior to Online Courses” and “Anyone Can Teach an Online Writing Course.” In the wake of the pandemic, most if not all of us in the class experienced either taking or teaching (or both!) online classes. The problem with these courses is that we were unprepared and that we didn’t make the decision ourselves. I agree with the idea in “Face-to-Face…” that online writing courses can be just as effective as in-person ones. I still learned a great deal in my online courses during the pandemic. The problem comes, though, with difficulties paying attention and with professors being unsure how to teach an online course because they weren’t given training for it. I didn’t choose to take online courses, so I had problems paying full attention during them. My professors didn’t choose to teach online courses, so many of them didn’t have the skills talked about in “Face-to-Face….” And, as “Anyone Can Teach…” tells us, teaching online (writing courses in this essay, but honestly any course at all) requires special training and education. Being forced to take and teach online courses out of necessity was surely a burden to us all, even though I agree that online courses can be enriching, fulfilling, and the best option for some students.

Thoughts on Our Group Project Final

I’m excited to begin working with everyone on our final! We came up with a lot of good ideas in our last class, and I think our overall discussion about what’s important to us and what we want to focus on was fruitful. I love our remix idea, and whether we decide to go with that OR decide to pursue a different path, I have no doubt that we’re going to make something exciting. I hope that everyone is able to express their interests and thoughts in our final, and that we ultimately can make something everyone enjoys working on and is proud of.

Session 9: Pedagogy of the Oppressed (Chapter 1)

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Paulo Freire’s work this week. Pedagogy of the Oppressed gave me a lot of knowledge and a lot of ideas to “chew on” and work with. In fact, I was underlining and annotating my paper as I read because I found myself that invested in the work, eager to understand as much as possible. Freire’s work, in my opinion, strikes a beautiful balance between being rich in theory and being easily understood, and his pedagogical ideas, I can see, are deeply influential even today.

I find a lot of merit in Freire’s idea that humanization is “the people’s vocation.” I can think of no better goal for humankind than to work toward the freedom and justice of all people, and Freire posits that this very thing is the overarching goal of all humankind, right at the beginning of Chapter 1. We can see right at the start that, more than only a theory about education, Freire’s pedagogy is a sort of philosophy on life and humanity as well.

The main idea of Chapter 1 is the fact that, with the overarching goal of humanity being humanization, the only ones who can work towards and achieve this goal are the oppressed and those who are truly in solidarity with them. The work must be led by the oppressed, and those who wish to work alongside them must, rather than being paternalistic and “looking down” on them/patronizing, trust the oppressed and follow their lead. This is an idea that is echoed today, often expressed in the term of majority groups amplifying the voices of minority groups, not speaking over them or attempting to speak for them. Those in power must give the oppressed a “seat at the table” and allow them to speak for themselves and advocate for themselves, not try and do so for them (which, ultimately, as Freire describes, keeps the current oppressive class system intact, harming the oppressed and benefiting the oppressors.)

Freire posits that, during the initial stages of struggle, the oppressed often strive to become like their oppressor, because that is their model of humanity. The example I had in my head for this was as follows: a poor man strives to become like his boss, because he sees his wealth and control over others as success and he, too, wants to become successful. However, in order to become like his boss, this man too becomes an oppressor, treating those under him poorly and hoarding his wealth because that is the example he saw of a “successful” man. We see cases like this a lot today, however, I think we do recognize it as being wrong; think about the movies you’ve seen or stories you’ve read and heard where the above example is the plot, and where the once-poor man realizes the error of his ways and sees that he has to start treating people better and caring less about his wealth. Despite some kind of internal recognition that greed and the mistreatment of others are wrong, though, people keep doing it. There is still the struggle of wanting to “become” the oppressor, of chasing the mainstream idea of a successful human. This moving of roles, though, from oppressed to oppressor, is not an authentic solution to the problem at hand. Instead, both parties must be liberated, by the hand of the oppressed groups seeking humanity.

Something else that really resonated with me is the idea that even once the issue starts to be authentically resolved, with the oppressed fighting for and gaining their humanity, the former oppressors will start to feel oppressed themselves instead of realizing that both groups are now more liberated. Freire states “conditioned by the experience of oppressing others, any situation other than their former seems to them like oppression. Formerly, they could eat, dress, wear shoes, be educated, travel, and hear Beethoven; while millions did not eat, had no clothes or shoes, neither studied nor traveled, much less
listened to Beethoven. Any restriction on this way of life, in the name of the rights of the community, appears to the former oppressors as a profound violation of their individual rights.” This reminds me of how members of majority groups today complain about minority groups fighting for equal rights. Some straight people will complain that the LGBTQ+ community is “taking over everything,” some white people complain about the Black Lives Matter movement, asking “what about white lives?” These people and others like them miss the point that minority groups have not enjoyed the rights, safety, protections, and freedoms that the majority groups always have. They don’t realize that equal rights are not in finite supply; everyone can and should have them, and everyone should keep fighting until those rights are afforded to all.

There was a part of this chapter that confused me a bit, though I think I may have worked through it. The part is as follows:

The pedagogy of the oppressed, animated by authentic, humanist
(not humanitarian) generosity, presents itself as a pedagogy of
humankind. Pedagogy which begins with the egoistic interests of
the oppressors (an egoism cloaked in the false generosity of paternalism) and makes of the oppressed the objects of its humanitarianism,
itself maintains and embodies oppression. It is an instrument of
dehumanization. This is why, as we affirmed earlier, the pedagogy
of the oppressed cannot be developed or practiced by the oppressors. It would be a contradiction in terms if the oppressors not only
defended but actually implemented a liberating education.

Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, page 54

I was specifically confused about the last two sentences. Of course, I agreed that the pedagogy could not be developed by oppressors; to be truthful, effective, and humanized, it had to be developed by those who were oppressed. However, I was confused by the notion that oppressors could not practice the pedagogy, either, and that they could not defend or implement a liberating education. Isn’t that the ultimate goal, I asked myself? For mainstream education to make use of this pedagogy in order to start breaking down the walls of oppression? Then I realized…those who are still in an oppressor mindset cannot practically teach a liberating education. In order for one to do so, one has to step out of the role of oppressor and come and work alongside the oppressed, amplifying their voices and following their lead. This, I think, is what Freire meant. It is not that educators who are part of the majority group cannot implement this pedagogy, but rather that they first must be transformed out of their role of the oppressor (even if this transformation requires not a physical change but a mental one) before they can be considered no longer oppressors but allies to the oppressed and therefore appropriately implement a liberating education.

So, these have been (some of!) my thoughts on Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Again, I found the reading extremely insightful and will probably aim to read the rest of the book in my free time, because though I don’t intend to become an educator, I think this is important information to know nonetheless if simply to become a better human being.

Session 8: Teaching to Transgress and We Been Knowin

Chapter 3 of “Teaching to Transgress” by bell hooks was an enlightening read. On one hand, it’s sad to see that, though this was written years ago, our education system still has many of the same problems regarding teaching in a multicultural setting. On the other hand, though, the existence of scholarship such as that of Dr. April Baker-Bell shows that people are carrying on bell hooks’ work and ideals and are continuing to push for changes in the system.

I found the series of seminars that bell hooks and Chandra Mohanty held at Oberlin to be an excellent idea. hooks talks about the intent to raise critical consciousness, to have a space for constructive confrontation and critical interrogation, and to have a setting for people to voice fears and to discuss what they’re doing, how they’re doing it, and why they’re doing it, all in order to help these people shift their paradigms around more inclusive teaching. This all feels especially important today; you can see just by looking at news channels or social media how defensive people get over their mistakes today. When a mistake is pointed out, there’s a huge tendency to become defensive and double down on that mistake rather than accepting the criticism, apologizing, and aiming to improve. These spaces that hooks and Mohanty created seem to aim to move past this defensiveness and help people to actually learn and grow.

hooks mentioned how she and Mohanty felt greatly disappointed when the meetings concluded because they saw just how much work would have to be done, how much the faculty would have to unlearn racism to create and appreciate a new sort of education. They were definitely right in their realization that much work would have to be done, however it is a good thing that hooks, her contemporaries, and educators today continue to pursue this goal. Baker-Bell’s “We Been Knowin: Toward an Antiracist Language &
Literacy Education” gives some examples that clarify why this work is so important.

Baker-Bell’s parents did not finish high school because of negative racial experiences, taught by teachers who believed and upheld racist stereotypes of black students. Baker-Bell herself felt the white-centeredness of the education system when school offered her no opportunity to process the racial violence she’d seen in the police murder of Malice Green. Stories and experiences such as these have led her to pursue questions such as how can she produce anti-racist scholarship and what does racial and linguistic justice look like in literary/language education? She goes on to describe some antiracist critical media literacies such as digital activism as well as a discussion of Black English and how student’s should not be forced away from their own language, in this case a language that is often not even recognized as one. I am reminded of Vershawn Ashanti Young’s work “Should Writer’s Use They Own English?” (link) in which he discusses the harm that standard language ideology does to minorities in academia and how it serves to gatekeep many from entering the field. Young’s work is an excellent and insightful piece that I highly recommend to anyone interested in these ideas of multicultural scholarship/anti-racist scholarship/anti-racist language and literacy education.