Composition Forum 19, Spring 2009
“Who Taught You Like That!?” A Study of Communicative Role Models and Academic Literacy Skills
Abstract: Studying the communicative role models of my freshman composition students at a historically black school, I learned which rhetorical approaches my students already appreciate and possibly bring with them to college. My analysis of their essays on their role models illuminates a distinction between what they have learned and what they are expected to practice as college writers, suggesting that their communicative role models are significant indicators for how comfortably they will adjust to writing in college. I discovered that those students who admire personas who project with a forceful, “true,” inner confidence, frequently learned from hip-hop culture, could be deflated in an academic setting if they are not taught the necessity of adjusting oneself to the rhetorical situation.
If you ever attend a convocation at an historically black college, you’re likely to experience eloquent prayers, well-trained singers, speeches imbued with cultural pride—trademark performances of the HBCU tradition. You may also see attendant lines of robed faculty and administrators, led by flags and a scepter. At the HBCU where I taught for ten years the community gathered this way fives times a year.
About six years ago, the school invited author J. California Cooper to speak. The introducing dean presented her as an important African-American contributor to contemporary letters, distinguishing her with the academic language he would use to extol any invited guest. However, Ms. Cooper never assumed that persona. Wearing jeans and a leather vest, she walked the edge of the stage talking with the students about their families, their relationships, their dreams. She hit on many of the themes we usually heard from behind the podium, but she spoke in a way they could identify with. She was “real,” and the students cheered and clapped and laughed throughout.
When the dean stood up for his closing comments, his stern face framed by his academic regalia did not match the exhilaration in the auditorium. He couldn’t bring himself to take the position behind the podium; instead, he stood next to it and put down his prepared comments. Extemporaneously, he tried to bridge the time-honored world of academic respectability and the ubiquitous pressure of popular culture to “keep it real.” The students left quoting Cooper.
We all know that academic and popular culture collide regularly on our campuses. But the forces depicted above reveal fundamental differences in the way our students have been educated. And I’m not just talking about school. The neighbor, uncle, minister, parent, music star they learn communication skills from shape how well they will fit into the academic tradition. In many cases, the different sets of influences students bring to college contribute to the divide between the literate and semi-illiterate.
Over the past several years, I have studied my students’ communicative role models, their primary teachers for making themselves understood by others. I discovered that many of my students admired figures who were at odds with the literacy I had been hired to teach them.
The data I collected from seventy-three students dug out the students’ rhetorical influences: Whose language skills do they find particularly effective? Why do they respect those skills? Whose skills do they follow or who would they want to emulate? Among the results, two, key models emerged: people who demanded respect, such as parents and teachers; and “honest speaking” people, such as friends and rap stars. Of the twenty percent who claimed their largest influence from those who were “real” and spoke their own truths, about half struggled with the class or failed. The nearly sixty percent who followed models espousing the effectiveness of authority reflected the higher performers. Generally speaking, these two types of students had different ways of orienting to the class. Unlike those who admired the authoritative source of a message, students who valued honesty saw little need for detail, elaboration—or most writing lessons, for that matter. They also saw little need for reading. And one can see the logic behind this perspective: why should a message be adjusted—or even written down, for that matter—if its power is in its original, oral expression? From the results of my research, I see how some of my students’ communicative role models provide a training that values the effectiveness of spoken over written words, putting them at a disadvantage for learning academic writing.
Academic professionals have set the rhetorical standard practiced in college. And, of course, it takes many years of concentrated effort for anyone to learn how to enter the conversations occupying any discipline. Though the elements of academic discourse may be found outside of universities, no home teaches a child that standard. Every home environment establishes its own rhetorical tradition. And what convinces one set of parents might fall flat when tried on the parents next door.
The students who wrote about their communicative role models in my classes depict rhetorical traditions that differ in many ways from the academic standard. Aspects of a contemporary African-American rhetorical tradition are displayed. It is not surprising that different cultural groups would display distinct rhetorical approaches, since individuals learn how to persuade from those with whom they associate. As a result, a cultural identity based on rhetorical technique is likely to form, which can become self-fulfilling for new members born into that group.
Nancy Wood acknowledges that distinct styles of argument have developed for different cultural groups in the United States:
African-American students report that much of their experience with argument styles comes from family interactions and also from the broad American cultural backdrop. The many African-American magazines and publications on modern bookstore shelves attest to this group's strong interest in the issues that impact the African-American culture. (36)
In particular, Wood points out two forums for argument available to many African Americans: rap music and, what she identifies as, the black church. "Both,” she argues, “provide members of the black race with the opportunity to observe and imitate distinctive black styles of argument" (36).
Geneva Smitherman, who has devoted much of her career to celebrating the distinctiveness of what she calls black expressive discourse style, also traces many features of African-American rhetoric to worship styles in black churches. Smitherman grounds African-American rhetorical traditions in cultural practices, in part, to shape a context for African Americans to understand their own language histories and their relationship to the academic standard. Cultural and linguistic pride are reinforced as one affirms strategies, for instance, that value wisdom or street knowledge over book learning (76). Smitherman suggests that role models are important for carrying on cultural linguistic traditions, instead of substituting them for lessons taught in school: “To deny ourselves daily use of speech patterns that are common and familiar, that embody the unique and distinctive aspect of our self is one of the ways we become estranged and alienated from our past” (79).
Ellen Cushman and Valerie Balester also find that we best learn language skills from those we identify with. Studying the linguistic abilities and political insights of inner-city residents at a community center in Quayville, California, Cushman observed the effectiveness of rhetorical tactics learned from other members of the community, as opposed to accepting linguistic attitudes that identify the community as disadvantaged (xix). Likewise, Balester’s study of African-American college writers shows the many advantages her students gained by employing strategies drawn from black traditions, such as preaching and signifying (4).
In my study, I sought the sources of rhetorical influence not in general cultural styles, which are hard to discern, but in specific people. To do so, I asked my three sections of English Composition for incoming freshmen in fall of 2003 to describe people they admire for the way they communicate. This assignment was the first of the semester that could be used for their final, graded portfolio. As a prewriting exercise, I had them write a paragraph on a role model, someone whom they admire, allowing the students to provide the criteria for admiration. I then asked them to list what they admire in their selected individuals, including their communicative styles. Once the communicative style was described, I asked each student to develop a full essay, practicing narrative or examples. I allowed students to switch models if they desired, but few changed subjects. To prompt an open, unbiased response, I suggested that they could pick people they know, such as family members, friends, coaches, ministers, teachers, etc., or people they don’t know, such as musicians, actors, authors, politicians, etc. To prompt specificity, students were asked to consider how their chosen models present themselves, how they respond to others, what emotions or attitudes they often express, what tones they use, and what expressions they use.
Provided with their descriptions of the skills they admire, I was able to observe some of the influences behind my students’ communication skills. Not only did I get insights into what they learned, but also how they learned it. Three venues of encounter stood out: home, school, and neighborhood. These separate locations where students found their role models also reflect different types of lessons. Ten of the seventy-three students identified the culture and lessons of school as the standard that mattered. Forty-four focused on what they learned from their parents or parent surrogates. The remaining nineteen chose either peers or cultural idols. And there is some tension between these influences. The "correct" lessons of school, which are often enforced at home, oppose the "honest” “slang" spoken by peers. Though the parents, mostly mothers, appear to be acting as strict English teachers, these students seem to value the lessons from home more than school—the original source of this information.
From the wide range of responses to the topic, one persuasive approach dominates the different models selected. Teachers, rap stars, friends, and even mothers nearly all agree that a strong sense of self gets the point across. In particular, it is confidence on the part of the speaker that persuades. This assurance ranges, though, from the sheer force of one's true emotion to the ability to appear authoritative. And the different types of forceful personas taught to these students vary in their usefulness for preparing them to write college essays. In the following analysis of the students' essays I hope to bring some clarification to the different senses of self these students have brought with them to college. Then, from these descriptions, I will develop the relevance of these acquired rhetorical approaches when applied to college writing. Ultimately, I hope to show that understanding whom my students have followed as rhetorical models reveals typically overlooked yet significant assets they possess and challenges they must face when developing their academic voices.
The students will be identified by fictitious first names to maintain confidentiality. (This study received approval from the University of Maryland at College Park’s Institutional Review Board in 2004.)
Learning to be Honest from Peers and Idols
Most of the students who wrote about peers and idols were men, and a few of them focused on the experience of their neighborhood, rather than specific individuals. Jermaine wrote a brief and to-the-point essay on this influence. He says that the atmosphere he grew up in made him able to speak for himself and feel confident:
The area I was raised in was concentrated with a whole lot of people. For this reason I had to learn how to speak from the heart or I would have been walked over. If you speak as if you know who you are people will listen to you. So if you are passive they will not listen to you.
Jermaine's essay reveals considerable self-awareness. The primary lessons he described receiving from his neighborhood clearly portray the student he was in class. Jermaine was a strong presence among his peers, regularly turning to his classmates before making a comment, “Now, it’s like this . . . .” Then, after making a comment, he often said, “Y’know I’m speaking the truth” or “That’s just the way it is.” He was one of the most vocal students, offering his opinion regularly and challenging others on points he disagreed with or didn't understand. Unfortunately, his lack of development put the essay (of only twenty-four sentences) below a passing level. According to the requirements for passing the course, students should be able to "demonstrate control of the structure of the paragraph for each part of the composition" ("Course Syllabus" 8). After setting a specific audience (me) for the assignment, I found Jermaine's prose underdeveloped. Though he had an impressive first draft for identifying his ideas, none were detailed and some were left without any explanation.
Despite opportunities to rewrite the essay for an entirely new grade, Jermaine chose to leave it the way he first put it down, defending his decision to not revise by declaring, “That’s the way I meant it.” The need to restate what he said or consult others on how to say it seemed unnecessary to him. Instead of the cooperative academic ethos, his disposition showed little sign of giving way. His assertive style did not serve him well as a student learning college composition. His sense of strong character obscured any need to reexamine his words for their effectiveness, an essential stage in training student writers.
The self-confidence Jermaine brought to college did not translate well to the page. In fact, it seemed as though his rhetorical effect when writing was quite inferior to his live, oral message. Being unable to command the same presence and effectivness in his essays seemed to make writing somewhat of an annoyance to Jermaine, since reworking the message through rewriting was an expected step. And softening his image to become more sensitive to the audience was seen as either unimportant or undesirable.
Jermaine's example epitomizes the attitudes expressed by many other students. In some cases, these students are also the ones who struggled most that semester. A young man named Jeremiah fell so far behind in class that he stopped coming a few weeks into the semester. The few times I spoke with him he carried himself with solid assurance, speaking clearly and locking his attention on me. However, he wrote very little. “I know what I need to do: make more time to read the assignments,” was his reply to my inquiry about turning in his work. The paragraph he wrote for this essay-length assignment said he learned from his brother that "as long as you act like yourself nobody can challenge you."
Mike was another strong character in class who believed in speaking from a personal truth. He would try to contribute to the discussion to get attention from the other students. After nearly every response he would smile or make a comment to a nearby woman. Though humor is usually an important ingredient in a productive classroom, his comments were off the lesson: “I know what’s wrong with that sentence [displaying a lesson on verb tenses]: it needs more commas in it–like three more”; “I need this boy [Richard Wright checking out books from the library in Black Boy] next to me for my test in History.” His urges to speak rarely related to the lesson, and he never seemed to have done the reading. Mike dropped the class at mid-semester because he had turned in only one assignment. In his essay about communicative models, he said, "I always look people right in the eye and tell them what I really think. Eye contact conveys pride in self." He also said that it is important to speak with purpose, revealing his strategy in class of assuming control by speaking up without regard to content. Though this strategy may be apt for speech situations, it would lose its impact in writing, when the speaker is not present.
This type of self-confidence based on honesty is by no means the road to failure. Many male students who learned their strong personas in settings outside of home or school developed their writing considerably during the semester. However, all of these students struggled with their early drafts.
Another forceful presence in class was Jamaal, who chose to write about hip- hop artists. He admires these musicians because "it sounds as if they can take over the world with just their voices alone." He also thinks that their animated body language contributes to their effectiveness: "Being aggressive is the best way to get your point across . . . .You gotta say what you think like you really mean it.”
Jamaal thinks others view him with the same forcefulness, saying that "People ask me all the time if I am a rapper." He perceives his voice to be strong and poetic. "You never know when I might break into a rhyme." Like Jermaine, Jamaal has adopted the belief that being assertive creates the necessary ethos to convince others. But unlike Jermaine, Jamaal's ethos is tied to an ability to develop a message. Jamaal's papers reflected his interest in standing up for an idea, like many rappers. His writing put forward bold ideas, which at first he did not develop past the initial truths he saw as self-evident. But through rewriting, Jamaal saw where to explain and detail the points his audience would most likely not understand.
Similarly, Kyle follows the "love me or leave me attitude" of rapper Tupac Shakur. Kyle believes that Tupac was a powerful speaker because he did not back down from anyone. "He feels that you should either like him or not; don't smile at him one day then look down on him the next." Kyle applies this philosophy to his own relationships: "I want to know who the true people are, and the fakes."
As a writer, it seemed that Kyle had difficulty making use of Tupac’s example. His essays were bare, conveying timidity toward the subject. It was uncommon for any of his paragraphs to extend past two or three sentences, and a whole essay would rarely fill a page. But he was not reluctant to get help, and as we went over his papers, he began to adopt the critical, academic stance of noticing where his assumptions needed further explanation. Though his writing did improve along the standards expected for college
writing, the academic standard seemed to remain a mystery to him. He shrugged his shoulders in response to any question I had about how he might build up to a point or stick to it longer. I began to wonder if he was simply watching me for how to adapt to the academic environment. The ethos Kyle had emulated from Tupac seemed temporarily put aside for what he thought was important in the way to communicate in college.
Tupac’s influence on Kyle fits into wider cultural observations made by scholars writing on the rhetorical impact rap music has on its listeners. In his article discussing the messages in rap, Ernest Allen, Jr. says, "the overall genre remains trapped in a politics of recognition" (184). Allen argues that rap artists aim to command attention to confirm a cultural identity. Tricia Rose, in her book on rap music, says, "Afro-diasporic youth have designated the street as the arena for competition, and style as the prestige-awarding event" (61). As a result, rap aficionados may naturally develop an ethos based on “a highly stylized confidence” (61).
Kermit Campbell provides insight into the causes behind the outspoken personas of young African-American men in his examination of student essays describing street language and culture. Campbell observes in two essays "a categorical rejection, if not displacement, of mainstream culture and its mandates" (70). Feeling outcast leads these students to "[construct] through vernacular naming practices" a black group identity (70). These men assert a strong posture, both in language and dress, as a response to feeling ostracized. Campbell strongly suggests that racism plays a role in developing these personas. He observes that one student’s “rejection of mainstream society and affirmation of his own” leads him to identify with a peer group he calls “the real niggaz” “out of an apparently desperate need to survive" (71).
The students I observed who claimed an ethos based on authenticity associated their true identity with being African American. For these students, sticking to one’s sense of self, including speaking African-American English, has its advantages for developing the strong ethos they prize.
Learning to be Authoritative from Teachers and Family
The students who chose authoritative role models were both men and women, but those who identified teachers were all women. They were among the highest performing students. The impressions the teachers made, though, had little to do with the content of their lessons. Instead, these students observed the confident character traits of their teachers and recalled advice on how to present themselves similarly when speaking. As with the students who wrote about their peers, these young women also believe in the importance of presenting a strong self-confidence. Character is again the instrument of persuasion.
Tiffany, a near-straight-"A" student, recalls the confidence and professionalism of Ms. Woodson, one of her high school teachers. Tiffany recalls especially her impeccable dress and speech. She also remembers the most repeated theme from her class: "Your first impression is your last impression. Therefore, it should be your best impression." Her advice seemed to have an impact on Tiffany's personal development. She took this advice and came up with a maxim of her own: "The more confident you feel, the louder your voice seems and the taller you will stand."
Lisa is another stand-out student. By the end of her freshman year, she was close to a 4.0 average. She attributes much of her success to Mr. Brown, who "helped to cultivate [her] speech to what it is today." In particular, she learned from him how to speak comfortably in front of others. "He encouraged me and assured me that what I had to say was important." While considering the topic of racism for a class presentation, Lisa began to feel overwhelmed by taking on such an important issue. But Brown assured her that she had a unique and valuable perspective that the world should not be deprived of. He explained that everyone would be interested in what she had to say if she believed what she had to say was important. "The greatest accomplishments was that he taught me how to have a powerful self image, one that would reflect in my public composure."
Charne, who is also used to getting "A's," wrote about her high school social studies teacher. Charne seems to be especially aware of Mrs. Ciarmella's ethos. Charne drew her observations from watching Ciarmella teach class: "She would always talk very slowly and clearly so everyone would understand the lesson." Ciarmella's patient disposition makes her seem relaxed, Charne explains. "Being relaxed allows her to feel good and calm about her presentation of herself." She describes her teacher as being happy and enthusiastic in class. Charne claims that Ciarmella's "charisma" is brought out because she is calm. "She is a very outgoing and in control person and no one would know that unless she is calm." These same qualities give Charne a confident presence as well. During her class presentation on why a school popularity contest is sexist, several students voiced their objections. Instead of getting nervous or anxious, Charne explained that “this is just what I think” and projected a strong, clear argument. If you are relaxed and allow your ethos to emerge, an easy flow of “just what I think” will follow. Effective speaking skills develop from accessing one’s confidence.
Charne seems to be making a connection between an ideal ethos and an awareness of her ability to assume control. Unlike the highly constructed academic ethos, which takes years of schooling to acquire, she learned from her teacher that reaching an audience requires a feeling of comfort about her personality. This suggests that she has been trained to believe in her leadership potential. Different than those who believe their message comes from an inner truth, these students espouse a belief that their character possesses leadership qualities.
Teachers as role models may have an influence on these high achieving students for another reason. As examples of professional success, teachers become targets of identification for success-bound students. And the teacher's persona is viewed as the source of that achievement.
Authoritative traits were also singled out by the forty-some students—men and mostly women—who wrote about authority figures. Sean’s aunt showed him how to speak up for himself. "My aunt is very assertive. She tells me that if I want to be heard I need to make people hear me . . . . She helps me by staying on my back about having a voice." Shalitta's mother taught her to develop her voice by "encouraging [her] to be strong." And what Regina picked up from her mother is "never be afraid to speak up to people or to someone new." Nicole's mother is a "powerful speaker" who taught her that "being confident is the most important aspect in holding a conversation." Camille writes, "My mother inspired me to be a confidently assertive young woman. She says, 'Never bite your tongue for anyone.'" In Cara's paper, she recalls, "My mother showed me how to stand up for myself and what I believe in regardless of whether I feel any fear or not." Samiha also says her mother "taught [her] how to assert [her]self." Isaiah's mother gave him a similar lesson: "She taught me to always speak up for myself, to speak with confidence. If there is something I feel strongly about, I should stand up with the same assurance." Isaiah was always encouraged to stand up to his mother, father and sister. Now he says he is not afraid to challenge anyone. These young adults all learned strikingly consistent advice: self-confidence in communication comes from assuming an empowered role.
Likewise, these students were engaged in the class and took advantage of rewriting; they appreciated the lessons that enhanced their assertive identities. Many of these students also wrote of being admonished by their parents to follow the rules of Standard Edited American English. Most of them wrote essays relatively free of grammatical errors.
The common experiences these students share as African Americans seem to provide some similar attitudes toward communication. Like Aristotle, nearly all agree that a strong ethos is of primary importance. The most prevalent ethos is a self-confidence dependent upon a forceful attitude.
They describe an attitude toward language similar to Keith Gilyard, who learned that personal strength can come across equally in verbal or physical form. Comparing himself to a friend, Gilyard says, “Lonnie plain liked to rumble. Enjoyed it about as much as anything. I preferred to spar with words. Debate, you know, try to rank somebody out. I usually had to fight only when someone lost his temper because I was needling too good, getting too good an audience response” (53). Similarly, this forceful attitude resonates with Valerie Balester’s findings, whose students showed acute awareness of and effort in shaping a positive ethos by affecting an elaborate style to impress their audiences (77-100).
Geneva Smitherman also suggests that the importance of self-confidence is part of an African-American rhetorical tradition. In her study of the unique orality of African-American communicative traditions, Smitherman describes specific performative qualities of exaggerated language (unusual words, High Talk); mimicry; spontaneity and improvisation; and braggadocio (217). Such appreciation for stylized performance would make a pronounced self-assurance key to a positive ethos.
However, the students’ essays report that this position of unwavering strength is developed in two distinct ways: as integral to their true selves or as a method for commanding authority.
These distinctions seem to have some relevance for success in college. Students who use strong assertions to convey their true, indomitable character seem to have a harder time as writers. First of all, these students' role models seem less likely to use Standard Edited American English, making the transition to college writing difficult. Also, these students perceive no need to elaborate or give detail because they believe persuasive force depends so much on one's character, and character is defined as someone who does not compromise or back down. When a spoken statement is assisted by powerful gestures and eye contact, it may not be contested. But on the page, the same statement is likely to look bare and less convincing. And it is difficult to see inadequacies in a written statement that communicates effectively when one speaks it.
It may seem obvious that a forceful presence would be preferred for those who encounter threatening situations. But the problem may be even deeper than that. Many of these students report success in speech situations. In fact, their speaking personas seem directly tied to their confidence and status. With so much at stake in speaking skills, they develop ahead of writing skills. As a result, that strong physical speaking presence is likely to feel diminished when one's words are put on paper, making writing a threat to perceived strengths.
But anyone relying too heavily on a forceful ethos is vulnerable to this problem. Anyone who is used to asserting strong opinions to stave off domination may also be reluctant to fill out the points. Leaving statements bare of evidence or explanation demands faith in the speaker's character. Trust in the speaker then precludes the need for further questioning. And, since elaboration and detail presume that the initial point may not have been clear or believable on its own, such follow up may be perceived as a lack of confidence. Also, if attitude is so instrumental in convincing others, explanation and support will remain unpracticed.
The difference in rhetorical strategies between written and oral discourses may account for some of the divergence between what these students prize and what compositionists teach. Since in oral traditions, authority is granted to those who are physically recognized as in power (Eggington 92), a strong ethos is one’s warrant for speaking.
Students who learned from authority figures seem more easily able to adapt their communicative strengths to the writing classroom. In these cases, the examples of teachers and parental figures lead students to develop an appropriate ethos for the college classroom. Following Kenneth Burke's theory of identification in A Grammar of Motives, students persuade themselves that they possess the parent’s or teacher's brand of ethos. According to Burke, people strive to fit in with the communicative norms they are exposed to. To achieve this, they select from the various rhetorical approaches they see and convince themselves that they work in order to develop their own rhetoric:
If [the individual] does not somehow act to tell himself (as his own audience) what the various brands of rhetorician have told him, his persuasion is not complete. Only those voices from without are effective which can speak in the language of a voice within. (563)
Burke's theory suggests a significantly formative influence from role models. He also explains how such influences can steer the way to developing an effective ethos.
Burke's theory of identification applies to exterior audiences as well. In order to be persuasive, "the speaker draws on identification of interests to establish rapport between himself and his audience" (570). Most audiences are likely to possess images of themselves as successful. Students who identify with teachers and respected family members are shaping self-images based on success, to which the students in this section testify. According to Burke, such an ethos would be quite persuasive since it shares common ground with the audience.
Academic researchers have devoted significant attention to the linguistic differences between African-American English and Standard Edited American English. Since words stand out more than argumentative strategies, the linguistic distinctions are likely to get more notice than the rhetorical approaches. This attention to language skills may also indicate that linguistic differences present a greater barrier than rhetorical differences for speakers of African-American English entering college writing courses. However, disparities between the persuasive tactics used by speakers of African-American English and the approaches taught by college composition instructors could also be an obstacle to and a resource for developing multiple literacies. Since composition teachers must bridge the transition to academia for their students, they need to be aware of these perhaps less-apparent distinctions in rhetorical approaches–skills that can be discerned through whom students model.
Today, it is common to see literacy as multiple, even within the world of school. Students must learn to try on “a variety of voices and interpretive schemes,” as David Bartholomae describes in his now-famous “Inventing the University”(135). For scholars such as Bartholomae and Patricia Bizzell, multiple academic voices do not offset the single pressure exerted on students to fit into the privileged discourse community of academia (Bartholomae 134-5; Bizzell 483-6).Students await the judgment of their teachers as they try “to write their way into a new community,” as Bartholomae puts it (156). Robert Yagelski, in Literacy Matters, challenges Bartholomae's monolithic view of school-sponsored writing as “obscur[ing] the complexity of that discourse” by focusing on the particular language convention and specific ways of knowing associated with the disciplines (103). Rather than putting student struggles on the standards of school, Yagelski argues that the trouble comes from within the student: the “effort to construct a self that can claim agency within as well as outside that community and its discourses” (103). For students, the authority associated with school-sponsored literacy sets up for acceptance or rejection of their language practices.As literacy scholars Margaret Gallego and Sandra Hollingsworth acknowledge in What Counts as Literacy, the literacy endorsed in school is “understood through a standard language [that] functions to restrict knowledge to those students who enter schools [familiar with school literacy tasks]” (6). The students in my study who followed the examples of authority figures have positioned themselves on the sunny side of literacy judgment. My students who learned to be themselves mostly ended up fending for themselves.
From this study of what my students have learned about communication from their role models, I discover that those who admire personas that project with a forceful, “true,” inner confidence, frequently learned from hip-hop culture, could be deflated in an academic setting if these students are not taught the necessity of adjusting to the rhetorical situation. Like Lisa Delpit, I do not believe that we should “teach students to passively adopt an alternate code. They must be encouraged to understand the value of the code they already possess as well as to understand the power realities in this country” (581). African-American students orienting to an academic audience may benefit from the knowledge of the rhetorical strengths they possess and instruction on how to adapt those approaches to acquire an effective ethos as a college writer.
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“Who Taught You Like That!?” from Composition Forum 19 (Spring 2009)
Online at: http://compositionforum.com/issue/19/who-taught-you.php
© Copyright 2009 Caleb Corkery.
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