Friday, February 6, 2009

Goin' on a Holiday

Lately I've been doing a lot of thinking about the notion of academic Discourse (the capital "D" is intentional). I've been playing around with the concept of Discourse as "identity kit," as introduced in the work of James Paul Gee. Specifically, I'm interested in the notion of the dominant Discourse of the academy, that which I teach in my English classroom for seventy-eight minutes, three days a week, for ten weeks. Unless I my math has failed me--which as time marches, becomes a greater possibility--that totals thirty-nine hours of contact time in a quarter to acclimate a writer into academic Discourse. Granted, this is not accounting for the time students spend reading, writing, meeting with me, meeting with a Peer Writing Consultant at the Writer's Studio, but the general idea is that our time together strolling through scholastic Wonderland, with the hopes of granting students membership in "Academese" is limited. Of course, Writing Across the Curriculum movements were designed in part to offer more saturation in the Discourse, but for this post, that way lies digression.

What I'm really pondering is what I consider probably the biggest challenge to teaching English Composition (or, really, any course): negotiating the extent of how much students need to assume the value of a given Discourse. Gee states,

Discourses are inherently “ideological”. They crucially involve a set of values and viewpoints in terms of which one must speak and act, at least while being in the discourse; otherwise one doesn’t count as being in it.

In this claim is true, and in order to acquire a Discourse we must share its values to some extant, how do we "teach" our students to value the precepts of Standard Edited American English (SEAE)? It's a puzzler--one that causes my brain to itch from the inside.

I do think, however, that I might better understand the dilemma through popular culture. It is my panacea after all. So here's my state of mind--awash in text, looking for inlets to help students value (for the time they're in school) SEAE, trying to empower the same students by asking them to slightly corrupt SEAE, overtired for all the reading on literacy and classroom learning I'm currently doing--and I'm confronted with this commercial.

And here's the joy: the literacy of freestyle rap is equated with other forms of higher learning that these commercials have covered before, like having the knowledge to be able to deliver a baby. But I do wonder . . . he knows the language, our rapping marketing rep here, but isn't he missing the boat on values too? Isn't this, rather than a promotion of the knowledge gained by staying in a Holiday Inn Express, an indictment of how it takes more (time, effort) to acquire all that which is valued by the community?

I mean, c'mon, check out ol' boy's moves. Is that the robot I spy?

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