Lost Voice

I haven’t written about teaching writing lately-I think because I’m not teaching this year. Maybe I’ll post a few thoughts about what it’s like to have been teaching for forty-five years–and then not.

I’ll focus on the social complications of teaching. I’m writing a book about my experiences and have come up against this contradiction: literacy is clearly a way of maintaining social class structures. This claim seems so self-evident that I don’t want to argue it. It also seems self-evident that most of our protocols for teaching in our required writing programs reinforce social-class reproduction. How could they not?

But learning how to engage in dominant class literacy is also the way in for those who were born out. Again, this claim seems self-evident. People born into the lower social rankings have to adopt the discourse habits of the ruling classes to gain entrance into Burke’s parlor.

I recently wrote a response to a dissertation chapter of an intelligent graduate student. Her message was smart: she was identifying the ways in which teaching practices reify social class privileges. I have written too much about this, so I can only say, duh? Professors are privileged, and we find ways of supporting our claims of privilege (think WaW). I will have to say this is more the case for the privileged classes in our field than in the oppressed classes: the ones who teach two classes a semester versus those who teach four or five.

My friend’s chapter wasn’t bad writing; it was just the writing one does to assert that he or she had done the required (documented) reading. By inserting these references, my friend lost her voice. She was, in fact, producing a dissertation.

Well, there it is. That’s the way it goes. I hate to add the obvious: We change as a consequence of learning how to write a dissertation (see Jeff Schmidt, Disciplined Minds). And we change as we learn how to write articles that will get published and move us toward tenure and full professorship. Somewhere toward the end of our careers, we might look back to reflect on where we were and where we ended. But as a consequence of where we ended, we no longer understand where we were.

I should stop here. I wrote to my friend that I hoped (and I think she would) get her PhD and a good position. I think she will. But I don’t want her to lose her voice. But . . .

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *