I’m dedicated to teaching students how to critically engage with works that challenge the all-too-common, white-imagined narratives regarding Black, Brown, Indigenous, Queer identities and self-consciousness while also challenging some of the problematic thoughts they have taken in as “normal." (what’s that?)
Composition is power, whether we recognize it or not; this is one of my core beliefs that I work to instill in those I teach while I guide them through engagement and creation of texts. It’s important for students, as composers, to know that we are always creating for an end, for a reason. I am only binary in one instance: the work we produce has the potential to effectively fight against normative social orders or perpetuate them. In my courses, I work to teach students how to fight against them. I take the political stance to make them aware of knowledges and discourses that are far too often disregarded in academia. Therefore, I introduce a variety of texts-- written, visual, or auditory-- that are situated in different contexts. Many of the texts that we will close read will share experiences, thoughts, and languages from Black, Brown, Indigenous, Queer, Disabled, Immigrant writers, thinkers, and creators. We will engage in texts that experiment with language and style, resists hegemony, and express ways of life are by and large not included in the white, western canon that academia loves so much.
I believe deeply in “mindful reading,” taken from Ellen Carillo, as a significant form of engagement with cultural products. This concept is a way to approach teaching methods that will allow “students [to] become knowledgeable, deliberate, and reflective about how they read,” or engage and thereby create (117). There is an emphasis on the metacognitive framework as a way to reject certain standardize ways of performing in (and outside of) education. Standardization has a way of becoming thoughtless— like programmed algorithms. My underlying ideology is rooted in the idea that engagement with texts is something that cannot be regimented but requires critical thinking of the many “what could this text men?” To get at the meaning, we need to realize that modes of communications are so closely related and dependent upon its peoples, cultures, places, etc. In short, it aligns with Laura Micciche’s idea of teaching composition as “critical thinking and cultural critique” (717-18). I gave a lesson on the social responsibility of writing via engaging with Audre Lorde’s “The Transformation of Silence in Power.” I wanted to get my students to think about the cultural influences that are embedded (consciously or not) in their work and the ramification of circulation certain cultural thoughts. I believe my student appreciated that lesson, and they began to create works that were socially conscious. Their work began to speak to cultures or peoples or larger moments, never for them.
Along with understanding that we, composers, should be very mindful in how we read, understand, and create, I think it’s helpful to bring in Roland Barthe’s concept of “air.” By interacting with the concept, I can have students understand the fluidity of rhetorical meaning in cultural texts. “Air” is the dynamic, dialogical exchange between what is “evident” (the naming of the element in a text) and what is “improbable” (the meaning, or what is arguable and can only really be speculated) (107). And it’s the air that I want my students to acknowledge and ethically situate their analyses and arguments within. Air flows, shifts, and change, through each situation it enters— making concrete meaning and fixed argumentation nonexistent. Such engagement can provide a sense of freedom because finding and creating arguments require a deep study of a particular culture and to critically think about the best ways to connect and convey meaning. Which is at the heart of composition.
Another core belief that drives my teaching methodology and selection of texts is that different modes, languages, and contexts help students understand the lessons, materials, and situation. I often use interdisciplinary analyses for the sake of clarity; I can explain how different types of texts demonstrate similar concepts using different modes of close reading. I developed an interdisciplinary pedagogical approach that benefits from interdisciplinary readings through the Southern Word Organization, a community of predominantly Black and Brown writers who work to educate young students in the literary arts. We were not just humanities based writers, but worked across disciplines. As both students and instructors, I found that we understood ideas better when we had multiple avenues to explore the idea. I intend to teach my students how to observe the literary and visual creative spheres in a way that show how they influence and reflect one another. I develop assignments that will show students how to integrate seemingly disparate aspects of cultural texts and the meaning behind those text.
It’s important to know that I’m not anyone’s composition savior. And I do not run any course as if I am. I strongly believe that writing is process that even I have not fully develop, and probably never will. I stress to students that writing is not something that can be mastered at any time. Rather we are constantly responding to situations that are like “air,” never constant. Therefore I think it’s important to have students understand that I can’t give them the answers, but what I can do is show them strategies that I have develop throughout my writing career that may help them. After all, my writing strategies are just a conglomeration of my multiple writing instructors throughout my undergraduate and graduate experience.
In saying that, I also believe that my students have a voice, I want to help them find it— not create it for them. Students are not as novice as they think they are and I want to interrupt that frame of thought when they enter into the class. I’m not interested in micromanaging my students' thoughts by forcing them to only engage with a text in the way I have engaged with it. I want my students to engage in complex, unorthodox ways so that they can think outside of tradition. I remember being constantly regimented on strict grammar and effective writing rules in school, and I want my student to rid themselves of that philosophy when they see fit. Sometimes I find students are hesitant-- fearful, it seems at times-- of breaking those rules. However, humans aren’t categories, and we don’t always communicate the same meanings, the same way. It’s important for students to create with that idea in mind.
My view on engagement with contemporary cultural texts is influenced by Nina Simone statement: “An artist’s duty, as far as I’m concerned, is to reflect the times.” I want students to see the different ways others have captured their views about what is happening around them. I also want students to understand how their work will inevitably do the same because as Simone continues, “You can’t help it.” So I find it important to have them contemplate ways that they contribute to those worldviews by engaging with cultural products that have a FUBU policy (for us, by us— never speaking for people) while they always have a check on their positionality.
Barthes, Roland. Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography. 1st American pbk. ed., Hill and Wang, 1982.
Carillo, Ellen C. Securing a Place for Reading in Composition: the Importance of Teaching for Transfer. Utah State University Press, 2015.
Micciche, Laura R. “Making a Case for Rhetorical Grammar.” College Composition and Communication, vol. 55, no. 4, 2004, pp. 716–737.