Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Code Switching and Culture Series: On Short Skirts and Black Vernacular English, Making Choices from the Intersection

Since we've been discussing code switching and culture on this blog, I wanted to share a post I published previously on my personal blog Balancing Jane. Check out the other posts in the series here and here. And if you have something you would like to add to the conversation, please let us know!


"That student's skirt is too short. You should tell her. It could be a distraction."


I am an educator, and I want all of my students to be successful, but I understand that "success" is not a one-size-fits-all path. Besides, I am not just an educator. I am also a feminist. I am a rhetorician.

So when someone starts telling me that it's my job as an educator to interfere in my students' personal communicative choices, I have to make decisions from the intersections.

Irish scotish!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Let's Discuss Code Switching and Culture Series: Hallie Quinn Brown

The term code switching gained prominence in the last few decades due to the work of theorist Lisa Delpit and other scholars of linguistics, rhetoric and literacy.  The concept, however, has existed in U.S. educational arenas for at least a century.

In the United States, Hallie Quinn Brown, an educator at Wilberforce University at the turn of the 20th century, was one pioneer of the acceptability of alternative English vernaculars. Brown is credited with infusing her work as an orator and elocutionist with the African-American vernacular.  

Hallie Quinn Brown

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Let's Discuss Code Switching and Culture

I grew up in a code-switching environment in Dallas, Texas. 

I used to puzzle over the Arabic language on labels of my family's Arabic pantry staples; for example, Ziyad Brothers brand of Tahini.
I knew the term Tex-Mex as an identity. The term Tex-Mex reflects a synthesis of Mexican and Texan traditions that result in a unique, vibrant culture.  
 And in Dallas, Texas, who can forget Big Tex at the State Fair, giving us a hearty, cowboy-friendly welcome?  Howdy Ya'll!

These linguistic curios represent subcultural and behavioral norms.

 If we think about it, most of us come from a code-switching environment. Our codes just reside in varying distances from our mainstream American-English code. From my American mother and grandmother, I learned linguistic novelties that most likely hailed from the fields of Alabama where my great-grandmother was from. Active kids were "little fireanzies" (little and full of frenzy) and during moments of levity or chaos we often wondered "what in the sam hill  is going on?!"  I noticed my maternal grandmother and mother liked to add words in-between the syllables of other words; for example, "I guaran (insert favorite word here) tee you" as in "I guaranDARN tee you." 

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Writing is Like Metaphor Series: Revising is Like Sculpting with Play-Doh

I'm not just saying this one to my students; this is a lesson I need to be reminded of myself. Writing can take us on some weird, wonderful journeys. We can start out writing one thing and find ourselves in the midst of something completely unexpected. It's one of writing's joys. 

But, especially for students in a strict academic or professional setting, it can also be a liability. 

I always tell my students to talk to their instructors if they found a new project while writing. Maybe they can still use it. But the truth is that if your boss asked you to craft a memo by the end of the day and you bring her a fantastic epic poem, it's not going to go over well. Writing is situation- and audience-bound, and that means that we often (or, in my case, always) have to reshape what we're working on. 

That's why I like to use Play-Doh as a metaphor for revision. When you're just playing around, you can make all kinds of interesting shapes, and you can even discover new, interesting things. But often you have a specific goal in mind. Let's say you're sculpting it so your teammate can guess a clue in a board game. In that case, it doesn't matter how beautiful your T-rex is; they're never going to guess "car."

And once you've reached that point where you realize what you're sculpting isn't what you need, you have to squash it. That doesn't mean you lose the material; it's all still there. It doesn't mean it was a waste of time; you became more skilled at sculpting. It doesn't mean that your T-rex was bad; it was lovely. It just means that this particular shape doesn't fit this particular need. Squash it. Try again. 

For many beginning writers (and, if we're being honest, more seasoned writers, too) squashing our work and starting over can be really, really hard. It feels like time wasted and work lost. It feels like a failure. And if every time we start writing it ends in a failure, we aren't going to like writing very much. But squashing Play-Doh is one of the best things about playing with it (just hand that T-rex to a two-year-old and watch what happens). If we could bring some of that acceptance of change (and even destruction) into our writing revision, we'd be able to make a lot more peace with the process.