2nd Assignment: Discourse Communities

In an op-ed of 750 to 800 words (no fewer than 600, no more than 1000), describe a community with its own way of looking at things and even its own vocabulary that you have been a part of and left or that you have joined. The group can be anything from a religious one to gamers or fans of a particular kind of music. You need to make a point about it, either positive or negative. And you should describe how its use of language either keeps people out or invites them in.

You will need to interview someone about this community and quote them. And read at least one scholarly article about it, also quoting from that.

In addition to the instructions for the last paper, remember to double space the paper. Also, please title it with your last name followed by the number 2. If you can, send me the paper as a Word file. I can use .pdf files, but Word is easier on me.

The Pain and Necessity of Leaving

When I was young, the Society of Friends (except when I was with my grandparents) was my world. The Quakers, as members of the sect are called, dominated everything I did through my graduation from high school and were quite influential in my life until I reached my fifties. I was thoroughly imbued with Quaker viewpoints, only beginning to shed them when I lived in Africa, far removed from Quaker influence.

Meeting for Worship each First Day (what Quakers call Sunday) was the center of my familyā€™s week. At one point, my father taught at a Quaker college and I attended a Quaker boarding school for two of my junior-high-school years (much later, I would also teach for two years at a different Quaker boarding school). Quaker beliefs in nonviolence and consensus were central to what I believe about life and society.

Continue reading “The Pain and Necessity of Leaving”

Assignments for Tuesday, February 19

In addition to your paper, please read this essay:Ā

For the paper: You should write at least three FULL pages and no more than five. You may use either 10 or 12 point fonts but avoid fancy ones. Your margins should be one inch on all sides; there should be no spaces between paragraphs; the first line, left justified, should show your name; second line, my name; third line, course name and section; fourth line, date; fifth line, centered, title; sixth line, start of paper. Papers not following this form will not be graded and will not be counted as having been turned in.

The paper, a personal literacy narrative, should be built around the experience with reading or writing in your early years that you find most formative. Connect it to who you are now, explaining the cord between the two. Evaluate it: was it positive? Negative? Did it change you or confirm what you already knew about yourself? Start with a narrative of the experience and follow by evaluating it and its impact on the person you have become. Give as much detail as possible and include as much outrage or pleasure as you wish.

Hand the paper in digitally, sending it to me: In the subject line, include the class number and section as well as the assignment title.

Language, Learning and Cultural Positioning

Also read this article by Paul Waldman for Thursday’s class.

When I was in training to become a Peace Corps Volunteer, we spent six hours or more, six days a week for twelve weeks, in language immersion. We were not allowed to speak English, only French, the national language of the country of Togo in West Africa, where we were trainingĀ  and where we were to spend the next two years. An explicit part of our preparation was measured by a language exam; if we did not pass, we would be shipped back to the U.S.

Yesterday, I read about Chinese students in a biostatistics program at Duke University being warned not to speak Chinese “in the student lounge and study areas.” Loud protest resulted in an apology from the university andĀ  in Megan Neely, the author of the warning and the professor who headed the program, stepping down from that position (though she remains at Duke). The protesters, I think, were right. As a professor at City Tech, one of the most linguistically diverse colleges in the world, I understand that the desire of education should be not to repress language but to add to it.

How, then, do I justify my continued support of the type of immersion program I experienced in Togo? Neely was acting on “immersion” assumptions, after all, thinking she was providing the best advice for her students. Why, then, do I think what she did was wrong?

Part of the problem is simply procedural. The Duke students had not gone into the program thinking that language acquisition was part of it. I am sure all of them would like to improve their English (heck, I still want to improve mine), but they can choose on their own how and when to do that.

Another part of Peace Corps training was in motorcycle riding, safety and maintenance (we would be using small motorcycles daily in our work). This was done in English, the need for clear communication in instruction in something that could be quite dangerous superseding, for two hours each day, the need to speak French. Our trainers understood that there were different goals to different parts of our training and had designed the whole with that in mind.

Neely, unfortunately, was conflating two goals and, furthermore, was doing it in the middle of the program, not as a part of the design. An English-languageĀ  biomedicalĀ  program for non-native speakers of English could conceivably be designed, but this wasn’t it.

Another problem was the assumption of an either/or. That is useful in an explicitly “immersion” process,Ā  but it is meant to fall away, even there. Language use isn’t simply one or another; it is best seen as both. “Immersion” is a tool, not a goal.

My suspicion, also, is that the professors who complained to Neely (and perhaps Neely herself) were concerned and suspicious when they could not understand their students. Perhaps they thought the students were talking about them. My advice to the teachers would be simply to relax and stick to their teaching, to adding to student knowledge rather than trying to limit them.

In your English composition classes here at City Tech, you are expected to be working on your English, no matter what language (or languages) you grew up speaking. But that does not mean you should repress your knowledge of other languages or stop using them. You can even incorporate phrases into you English papers (as long as you clarify, in English, what they mean–for those of us who don’t speak that language). You can make your own language (or languages) andĀ  your culture parts of the base for your learning, even if you are learning in another language environment. You will, I am certain, come out stronger than someone whose learning has been compartmentalized.


One (Short, Starter) Literacy Narrative

The first book I bought with my own money was Dr’sĀ  Seuss’s then newest,Ā Green Eggs and Ham. It was late August of 1960 and my parents had given me a dollar to spend at a special book sale for the start of second grade. I know: I was probably already a little old for this particular picture book, but I had been in love with Dr. Seuss for some time, my parents having introduced me toĀ On Beyond Zebra soon after I’d learned to distinguish words and then letters, probably in 1956.

The most recent book I’ve bought is a Kindle version of Thomas Paine’sĀ The Age or Reason.

Did I say “bought”? Sorry: It was free. The book is more than 200 years old; it has no copyright. And Paine, were he alive, probably wouldn’t want one. But I did download it.

Let’sĀ  see… my most recent purchase, then, was John Warner’sĀ Why TheyĀ Can’tĀ Write: Killing the Five-Paragraph Essay and other Necessities. That, as you might imagine, has as much to do with work as with pleasure.

I can remember quite well learning to read, sitting on my father’s lap while he read to me, his finger under each word as heĀ  pronounced it. Other kids my age were probably out playing ball with their fathers. I lost out with that but I gained something else, a love of words and of the letters that compose them. I still have it.

Later, in the fall of 1963, I was shipped off to a small boardingĀ  school where a man named Ernest, who had founded the school, had set up a print shop. Seeing something in little, lost me, he took me there and taught me how to set type, lifting letters from a California job case into a composing stick, justifying each line and setting another until a paragraph or so sat in my hand. That was just the start of the process leading to a printed page–and I would soon learn it all, and would continue to work with letterpresses for the next eight years (and then again for two years long after that, when I would teach the craft to high-school students).

Ernest alsoĀ  tried to teach me beekeeping, but that didn’t stick or influence my future, certainly not in the way words and letters have.

Speaking of letters: I always hated the way I formed them, even in first grade where I struggled with cursive. I already knew how to block print andĀ  much preferred that, though the result was about as pretty as my cursive, which was rather dreadful to look at. At home, I stared longingly at my father’s typewriter but, for some reason, did not learn how to use a machine until I took Typing during the summer of 1966.

I was the only boy in the class. In those days, typing was something done almost exclusively by secretaries and secretaries, almost exclusively, were women. No one at the school understood why I wanted to learn to type, but my parents stood behind me–and so I did. Today, of course, almost everyone learns to type without even realizing they are doing it. Keyboards, after all, are everywhere. It wasn’t always so, and typing, especially ten-finger touch typing, was considered something of a skill.

It was certainly the skill that unleashed me as a writer. I hated writing by hand; I loved typing. And I did a lot of it.

The other side of writing, of course, is reading, and I had been doing a lot of that even before proudly hauling homeĀ Green Eggs and HamĀ and reading it, without help, to my younger brother. That was grand!

Did I say I also loved reading? No? Well, I did. Even more than I loved typing, er, writing. In fourth grade, I read all of theĀ Hardy BoysĀ mysteries I could get my hands on as well as a series of “biographies” of famous Americans for school children like me. I wanted to read more difficult books, but I couldn’t get far into them, no matter how hard I tried–not then. I remember, in 1964, attempting the recent bestseller, Joseph Heller’sĀ Catch-22. I could make no sense of it, not then. I finally made it through during the fall of 1967, just before I turned sixteen. My reading skills had progressed rapidly over those three years between attempts, in part because I had stumbled upon the correct mix of the easy, the challenging, and the (as yet) impossible. The first I enjoyed, the second exerted me, and the third kept my coming back.

Though I have had many careers, I’ve always stumbled back to words–probably because of my father’s patient finger under shapes that slowly coalesced into words and–that brilliant discovery!–into individual letters with associated sounds. Would I have become a writer and a teacher of writing if he and I had been, instead, in the back yard tossing a baseball back and forth? I have no way of knowing, but I do like to believe heĀ  was nurturingĀ  my true nature.

The Power of the Word

A couple of hundred years ago, Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” was on the lips of English speakers everywhere. It starts with this:

It is an ancient Mariner,
And he stoppeth one of three.
‘By thy long grey beard and glittering eye,
Now wherefore stopp’st thou me?

The Bridegroom’s doors are opened wide,
And I am next of kin;
The guests are met, the feast is set:
May’st hear the merry din.’

He holds him with his skinny hand,
‘There was a ship,’ quoth he.
‘Hold off! unhand me, grey-beard loon!’
Eftsoons his hand dropt he.

He holds him with his glittering eyeā€”
The Wedding-Guest stood still,
And listens like a three years’ child:
The Mariner hath his will.

The Wedding-Guest sat on a stone:
He cannot choose but hear;
And thus spake on that ancient man,
The bright-eyed Mariner….

There’s much in between this start and the end, very much. But that’s not the point right now, right here.Ā 

What is? Just that the teller of a tale can mesmerize: “There was a ship” stands for tales and how they make us listen. The ending, the last lines, explain why:

I pass, like night, from land to land;
I have strange power of speech;
That moment that his face I see,
I know the man that must hear me:
To him my tale I teach.

What loud uproar bursts from that door!
The wedding-guests are there:
But in the garden-bower the bride
And bride-maids singing are:
And hark the little vesper bell,
Which biddeth me to prayer!

O Wedding-Guest! this soul hath been
Alone on a wide wide sea:
So lonely ’twas, that God himself
Scarce seemĆØd there to be.

O sweeter than the marriage-feast,
‘Tis sweeter far to me,
To walk together to the kirk
With a goodly company!ā€”

To walk together to the kirk,
And all together pray,
While each to his great Father bends,
Old men, and babes, and loving friends
And youths and maidens gay!

Farewell, farewell! but this I tell
To thee, thou Wedding-Guest!
He prayeth well, who loveth well
Both man and bird and beast.

He prayeth best, who loveth best
All things both great and small;
For the dear God who loveth us,
He made and loveth all.

The Mariner, whose eye is bright,
Whose beard with age is hoar,
Is gone: and now the Wedding-Guest
Turned from the bridegroom’s door.

He went like one that hath been stunned,
And is of sense forlorn:
A sadder and a wiser man,
He rose the morrow morn.