For the past couple years my posting on this here blog has been incredibly slow. However, as I’ve reentered the classroom this fall, I’ve remembered the genesis of this blog as a space to talk about pedagogy. Suddenly, now that I’m teaching, I’m thinking in blog posts again. Hope to see you more often in this space.
As you also know, for six years at the University of Michigan and Syracuse I taught composition courses focused around hiphop; during my two years off, I wrote my dissertation about this same subject. After analyzing my curricular materials and my students’ writing as well as those products from another teacher’s class, and doing a bunch of historical inquiry, reflective writing, and literature review, I produced “SCHOOLED: Hiphop Composition at the Predominantly White University.”
It was strange writing this diss while not teaching. I kept finding things I did wrong, or wanted to do better, but all I could do was write about them. I realized that I was centering cisgendered Black men in my course materials, and not raising up the voices of women and femmes. I found I wasn’t being vulnerable with my students, and was acting like the same old know-it-all white lady teacher my core beliefs wanted to disrupt. I found I wasn’t teaching my students to locate themselves reflexively vis-a-vis their research subjects, and so was promoting treating hiphop as a commodity rather than a culture. To put it succinctly, I found I could do better.
Now, back in the classroom, I am trying to be a different teacher: reflexive, vulnerable, intersectional. And I’m still learning. Still finding boundaries between my students and my new, open self. Still looking for ways to make my class the space where my students can get free. Still searching for the cultural hooks that will power my students to read, reflect, and write. Still listening to who they are, what they want, and what they need. Still learning what young people know, and can do.
One of the things that hasn’t changed is my practice of taking my students onto Twitter. But now this practice has a new context, as I’ve shifted my FYC course from a hiphop focus to one on “hashtag activism.” My students and I are reading hashtag manifestos like “This Tweet Called My Back” and Alicia Garza’s #BlackLivesMatter Herstory. Indeed, this shift in the content I teach emerged directly out of my realization, as I reflected on and through my dissertation, that women of color were not centered in my teaching, and needed to be.
I’ve been trying to talk openly with my students about the risks and rewards, what we rhetoricians call the “constraints and affordances,” of teaching on Twitter. As a class about the hashtag, I feel that students need to engage the medium we are reading and writing about. That’s a cultural rhetorics approach: you can’t theorize something if you don’t do it, have never done it. At the same time, my students have a right to privacy and protected data during their education. We write on a private WordPress site and students have the option of using locked or even alternative Twitter accounts; even so, though, any engagement with a public writing platform (compared with our university managed curricular space) is a compromise, one which compels students to share their identities and data with the corporation, even if their immediate audience stays small.
So far, however, I’m pleased with the changes in my teaching. I see all my students participating more, a critical shift away from the white male dominated spaces I used to lead. I see us engaging with women of color in our classroom discussions and our writing, and I’m looking forward to us directing even more of our financial resources in their direction. I see my students and me thinking deeply about what it means to create knowledge ethically, in our conversations, our citation practices, and our writing. I’m excited to share what we find with you as I continue to learn.