Saturday, April 12, 2008

Working Class Students and Writing

Jessica Fentress

This bibliography focuses on the potential differences that exist between the writing of working class students and their more affluent peers. I seek to provide teachers, my future self included, with a list of characteristics that may need to be taken into account when teaching composition to students of the working class. I also wish to illuminate some of the discussion about preferred pedagogies to help students of the working class succeed in the composition classroom. Other teachers of working class students would be interested in this research. I sought to include newer sources or sources that provided me with the most overview of the unique challenges faced by working class students and their teachers.

Lindquist, Julie. “Class Affects Classroom Affectations: Working Through the Paradoxes of Strategic Empathy.” College English. 67.2 (2004): 187-209. JSTOR. JSTOR. U Dayton, Roesch Lib. 1 April 2008 .

In this article, Lindquist, a professor at Michigan State University, critiques the critical/cultural studies approach to teaching composition, saying that, with its emphasis on sound reason at the expense of emotion, this approach alienates working class students who have been socialized to understand their worlds through emotions and personal experiences. She maintains that class is as much of an emotional reality as it is a “problem of distribution of resources.” She states that current critical/cultural studies pedagogies may study class as a thematic category, but do not take into account the unique perspectives of students who are working class and ignore “what is at stake for students in accepting new ways of interpreting their lives.” She calls for a pedagogy in which the teachers’ role is not one of critiquing students as “honest skeptics,” but one of “strategic performance” in which teachers work “to tactically position themselves as conduits for students’ affective responses to the paradoxes of nostalgia and ambition in working-class experiences.”

Poole, Millicent. “Socioeconomic Status and Written Language.” The Psychology of Written Language. Ed. Margaret Martlew. New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1983. 335-375.

While this book chapter is a bit old, I felt that it served as a good basis for understanding how people conceptualized class differences in writing prior to 1983. It is a very well-referenced review of literature and meta-analysis that closely examines previous research and attempts to draw a conclusion about whether or not differences between classes exist in written English. While I thought that the overview of the research presented was very informative, I was unable to understand why, after pages of listing studies that indicate differences between the classes, Poole draws the conclusion that there is no conclusive evidence that differences between the classes exist. The article is useful, however, as an overview of research findings and problems with the methodologies used by previous researchers, and it illustrates some of the debate that faces composition teachers by discussing whether or not to value a working class dialectical difference and how to value that difference while still allowing working class students to have complete access to predominantly middle-class employment and educational institutions.

Seitz, David. “Making Work Visable: Reconsidering Working Class Students’ Instrumentalist Motives.” College English. 67.2 (2004): 210-221. JSTOR. JSTOR. U Dayton, Roesch Lib. 1 April 2008 .

This article discusses the fact that working class students may be incorrectly perceived in a cultural/critical studies classroom as refusing to participate in class discussions or lacking in critical thought. Seitz, an English professor at Wright State University, states that in the “work narratives” that he has his working class students compose there are common themes of control (or lack thereof), and a common emotion of pain related to the physical pain experienced by the students’ parents. Seitz discusses the fact that his working class students favor inductive reasoning, drawing conclusions from their life experiences. He also states that, while critical/cultural studies instructors generally criticize working class students for using cliché phrases, these phrases are in fact part of a coping system that empowers and sustains those students. Seitz advocates a critical/cultural studies pedagogy that takes into account that students from the working class may have different motives for their education, and therefore may react differently in the classroom.

Shor, Ira. “Illegal Literacy.” Journal of Basic Writing 19.1(2000): 100-112.

In this article, Shor, rather angrily, claims that current composition instruction works to protect the elite and uphold social inequality. Shor accuses a formalist pedagogy that focuses on skills learning of forcing assimilation of working class or minority students or excluding them from the learning process by making them take remedial courses that charge tuition, but do not grant them any credits. Shor’s main attack in this article is on formal language policies that limit student ability to be fully integrated into traditional composition classrooms because they limit the classes they can take based on biased standardized tests. Shor strongly advocates a critical cultural studies pedagogy that allows students to come to terms with their own class differences and recognize what he calls the “regime” intent upon maintaining, in his words, “white supremacy.” While Shor, a professor of English at the City University of New York, presents a convincing argument, I was left wondering what proof he had that the policies to be implemented there in 2001 were truly intended to limit the advancement opportunities of minority and working class students.

Tingle, Nick. “Opinion: The Vexation of Class.” College English. 67.2 (2004): 222-230. JSTOR. JSTOR. U Dayton, Roesch Lib. 1 April 2008 .

In this opinion piece, Tingle, an English lecturer at Santa Barbara, responds to and summarizes other people’s research, inserting his own working class experiences. He also shows how that experience affects his view of the academic discourse community and the way that he instructs his classes. Tingle describes coming into the academy as a “mysterious and implacable ‘reality’ to which, if I wish to succeed, I had to conform. Not to have done so would have amounted to self-betrayal.” He also discusses how the mimicry that is required to enter the academic discourse community is a mimicry that requires two things: that the students do not mimic their professors enough to steal their power, and that it may cause students to hate themselves and their roots and therefore become less efficacious in the university. Tingle cites research that states that working class students may have difficulty questioning authority or exhibiting their own abilities. Tingle insists that working class students who enter the university must not be forced to adhere to middle class standards, he says “they will be lost enough in their new social environs without being instructed through pedagogies that stress ‘realistic’ adjustment to middle class conceptions of academic discourse.” Although this article is labeled an opinion piece, I feel as if it was better researched than many other articles. In addition, I appreciated Tingle’s honesty and thought that his experiences as both a student and a teacher could be enlightening when trying to study class differences in language.

No comments: