How do you approach difference?

Video created by Elizabeth Uva Employee on Oct 23, 2015

    Matsuda: In the next few years, writing teachers need to learn a lot more about language differences, and I'm not talking about just language differences in terms of language and gender, or language and social class.  Those are important issues as well, but I think writing teachers need to expand their notion of language and spend some time seriously thinking about the issues of speakers of different varieties of English and speakers of different languages altogether.  And I think in the past, because composition and ESL, for example, have been developing as separate disciplines, many people seem to think that it's okay for writing teachers not to know about language issues or students who come from different language backgrounds.  And because the student population is becoming more and more complex, that's becoming less and less the case.


    Powell: When people talk about difference in the classroom, I'm always curious about what that means because I'm not sure how you'd avoid difference in the classroom.  In the classrooms I teach, avoiding difference isn't an option.  For me, students bring the culture with them.  They carry the culture in their bodies, right?  I know lots of people talk about that as if you carry the culture like it's in a knapsack, and for me, no, it's in your body.  It's in your language and your speech, in the way you walk, in the way you dress, in the way you arrange yourself in relation to other people.  All those things, you know.  And all those things are present when you walk in the first time and you see them all sitting there in those chairs, talking to each other and not talking to each other.  So when I first started teaching, I was all militant and aggressive and pretty confrontational.  And what I've learned is that my grandma's advice is really the best.  If you want people to learn about each other and to learn something while they're learning about each other, get them to tell their stories.


    Bizzell: The most important thing to keep in mind when dealing with diversity in the classroom is to be polite to everybody, and to try to insist that everybody else be polite to each other as well.  And just to treat each other with common respect and don't make any assumptions about the other person. Don't assume that because a person looks a certain way they're going to have a certain kind of attitude.  Just on a plane coming out here to Four Seas I read a good chunk of Krista Ratcliffe's new book on rhetorical listening, and I think she's got it absolutely right.  She really articulated a lot of things that I deeply believe about how people need to interact with one another, that you need to listen to another person with the idea not of figuring out how you're going to beat him, but how you're going to understand him.  And you need to take responsibility for your own social location without letting it create a sort of disabling guilt and therefore a kind of immediate defensiveness in your interactions with other people.  And you have to understand that while there are profound differences between people, and those have to be acknowledged and respected, there are also commonalities that have to be acknowledged and respected. And one shouldn't allow oneself to go to one extreme or the other and just say, all people are the same and we're going to elide differences, or, our differences are so profound that we have nothing to talk about.  And try to find some common ground.  And that doesn't always work, but sometimes it does.


    Bartholomae: I'm not sure that race, class, and gender are the best ways to begin to organize student difference, because it will organize students into groups that we already think we understand and where all the arguments are already formed and shaped, and it will keep us from reading their writing very carefully.  So, I do think that there are linguistic differences that matter, and I think there are forms of dialect interference that have a lot to do with the way in which certain students struggle with the sentence.  I'm not sure that they're marked primarily by race.  I think much of the research has shown that it's more marked by class and region than by race.  One of the profound truths of the writing classroom is that everybody's writing is different.  There are ways of generalizing.  I mean, I think there's a genre called student writing, and I don't think of it as being marked developmentally but being marked by the way in which students are positioned in relationship to the traditions and canons of the academy and its work and its values.  And to think about the difference represented by the work of students and the expectations of the academy--that's the most interesting question before us.  And it requires us to learn how to read student writing for what it is and for what it does, not for what it lacks.  And how to evaluate it, and how to evaluate it at every one of its stages, and so we're evaluating...  The failure to meet expectations is always also an achievement, and to name and describe that achievement is, I think, very important.