v. Bi, Butch, and Bar Dyke: aka, the most relatable and thrilling academic article i’ve ever read

Maybe I’m just not with the times or I’m too neck-deep in fan fiction to notice that there are some (many? god, I hope so) in academia who have the exact viewpoints and interests that I do.

Golly gee, then, did I pick the right article for when I lead the class discussion.

{Since this is a monster of a post, I’m actually utilizing the Read More tag. This thing’s ingenious, I tell ya.}

“Bi, Butch, and Bar Dyke: Pedagogical Performances of Class, Gender, and Sexuality,” by Michelle Gibson, Martha Marinara, and Deborah Meem, published in The Journal of the Conference on College Composition and Communication back in 2000, and then reprinted Feminism and Composition: Critical Sourcebook in 2003, then reprinted again in Teaching Composition: Background Readings, 3rd ed. in 2007. All I can say is Y E S, QUEENS. If I ever get to meet these incredible thinkers, I’d like to shake their hands, because wow. It’s like all my inner thoughts and concerns about class, gender, and sexuality have just been laid out for the world… 18 year ago.

I was 6.

Man, I’m real behind.

Alright, before we get into anything regarding the article–which, may I say again, was one of the best academic readings I’ve had the privilege to encounter in a while–what did you think as you read through it? What was your initial impression? Relatable? Confusing? Totally out of your comfort zone? 

Regarding my initial impression: when I first began reading the piece, I was terrified the jargon was going to go over my head. It didn’t completely, in the end, so that’s good. But there were, I’ll be honest, probably some more complex concepts that I may not have fully grasped. That’s okay, though! Can’t find everything in a readthrough of a text. I hope to revisit this text, though. There’s a lot about the subjects of class, gender, and sexuality that I’d like to keep exploring. Mayhaps for a thesis? Hmmmm?

One more thing before I get into the actual article: I want you to think about some of the ways that you identify/define and present/perform aspects of yourself–(Those can be very different things.)–in a personal sense, in a professional sense, and in your writing. Just… think about it. And think about the effects of those definitions and presentations and performances–on you, and on others.

Okay, I lied. One more thing. Just a bit about the authors, a lot of which can be found at the end of their article. All three women are published (woop!) in journals such as Journal of Teaching Writing, Feminist Teacher, Writing on the Edge, Studies in Popular Culture, Journal of Basic Writing and Women in Literature and Life. They all have, to varying degrees, been involved in women’s and gender studies, LGBT studies, as well as literature, writing, and composition in academia. More info on their more recent happenings can be found on their staff pages, which I will lovingly link here: Gibson, Meem, and Marinara (now Brenckle, I believe?).

Alright! On to the article!

(Also, god forgive me, this came out to be a 3,000 word post and I still didn’t get to cover everything. Sigh.)

An Intro

Now, the way the article is organized is in 3 sections, or 3 “stories,” one by each author: Marinara’s Bi: playing with fixed identities, Meem’s Butch: personal pedagogy and the butch body, and Gibson’s Bar dyke: a cocktail waitress teaches writing. According to their introduction, “[through their] ‘stories,’ [they] hope to complicate the notion that identities can be performed in clean, organized, distinct ways by examining and theorizing our own experiences of class, gender, and sexual identity performance” (70). In writing this piece, they want (I believe) people to portray themselves, analyze those portrayals, and come to a conclusion that not all of those portrayals are clean cut and set in stone. They are up for debate, and academia should accept and appreciate that discourse instead of rejecting it.

But anyway.

Bi

Discovering our identities (and by that plural I mean that each person has multiple identifiable facets of themselves) is a process. Distinguishing the parts of ourselves that differ from the norm–the universal, central, default of a person (whatever that means)–can be challenging, especially if that “real me” Marinara talks about in her piece is comprised of parts that don’t quite fit even the non-default, socially acknowledged definitions of a person (72).

Phew, did that make sense at all?

Marinara looks at the labels people take on throughout the story of their lives–labels that mark them as Other to that default I mentioned: “Gay,” “Straight,” “Working class,” “Middle class,” etc.

What I seem to be getting from Marinara is that there is self-empowerment in these labels, in knowing who you are, but (and this is especially true back in 2000–18 years ago) there are “binary oppositions”–a One Or The Other And That’s It mentality (72).

Nowadays, gender and sexuality are viewed as a spectrum. We have unlimited possibilities with which to define ourselves and differentiate us from the fixed paradigms expected of a person.

Bisexuality, in this narrative, is seen as a socially-unclearly defined middle ground, “an incomplete dominance of either sexual trait, defies easy social categorization; it is an identity without visible rules, almost without referent” (73). Is there freedom in that? Or is there a longing to be defined and to have a name for yourself?

Class, as an identifier, Marinara explores, has less of a middle ground. Just as in her American Dream/”rags to riches” analogy, there’s that “moving up” quality. A transition–though a quick jump instead of a slow climb. With class, there’s the pressure of replacing your class with a new one, a better one. Up and up and up.

With sexuality and gender, though, there is no direction to climb towards. It’s not an upward climb to higher achievement, but more of a feeling around in the dark until you find the right light switch kind of discovery. This one’s too bright. This one’s too dim. This one sounds good in practice but doesn’t feel right. This is the one that should be picked, but again, it’s not right. etc. etc. Does that make sense?

Anyway, Marinara finds that in knowing aspects of ourselves can lead us to telling our stories, comparing them, contrasting, learning. Marinara sums up rather nicely the final sentences of her section:

“Keeping identity from becoming ‘fixed’ leaves room to construct other useful political positions, still more ‘Other’ places from which to speak. Increasing our understanding of those who tell stories from the social margins means exploring contradictions—the changing shapes of difference—so we can locate ourselves within/as the process of negotiating class and sexuality” (79).

[[Before I hop to the next topic, a quick reaction to Marinara’s class’s responses to the David Budbill poem “Roy, McInnes” and their Gender of the Narrator debate. Lately, I’ve been writing narrators/main characters with no discernible gender and there’s a freedom in that, I think. A freedom in being able to create a person outside of any kind of binary definition in regards to stereotypes and just… create a person. One main character of mine went fishing, and I heard someone refer to little Sam as “he”; another narrator of mine was briefly mentioned to be wearing “remnants of … makeup”; and many thought that character was female. Meanwhile, I had given no indication that either of the two were male or female. I’ve had reviewers compliment me upon realizing so. It’s freeing.]]

Butch

Deborah Meem’s section of the paper was split further into a telling of three stories regarding her butch persona and how it impacts her place in academia. She first brings up a chart common to women’s studies that details “two areas: (1) some of an individual’s multiple identities, and (2) the relative experience of privilege associated with each. Through positioning myself on this chart, I was able to articulate to myself for the first time some of the ways I partake of unearned privilege” (79).

I haven’t seen a chart like this before, but it’s interesting to see and sort of broadly get an idea of what kind of unearned privileges I have.

Screenshot 2018-10-21 at 15.25.32
(Gibson, Marinara & Meem 83)

By examining herself through the lens of this chart, Meem “began to understand how I occupy both the center and the margins of American society,” as we all should (79).

Before moving on to the stories, on which I will touch only briefly, let’s take a look at that Butch v. Femme binary Meem brings up. There is a history of the word butch and the concept behind it. Whereas butch lesbianism takes on more traditionally, stereotypically masculine qualities in style and personality, femme lesbianism is more traditionally, stereotypically feminine.

Interesting enough, the former type of lesbian persona is seen as powerful while latter type is … invisible. This will be touched on a bit more in Story 2, so stay tuned!

Story 1

Meem talks about a study regarding professors’ standard course evaluations and compared the results by professors’ sex. The results showed the expected, that “the three men averaged higher ratings in instrumental categories (knowledge, fairness) while the four women as a group averaged higher ratings in affective categories (helpfulness, availability).” What really called attention, though, was when the four women’s scores were compared. “Two of the women received much higher affective than instrumental scores while the other two (myself and another woman) [who were much more butch] had instrumental scores as high as the men’s and affective scores just slightly lower than those of the other two women’s” (80).

Meem then goes into talking about the Bem Sex-Role Inventory test “measure the degree of (stereotypical) masculinity and femininity that each of us projects” (81). I was able to find a test online based on the BSRI: the OSRI. Feel free to give it a go! I took it and was kind-of-but-not-really-surprised by my own results:

Screenshot 2018-10-21 at 15.05.06

I’m unsure how close this comes to the BSRI, but it’s interesting to check out in the meanwhile. Odd, though… I didn’t think I’d be as feminine on the chart as I turned out to be.

Story 2

Meem’s second story tells of the day she had to formally come out to her students. “A TV reporter for Cincinnati’s Channel 12 news [asked her] to be a ‘sample dyke at work’ for a feature timed to coincide with National Coming-Out Day” so Meem made a short and sweet announcement to her class the morning of the filming. Unsurprised silence and one young man’s “How do I look?” followed, and they went on with the filming.

While that’s great, and the story of instant acceptance is an endearing one, it’s unfortunate that a woman presenting some traits of masculinity is suddenly obviously known to be a lesbian. As Meem puts it in far more elegant words: “[the] point is that my coming out surprised no one, because, as Kristin Esterburg writes, in all areas ‘the coding of lesbians as not feminine and therefore in some way masculine predominate[s]’ (276). As a butch or masculine woman, I project a ‘lesbian’ persona without formally coming out” (81).

Sigh. Stereotypes and assumptions and all that.

[[I actually have a story to go along with this. When I had my pixie haircut, I was told I looked androgynous and I was like hell yeah. (One little kid even told me I “look like a boy.” I responded by asking if I was a pretty boy and they got very confused, which is a whole other matter entirely. #LetBoysBePretty #LetGirlsHaveShortHair) So anyway, I got confidence from that. My appearance gave me a label, a definition that I was totally fine to present. But one day, when I was getting a trim at the salon I frequent, an older lady in the chair next to me whispered something to her stylist, who was also an older lady. I didn’t hear what the woman in the chair said, but I clearly heard the stylist’s response. “Don’t worry, her mother still loves her.” … I don’t even know how to respond to that, honestly, so I’m just going to leave it at that. Talk about discouragement, though.]]

Story 3

The third story exemplifies the power that comes along with butchness. Masculinity has long been the side of the coin that stereotypically portrays power. A troublesome, know-it-all, male fellow committee member (lovingly nicknamed Professor Bluster) complained to a coworker that Meem was “so bossy!” and boy, did I roll my eyes so hard. Meem, though, is able to spin it in a positive(?) light:

“Had I been a man, he would not have hesitated to bring all committee work to a halt in order to engage in a pissing contest with me. As a butch woman, however, I had a certain power over him; he clearly perceived me as being immune to male feather-ruffling and intimidation. In other words, his usual strategies for getting attention were useless, and all he could do was call me bossy later on” (82).

In a sense, Meem’s butchness left her untouchable–an enigma her male coworker couldn’t figure out how to approach in a sensible manner outside of whiny gossip. I wonder, though, if that’s the best outcome. As someone who detests being spoken of behind my back, I’d rather endure the confrontation, I think.

The downside, though, Meem mentions later: “These responses, plus those from my three stories, indicate that students and faculty see my butchness as powerful, especially as contrasted with femme experience, which is mostly invisible … the relative invisibility of femmes makes it difficult for them to connect with sources of lesbian community in or out of the academy” (82-83).

“Femme” lesbianism isn’t seen at all, because it’s just seen as femininity, which falls into that “default” mentioned earlier for women.

Meem then brings up the chart again from earlier (I’ll be nice and drop it again below), pointing out the relative privilege and oppression the different facets of the chart hold. She actually added the third row to the chart, as well as the final column, noting this at the end of the article. While the “third category complicates the relentless binary oppositions … the sexuality column asserts that even in the context of heterosexual privilege, lesbians and gay men rank higher than bisexual or transgendered people … because in our culture ‘lesbian’ and ‘gay’ are assumed to be coherent identities, while bisexuality and transgender are so fluid—and contested—as to resist the consistency of definition and the relative safety of coherence” (93). This, unfortunately, still applies today, at least in some circles. Don’t let me near those circles.

Screenshot 2018-10-21 at 15.25.32

 

 

I’ll end this section with a final quote and a thought. “If it is true, as Judith Butler says, that fixed ‘identity categories tend to be instruments of regulatory regimes’ then complicating our own multiple identities is a revolutionary act” (84). Again, we want to identify ourselves, but in doing so, we set up borders. So there’s this desperate contradiction going on in our heads of wanting to be defined but not wanting those definitions to bind us so that we can’t explore outside of them. So when we are in fact able to comfortably play around and challenge what identifies us… maybe that’s when we get the power.

Bar Dyke

Gibson’s section details the struggle of relaying and relating to students too much in academia. As she says later on in her section, “as a faculty member submitting a dossier for reappointment, my task is to identify with administrators, not students” (90). BIG, ANNOYED SIGH.

Let me not get ahead of myself, though. In her dossier, Gibson challenged the idea that academics have to have a certain background. Surprise! Scholars are human, too. She claims that, in challenging traditionalist beliefs of universities by portraying our own personal stories while also providing proof of where we are in the academy, we can “deconstruct notions about who university students and faculty are and force the academy to respond more fully to the needs of diverse populations” (85). Hell yeah.

Gibson was advised (by a lovingly named Dr. Gatekeeper) to take out parts of her dossier to have it fit more with the university’s image. And what is that image? “[Tweed]: white, middle class, and heterosexual” (86).

Let’s take a brief pause to look around the room. Think of your other classes, of how diverse in population they are. How diverse in experience. Bear in mind that, of course, this article was written in 2000, so this kind of administrative, elitest mentality wasn’t as legally problematic or ridiculous as it seems today (though still being problematic and ridiculous, of course).

I can count the amount of white friends I have in university on 2 hands. 

I can count the amount of (fully, actualized, outspokenly) straight friends I have in university on 1 hand.

But @ academia, go off, I guess.

Back to Gibson. Her main goal in adding the personal stories of herself and her students into her dossier was that she wanted to “mainstream … the experiences of students who face similar circumstances” and yet Dr. Gatekeeper “explained that [Gibson] needed to develop a better sense of … place in the academy if [she] wanted to advance at an appropriate rate” (90).

First of all, I can’t stand that mentality in both academia and the workplace. “Know your place.” Man, get outta here. Gibson seemed to think the idea was horrid as well, as she goes on to “follow the old feminist adage ‘the personal is political’ and to disobey in the way McNaron suggests we should by ‘having and shaping [my] memories into coherent form’ (8)” (91).

Long story short, she made minor adjustments and submitted the dossier anyway.

Now that’s some bad bitch energy that I can appreciate.

To Conclude

I have gone on for FAR TOO LONG, so I will make this short.

I honestly don’t know how to properly conclude the massive info-dump and ramble that was this post. Is this technically an article review? Is that what this is? Has the length for it. Anyway, Gibson, Marinara, and Meem explore concepts of gender, class, and sexuality I feel we all could utilize in our everyday processes of shaping and understanding ourselves, the way others view us, and our writing.

I go off about voice in writing all the time. That’s not news. And this all just reaffirms my beliefs, honestly. Gibson has it right in quoting “the personal is political.” It’s our voices and our stories that will cause change in the world. We just need the means to define it all. And once we do that, we need to break out of those definitions and keep going. Up and up and through the dark.

So, I’ll end with these wise women’s final words:

The stories we have told here emphasize the shifting nature of our own personal and academic identities.

“Bi”presents herself as between comfortably recognizable identities: neither
wholly at home among her working-class former neighbors nor thoroughly assimilated into the academic middle class, neither safely straight nor stereotypically lesbian.

“Butch”stresses the paradoxical nature of power in the academy, according to which “dyke” becomes less a liability than a “drag” choice that can be traded on.

“Bar Dyke”illustrates the disjuncture among her own need to express herself in an authentic voice, the “tweed” rejection of that voice, and her sense that even what seemed most risky in her self-presentation in fact understated the lived reality.

We offer them not as models for teachers, but rather as possibilities for complicating the experience of Otherness in the academy. (93)

Alrighty. That’ll be all.

Remember to tell your stories, friends.

It’s the best we can do.

— C

 

Work Cited

Michelle Gibson, Deborah Meem, & Martha Marinara (2000). Bi, Butch, and Bar Dyke: Pedagogical Performances of Class, Gender, and Sexuality. College Composition and Communication52(1), 69-95.

v. Bi, Butch, and Bar Dyke: aka, the most relatable and thrilling academic article i’ve ever read

Maybe I’m just not with the times or I’m too neck-deep in fan fiction to notice that there are some (many? god, I hope so) in academia who have the exact viewpoints and interests that I do.

Golly gee, then, did I pick the right article for when I lead the class discussion.

{Since this is a monster of a post, I’m actually utilizing the Read More tag. This thing’s ingenious, I tell ya.}

“Bi, Butch, and Bar Dyke: Pedagogical Performances of Class, Gender, and Sexuality,” by Michelle Gibson, Martha Marinara, and Deborah Meem, published in The Journal of the Conference on College Composition and Communication back in 2000, and then reprinted Feminism and Composition: Critical Sourcebook in 2003, then reprinted again in Teaching Composition: Background Readings, 3rd ed. in 2007. All I can say is Y E S, QUEENS. If I ever get to meet these incredible thinkers, I’d like to shake their hands, because wow. It’s like all my inner thoughts and concerns about class, gender, and sexuality have just been laid out for the world… 18 year ago.

I was 6.

Man, I’m real behind.

Alright, before we get into anything regarding the article–which, may I say again, was one of the best academic readings I’ve had the privilege to encounter in a while–what did you think as you read through it? What was your initial impression? Relatable? Confusing? Totally out of your comfort zone? 

Regarding my initial impression: when I first began reading the piece, I was terrified the jargon was going to go over my head. It didn’t completely, in the end, so that’s good. But there were, I’ll be honest, probably some more complex concepts that I may not have fully grasped. That’s okay, though! Can’t find everything in a readthrough of a text. I hope to revisit this text, though. There’s a lot about the subjects of class, gender, and sexuality that I’d like to keep exploring. Mayhaps for a thesis? Hmmmm?

One more thing before I get into the actual article: I want you to think about some of the ways that you identify/define and present/perform aspects of yourself–(Those can be very different things.)–in a personal sense, in a professional sense, and in your writing. Just… think about it. And think about the effects of those definitions and presentations and performances–on you, and on others.

Okay, I lied. One more thing. Just a bit about the authors, a lot of which can be found at the end of their article. All three women are published (woop!) in journals such as Journal of Teaching Writing, Feminist Teacher, Writing on the Edge, Studies in Popular Culture, Journal of Basic Writing and Women in Literature and Life. They all have, to varying degrees, been involved in women’s and gender studies, LGBT studies, as well as literature, writing, and composition in academia. More info on their more recent happenings can be found on their staff pages, which I will lovingly link here: Gibson, Meem, and Marinara (now Brenckle, I believe?).

Alright! On to the article!

(Also, god forgive me, this came out to be a 3,000 word post and I still didn’t get to cover everything. Sigh.)

An Intro

Now, the way the article is organized is in 3 sections, or 3 “stories,” one by each author: Marinara’s Bi: playing with fixed identities, Meem’s Butch: personal pedagogy and the butch body, and Gibson’s Bar dyke: a cocktail waitress teaches writing. According to their introduction, “[through their] ‘stories,’ [they] hope to complicate the notion that identities can be performed in clean, organized, distinct ways by examining and theorizing our own experiences of class, gender, and sexual identity performance” (70). In writing this piece, they want (I believe) people to portray themselves, analyze those portrayals, and come to a conclusion that not all of those portrayals are clean cut and set in stone. They are up for debate, and academia should accept and appreciate that discourse instead of rejecting it.

But anyway.

Bi

Discovering our identities (and by that plural I mean that each person has multiple identifiable facets of themselves) is a process. Distinguishing the parts of ourselves that differ from the norm–the universal, central, default of a person (whatever that means)–can be challenging, especially if that “real me” Marinara talks about in her piece is comprised of parts that don’t quite fit even the non-default, socially acknowledged definitions of a person (72).

Phew, did that make sense at all?

Marinara looks at the labels people take on throughout the story of their lives–labels that mark them as Other to that default I mentioned: “Gay,” “Straight,” “Working class,” “Middle class,” etc.

What I seem to be getting from Marinara is that there is self-empowerment in these labels, in knowing who you are, but (and this is especially true back in 2000–18 years ago) there are “binary oppositions”–a One Or The Other And That’s It mentality (72).

Nowadays, gender and sexuality are viewed as a spectrum. We have unlimited possibilities with which to define ourselves and differentiate us from the fixed paradigms expected of a person.

Bisexuality, in this narrative, is seen as a socially-unclearly defined middle ground, “an incomplete dominance of either sexual trait, defies easy social categorization; it is an identity without visible rules, almost without referent” (73). Is there freedom in that? Or is there a longing to be defined and to have a name for yourself?

Class, as an identifier, Marinara explores, has less of a middle ground. Just as in her American Dream/”rags to riches” analogy, there’s that “moving up” quality. A transition–though a quick jump instead of a slow climb. With class, there’s the pressure of replacing your class with a new one, a better one. Up and up and up.

With sexuality and gender, though, there is no direction to climb towards. It’s not an upward climb to higher achievement, but more of a feeling around in the dark until you find the right light switch kind of discovery. This one’s too bright. This one’s too dim. This one sounds good in practice but doesn’t feel right. This is the one that should be picked, but again, it’s not right. etc. etc. Does that make sense?

Anyway, Marinara finds that in knowing aspects of ourselves can lead us to telling our stories, comparing them, contrasting, learning. Marinara sums up rather nicely the final sentences of her section:

“Keeping identity from becoming ‘fixed’ leaves room to construct other useful political positions, still more ‘Other’ places from which to speak. Increasing our understanding of those who tell stories from the social margins means exploring contradictions—the changing shapes of difference—so we can locate ourselves within/as the process of negotiating class and sexuality” (79).

[[Before I hop to the next topic, a quick reaction to Marinara’s class’s responses to the David Budbill poem “Roy, McInnes” and their Gender of the Narrator debate. Lately, I’ve been writing narrators/main characters with no discernible gender and there’s a freedom in that, I think. A freedom in being able to create a person outside of any kind of binary definition in regards to stereotypes and just… create a person. One main character of mine went fishing, and I heard someone refer to little Sam as “he”; another narrator of mine was briefly mentioned to be wearing “remnants of … makeup”; and many thought that character was female. Meanwhile, I had given no indication that either of the two were male or female. I’ve had reviewers compliment me upon realizing so. It’s freeing.]]

Butch

Deborah Meem’s section of the paper was split further into a telling of three stories regarding her butch persona and how it impacts her place in academia. She first brings up a chart common to women’s studies that details “two areas: (1) some of an individual’s multiple identities, and (2) the relative experience of privilege associated with each. Through positioning myself on this chart, I was able to articulate to myself for the first time some of the ways I partake of unearned privilege” (79).

I haven’t seen a chart like this before, but it’s interesting to see and sort of broadly get an idea of what kind of unearned privileges I have.

Screenshot 2018-10-21 at 15.25.32
(Gibson, Marinara & Meem 83)

By examining herself through the lens of this chart, Meem “began to understand how I occupy both the center and the margins of American society,” as we all should (79).

Before moving on to the stories, on which I will touch only briefly, let’s take a look at that Butch v. Femme binary Meem brings up. There is a history of the word butch and the concept behind it. Whereas butch lesbianism takes on more traditionally, stereotypically masculine qualities in style and personality, femme lesbianism is more traditionally, stereotypically feminine.

Interesting enough, the former type of lesbian persona is seen as powerful while latter type is … invisible. This will be touched on a bit more in Story 2, so stay tuned!

Story 1

Meem talks about a study regarding professors’ standard course evaluations and compared the results by professors’ sex. The results showed the expected, that “the three men averaged higher ratings in instrumental categories (knowledge, fairness) while the four women as a group averaged higher ratings in affective categories (helpfulness, availability).” What really called attention, though, was when the four women’s scores were compared. “Two of the women received much higher affective than instrumental scores while the other two (myself and another woman) [who were much more butch] had instrumental scores as high as the men’s and affective scores just slightly lower than those of the other two women’s” (80).

Meem then goes into talking about the Bem Sex-Role Inventory test “measure the degree of (stereotypical) masculinity and femininity that each of us projects” (81). I was able to find a test online based on the BSRI: the OSRI. Feel free to give it a go! I took it and was kind-of-but-not-really-surprised by my own results:

Screenshot 2018-10-21 at 15.05.06

I’m unsure how close this comes to the BSRI, but it’s interesting to check out in the meanwhile. Odd, though… I didn’t think I’d be as feminine on the chart as I turned out to be.

Story 2

Meem’s second story tells of the day she had to formally come out to her students. “A TV reporter for Cincinnati’s Channel 12 news [asked her] to be a ‘sample dyke at work’ for a feature timed to coincide with National Coming-Out Day” so Meem made a short and sweet announcement to her class the morning of the filming. Unsurprised silence and one young man’s “How do I look?” followed, and they went on with the filming.

While that’s great, and the story of instant acceptance is an endearing one, it’s unfortunate that a woman presenting some traits of masculinity is suddenly obviously known to be a lesbian. As Meem puts it in far more elegant words: “[the] point is that my coming out surprised no one, because, as Kristin Esterburg writes, in all areas ‘the coding of lesbians as not feminine and therefore in some way masculine predominate[s]’ (276). As a butch or masculine woman, I project a ‘lesbian’ persona without formally coming out” (81).

Sigh. Stereotypes and assumptions and all that.

[[I actually have a story to go along with this. When I had my pixie haircut, I was told I looked androgynous and I was like hell yeah. (One little kid even told me I “look like a boy.” I responded by asking if I was a pretty boy and they got very confused, which is a whole other matter entirely. #LetBoysBePretty #LetGirlsHaveShortHair) So anyway, I got confidence from that. My appearance gave me a label, a definition that I was totally fine to present. But one day, when I was getting a trim at the salon I frequent, an older lady in the chair next to me whispered something to her stylist, who was also an older lady. I didn’t hear what the woman in the chair said, but I clearly heard the stylist’s response. “Don’t worry, her mother still loves her.” … I don’t even know how to respond to that, honestly, so I’m just going to leave it at that. Talk about discouragement, though.]]

Story 3

The third story exemplifies the power that comes along with butchness. Masculinity has long been the side of the coin that stereotypically portrays power. A troublesome, know-it-all, male fellow committee member (lovingly nicknamed Professor Bluster) complained to a coworker that Meem was “so bossy!” and boy, did I roll my eyes so hard. Meem, though, is able to spin it in a positive(?) light:

“Had I been a man, he would not have hesitated to bring all committee work to a halt in order to engage in a pissing contest with me. As a butch woman, however, I had a certain power over him; he clearly perceived me as being immune to male feather-ruffling and intimidation. In other words, his usual strategies for getting attention were useless, and all he could do was call me bossy later on” (82).

In a sense, Meem’s butchness left her untouchable–an enigma her male coworker couldn’t figure out how to approach in a sensible manner outside of whiny gossip. I wonder, though, if that’s the best outcome. As someone who detests being spoken of behind my back, I’d rather endure the confrontation, I think.

The downside, though, Meem mentions later: “These responses, plus those from my three stories, indicate that students and faculty see my butchness as powerful, especially as contrasted with femme experience, which is mostly invisible … the relative invisibility of femmes makes it difficult for them to connect with sources of lesbian community in or out of the academy” (82-83).

“Femme” lesbianism isn’t seen at all, because it’s just seen as femininity, which falls into that “default” mentioned earlier for women.

Meem then brings up the chart again from earlier (I’ll be nice and drop it again below), pointing out the relative privilege and oppression the different facets of the chart hold. She actually added the third row to the chart, as well as the final column, noting this at the end of the article. While the “third category complicates the relentless binary oppositions … the sexuality column asserts that even in the context of heterosexual privilege, lesbians and gay men rank higher than bisexual or transgendered people … because in our culture ‘lesbian’ and ‘gay’ are assumed to be coherent identities, while bisexuality and transgender are so fluid—and contested—as to resist the consistency of definition and the relative safety of coherence” (93). This, unfortunately, still applies today, at least in some circles. Don’t let me near those circles.

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I’ll end this section with a final quote and a thought. “If it is true, as Judith Butler says, that fixed ‘identity categories tend to be instruments of regulatory regimes’ then complicating our own multiple identities is a revolutionary act” (84). Again, we want to identify ourselves, but in doing so, we set up borders. So there’s this desperate contradiction going on in our heads of wanting to be defined but not wanting those definitions to bind us so that we can’t explore outside of them. So when we are in fact able to comfortably play around and challenge what identifies us… maybe that’s when we get the power.

Bar Dyke

Gibson’s section details the struggle of relaying and relating to students too much in academia. As she says later on in her section, “as a faculty member submitting a dossier for reappointment, my task is to identify with administrators, not students” (90). BIG, ANNOYED SIGH.

Let me not get ahead of myself, though. In her dossier, Gibson challenged the idea that academics have to have a certain background. Surprise! Scholars are human, too. She claims that, in challenging traditionalist beliefs of universities by portraying our own personal stories while also providing proof of where we are in the academy, we can “deconstruct notions about who university students and faculty are and force the academy to respond more fully to the needs of diverse populations” (85). Hell yeah.

Gibson was advised (by a lovingly named Dr. Gatekeeper) to take out parts of her dossier to have it fit more with the university’s image. And what is that image? “[Tweed]: white, middle class, and heterosexual” (86).

Let’s take a brief pause to look around the room. Think of your other classes, of how diverse in population they are. How diverse in experience. Bear in mind that, of course, this article was written in 2000, so this kind of administrative, elitest mentality wasn’t as legally problematic or ridiculous as it seems today (though still being problematic and ridiculous, of course).

I can count the amount of white friends I have in university on 2 hands. 

I can count the amount of (fully, actualized, outspokenly) straight friends I have in university on 1 hand.

But @ academia, go off, I guess.

Back to Gibson. Her main goal in adding the personal stories of herself and her students into her dossier was that she wanted to “mainstream … the experiences of students who face similar circumstances” and yet Dr. Gatekeeper “explained that [Gibson] needed to develop a better sense of … place in the academy if [she] wanted to advance at an appropriate rate” (90).

First of all, I can’t stand that mentality in both academia and the workplace. “Know your place.” Man, get outta here. Gibson seemed to think the idea was horrid as well, as she goes on to “follow the old feminist adage ‘the personal is political’ and to disobey in the way McNaron suggests we should by ‘having and shaping [my] memories into coherent form’ (8)” (91).

Long story short, she made minor adjustments and submitted the dossier anyway.

Now that’s some bad bitch energy that I can appreciate.

To Conclude

I have gone on for FAR TOO LONG, so I will make this short.

I honestly don’t know how to properly conclude the massive info-dump and ramble that was this post. Is this technically an article review? Is that what this is? Has the length for it. Anyway, Gibson, Marinara, and Meem explore concepts of gender, class, and sexuality I feel we all could utilize in our everyday processes of shaping and understanding ourselves, the way others view us, and our writing.

I go off about voice in writing all the time. That’s not news. And this all just reaffirms my beliefs, honestly. Gibson has it right in quoting “the personal is political.” It’s our voices and our stories that will cause change in the world. We just need the means to define it all. And once we do that, we need to break out of those definitions and keep going. Up and up and through the dark.

So, I’ll end with these wise women’s final words:

The stories we have told here emphasize the shifting nature of our own personal and academic identities.

“Bi”presents herself as between comfortably recognizable identities: neither
wholly at home among her working-class former neighbors nor thoroughly assimilated into the academic middle class, neither safely straight nor stereotypically lesbian.

“Butch”stresses the paradoxical nature of power in the academy, according to which “dyke” becomes less a liability than a “drag” choice that can be traded on.

“Bar Dyke”illustrates the disjuncture among her own need to express herself in an authentic voice, the “tweed” rejection of that voice, and her sense that even what seemed most risky in her self-presentation in fact understated the lived reality.

We offer them not as models for teachers, but rather as possibilities for complicating the experience of Otherness in the academy. (93)

Alrighty. That’ll be all.

Remember to tell your stories, friends.

It’s the best we can do.

— C

 

Work Cited

Michelle Gibson, Deborah Meem, & Martha Marinara (2000). Bi, Butch, and Bar Dyke: Pedagogical Performances of Class, Gender, and Sexuality. College Composition and Communication52(1), 69-95.

Bi, Butch, Bar Dyke, and Beyond!

“We must think seriously about identities we bring with us into the classroom, remain conscious of the way those identities interact with the identities our students bring, and insert ourselves fully into the shifting relationships between ourselves and our students at the same time that we resist the impulse to control those relationships” (Gibson, Marinara, and Meem, 92).

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Entering a new week and a new blog! This article was fascinating to read but also important. All of our past articles have touched upon topics and controversies that I believe needs to be taught more in classrooms. This article is another topic adding to that list. This article stands out differently from the articles because the authors told their own stories. That is what really drew me to the article. A collection of authors, Michelle Gibson, Martha Marinara, and Deborah Meem all have various stories but come together to tell them. I loved the idea that these women are telling their stories and were able to read their point of view and their voice. “Through our ‘stories,’ we hope to complicate the notion that identities can be performed in clean, organized, distinct ways by examining and theorizing our own experiences of class, gender, and sexual identity performance” (pg 70). I’ve always believed that the way to learn and absorb information is through hearing other people’s experiences and even going through situations for yourself.

Another part of the article that I found interesting was the concept of voice. We discussed the topic of voice by Peter Elbow. There was a part of the article that expanded on the importance of voice. Gibson talked about how writing students define voice.

“Writing students define ‘real me’ voices as safe, static, inherent, and inviolate; public voices, though, are required to listen to other public voices, and listening can cause uncomfortable changes. The tension, the uncertain space writing teachers and students find between the familiar, ‘real me’ voice and an emerging public voice, should not necessarily be resolved with already codified positions; rather the tension should be a space to work from and with because the language of any personal narrative contests static identities” (pg 72).

I found this quote to be so powerful and influential that I couldn’t help but put the entire passage in my blog. Touching upon the concept of tension in writing is also an interesting discussion. Every student, teacher, and writer probably already know about the uncertainty that writing and voice can bring. This passage then made me bring up the question of “real me” in my own writing. Do I even have a “real me” when I am writing about personal experiences or in academic papers? The tension should not be something that a writer fears but it should be embraced. More specifically, “a space to work from…” (pg 72).

This article had a lot of rich content. The last quote from this article that stood out to me that I want to point out is the concept of silence. “I know that stories like mine can be used to create silence” (pg 91). I have questions that I want you to think about that expanded my mind as well. Is silence something we need our classrooms? Does silence hinder any progress? Is it the same as the phrase, “no news is good news”? Meaning, is silence a sign for processing information in a good way? Should we be having more teachers and lessons in the classroom who create silence to make a change? Lastly, does the silence in the air equal silence in writing or does the silence allow students to write loud words? 

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Grammar & equity in the writing classroom

The Grammar Debate

Thank you Darline for walking us through a smart consideration of Grammar, Grammars, and the Teaching of Grammar by Patrick Hartwell.  Darline’s link:  Presentation Powerpoint

Scholars have been arguing for decades whether grammar should be taught formally in schools.  Some research suggests that teaching grammar does nothing to improve composition. Other scholars insist that grammar is basic and necessary, and that we face a literacy crisis today partly because of poor grammar instruction. But one thing the article does make clear is that much research has been done on this topic. 75 years’ worth of research, and yet, the issue of whether grammar is foundational to writing instruction still remains unresolved.  As we read Hartwell together, we come to apprehend that the complexities of linguistic tradition(s) and language acquisition makes it difficult to pinpoint a “perfect formula” for the role grammar must play in writing pedagogy. Perhaps formal grammar instruction pedagogy should be overhauled instead of scrapped altogether.  Effective writing instructors know there is not just one way to learn, and we accommodate different learning styles in schools and universities with various classroom procedures and pedagogies.  Whether we will ever be able to agree on a clear and final role that grammar must play in writing instruction, it seems to me (and Darline as well) that we must teach it in some capacity – offering it as a tool in our students’ toolboxes.  It is a critical tool which can aid in the metacognition and metalinguistic awareness of their own acquired knowledge.

Our ongoing discussion of equity

From a concern over the role that grammar might play in a writing classroom, we turned our attention in the second part of class to the question of equity. The rapid acceleration and adoption of digital content for learning is a pressing catalyst for digital equity.
So what does it mean to be a “good” digital citizen in a globalized context? How can we recognize and redress conditions that deny some students access to the educational opportunities enjoyed by their peers. How can we work together to create and sustain equitable and just learning environments for all?

We first took a look at the article by Paul Gorski which share three critical terms: -cultural competence, -cultural proficiency, and -equity literacy.  Presented like ascendent steps on a skill-based latter, these terms have helped us think through the goals we make or take to building a fair learning environment.  Equity literacy (as the most desired of the three skills to attain in this tiered formulation) describes the skills and dispositions that allow us to create and sustain equitable and just learning environments for all learners.

We then took a moment to spend time with Sherri Spelic’s thoughtful prompt which makes us think further about the blindspots that are so inherent when teachers design their learning environments.

We also looked at this powerful showcase of how bias and prejudice work on our hearts and minds:

Finally, we took a closer look at how racism works.  I think it is important to note that curiosity about human difference (in and of itself) is not a problem.  It is actually a significant POSITIVE trait to have an inquiring mind and want to learn about something you don’t know about.  But there is much revealed by how you might ask a person who is different from you about their difference.  There is the kind of curiosity that opens up dialogue (encouraged and critical to any learning) verses the kind of curiosity that is bathed in privilege and arrogant ignorance (see below video).  The distinction makes all the difference:

In addition to these food-for-thought prompts, I also want to share with all of you the second Equity Unbound Studio Visit we conducted this week regarding the work of striving for equity in our classrooms – it was certainly another profound and timely conversation:

What is next?

  • Please read Bi, Butch, and Bar Dyke: Pedagogical Performances of Class, Gender, and Sexuality by Michelle Gibson, Matha Marinara, and Deborah Meem.  Christina will present on this article in the first part of our seminar style class time.
  • Write your fifth blog post, reflecting on Christina’s chosen article as well as any thoughts you are formulating about the equity discussion overall.  (I encourage you to take a peek at the Studio Visit above to prompt further thoughts.)
  • Don’t forget you can tweet comments/thoughts and your blog post to the #unboundeq hashtag!
  • We will continue with our #unboundeq activities (on the theme of Equity).  For our second half of class, I will focus on the TED talk on “intersectionality” from the  Equity Unbound suggested activities.  I think this selection might be a good follow up to the Bi, Butch, and Bar Dyke: Pedagogical Performances of Class, Gender, and Sexuality article.

See you next Monday!  Enjoy the weekend.

Dr. Zamora

“Expressing” Grammar

Drawing is one of my favorite hobbies. It is very personal and expressive. I had a few opportunities to attend drawing classes as electives in my undergraduate college life and the thing that I remember vividly the most is frustration. The professors were keen on establishing and enforcing the rules as we exercised drawing, which only served as an obstacle more than anything else. Their common belief was creating a foundation onto which the student could built upon but I did not share the same belief. Rules do not build foundations, they only serve as overall guidelines to form a standard. If one wants to express complex thoughts or feelings, sometimes the rules that may hinder their depth need to be broken. Drawing is an art form of emotional exercise and study of expression. So is the language.

I have always viewed grammar as the rules that dictated the structure of a language. Although their importance is undoubtful, the degree of restriction that they impose is exigent. The article, Grammar, Grammars, and the Teaching of Grammar by Patrick Hartwell, presents the clash of ideals about how to implement grammar in language pedagogy. The two sides of the spectrum are identified as proponents and opponents, or more preferably as grammarians and anti-grammarians, respectively. I tend to fall into the camp of opponents but I believe it is important to note that my position is based on my own personal experience. In the article, it is suggested that “teaching grammar does no harm” by the proponents but I would disagree. Making someone aware of the rules beforehand makes them aware of their own errors and “degrades their performance”. More often than not, I have observed students who fail to express their thoughts because they make an unintended stop over an error and attempt to correct it. This is something I have also struggled with during my own language acquisition.

Throughout my high school life, learning grammar was always the top priority in my ESL and ENG courses. Present perfect tense was the most complicated. I was perfectly (no pun intended) fine doing exercises on paper but I could never actively use that tense in speech. Looking back, I believe the major reason of difficulty in transition was too much emphasis being placed on the form rather than implementation in discourse. I have seen many of my own students struggle with the same transitional problems. Exercises such as fill-in-the-blank or error correcting do not necessarily help someone to develop the grammatical skill to utilize it in language but for whatever reason every grammar book, regardless of proficiency level, seem to include variations of these activities and do not offer much else. As the article suggests, the best approach would be. I managed to learn how to actively use the present perfect tense after writing essays in my senior year at high school. Although there was grammar correcting, it was not the priority of the essays. My focus was to organize my thoughts and present them to an audience.

Grammar can be considered “the internalized system that native speakers of a language share”, as suggested in the article. The key term in this particular definition is “internalized” as it hints at how grammar often exercised by native speakers; unconsciously. Children began using their native language by simple repetitions. They obtain phrases or short sentences used on daily basis from those around them, particularly their parents, by listening. Then, they recite those phrases or short sentences themselves until they develop an aptitude to mold their own language. The exposure to the rules of the language comes later down the road; most likely at elementary school. Some instructors believe that this particular approach is much more efficient in implementing grammar in comparison to a much traditional one. I would often give the example of “what time is it?” to my students in class. The idea was to examine the possibility of learning through repetition. The question “what time is it?” is not something that they would create from ground-up using grammar. I would suggest that the same method could be applied to longer sentences or even daily conversations. Practice of communication could improve their grammar better than constructing sentences by following rules listed in front of them because they would not only repeat the sentences but the grammar as well. It would be a recreation of the method of how children tend to learn grammar as mentioned.

One of the misconceptions that many instructors have is “all the rules taught will be learned” and it is simply not true. The overwhelming amount of rules, especially when enough time of exercising is not given, run the potential of negating each other. Delving into the complexities of language is more challenging for students than most instructors seem to realize; “mental baggage” of a student is a real issue. Each proficiency level has set of grammatical items that the language learner is expected to utilize but not necessarily be able to offer reasoning for their usage. Hence, overwhelming a learner by introducing every single rule is not necessary. In my experience, offering the most basics and allowing the students to apply them correctly had the potential to encourage students to broaden their ambitions. They had the illusion that they were already using correct grammar and thus they could easily shift their focus more on other skills, such as speaking or writing. More complex grammar could be taught by repeated exposure through these skills and acquired unconsciously. Sometimes, it is easier to haul if you do not see the size.

There is an unfortunate disadvantage to that natural method however. It is something that I was reminded of after doing the adjective exercise offered in the article. The exercise was simply to place the listed words in proper order. I was able to form the correct sentence of “the four young French girls” as expected, but I was not able to express the reasoning. It was simply natural. As most native speakers would agree, sometimes it is impossible to explain why certain things need to be in a certain way. When an error is detected, the vague explanation tends to be “it just does not sound right”. This is a problem that I often deal with and I believe it is due to how I acquired grammar. The unconscious utilization of it creates a challenge to present it. There are many grammatical rules that I am unconsciously aware of but offering elaborate explanation instead of “it is just the way it is” proves to be more laborious than I would like; especially as a language instructor.

I always had difficulty with grammar trees. Other instructors, the ones who learned grammar traditionally and utilize it consciously, are incredibly fast with constructing grammar trees for complex sentences. It is like puzzle-solving on advance level. I think the suggested correlation between “the study of grammar and the ability to think logically” comes from this particular aspect but I would argue that logical thinking does not necessarily need to be a conscious effort. Inability to explain something is often confused with lesser cognition. I tend to compare this difference to people who utilize one side of their brain more than the other. Some people, the left-side dominant ones, excel in mathematical skills and memorization. This probably makes it easier for them to exercise grammar in more detail. Other people, the right-side dominant ones, excel in artistic merits and emphasize the bigger picture more than its details. Obviously, this is not a conclusive notion but more of a suggestion of possibility. The instructors who could ace grammar trees were much better at presenting the rules of the language but not so well at actually using it in real life. I guess the satisfactory lies on the position of the individual.

Teaching grammar is and probably always will be a controversial topic among language instructors. I can only offer my perspective based on my own experience to the conversation. The best way to state how to approach this issue would be by the statement in the article, and I strongly agree, that we should “see it not as a cognitive or linguistic problem but rather as a problem of metacognition and metalinguistic awareness, a matter of accessing knowledges that learners must have already internalized by means of exposure to the code.” I believe the students of language are more than capable of attaining this metalinguistic awareness and develop a “syntactic sophistication”, as long as they have freedom to practice their voice and attain it by natural means as opposed to methodically.

Sequence, Interaction and Grammatical Incantations

In “Grammar, Grammers, and the Teaching of Grammers,” Patrick Hartwell poses interesting questions about the intentions of educational research. He suggests that the very basis of this discussion is designed to perpetuate the debate, regarding formal grammar., not resolve it. Grammarians and anti-grammarians. Transformational or traditional. Magical thinking or alchemy. Cognitive or linguistic. Many studies are presented in the reading representing different periods of the past century, bouncing back and forth from one side of the argument to the other. In conclusion, Hartwell illustrates that the teaching of formal grammar does not fare very well. At best the evidence is inconclusive, at worst it doesn’t help at all and perhaps inhibits a student’s ability to write well. Hartwell’s intention is to ask what he considers the right questions, with the intention to shed light on issues, terms and maybe most importantly, assumptions.
Grammar based instruction has a model that is rigidly skills based. The formal teaching of grammar (sentence structure, diagramming, etc) is the first step in that sequence and acts as the cornerstone. With that, Hartwell brings the reader’s focus to the key elements of the grammar controversy: sequence in the teaching of composition and the role of the teacher. Traditional sequencing unfolds in the following way: First Grammar followed by an absolute model of organization all controlled by an omnipotent teacher at the center. The idea of style does not enter the picture until much later in this paradigm. Without a doubt, this is the way I learned composition in grade school and high school. Or I should say, this is the way they taught composition. I struggled with grammar lessons, and wrestled with organization in an abstract way. But the whole experience was dominated by the intimidation of the teacher. But I have no question that this form of teaching lead to what Hartwell later refers to as teaching error and nurturing confusion (Thomas Friedman, p.120). After graduating high school, I spent an endless amount of time reading, and developing my own literacy. I was working in an environment where there were a lot of different kinds of people and so I was developing communication skills and by default my own rhetoric. As an adult being back in school, I have finally learned to write. The scarring from those elementary school grammar lessons finally have begun to fade.
I appreciated the breakdown of different categories of grammar. Although, it remains clear as mud I am afraid.
Grammar 1:(P111) Three features include 1) the grammar in our heads. The internalized system of rules. A tacit and unconscious knowledge. 2) The abstract and even counterintuitive nature of these rules, particularly in relation to our ability to express them in terms of grammar 2 rules. 3)The way in which the form of one’s Grammar 1 seems profoundly impacted by the acquisition of literacy.
Grammar 2: (p114) A scientific model of Grammar 1. The branch of linguistic science that is concerned with the description, analysis and formulization of formal language patterns. Not to be confused with the stable entity it is often presented as. It is an attempt to approximate the rules of grammar 1. However, these rules are continuously in flux depending on the dominant research of the time.
Grammar 3: (p121) Linguistic etiquette. This relates specifically to the usage of grammar. Usage issues which tend to be linguistically unnatural departures from the grammar in our heads.
Grammar 4: (p119)Rules of grammar. I am personally not clear on what distinguishes grammar 1 from grammar 4. However, the author refers to grammar 4 as incantations and a complete sham. Perhaps the reader was not supposed to gain clarity?!
Grammar 5:(p120) Stylistic grammar. Grammatical terms used in the interest of prose. Romantic. Classic. Philosophical theory of language as opposed to linguistic.
According to Hartwell, above all, writers need to develop skills at two levels and can be developed in any language activity that enhances awareness of language as language.
1)Broadly rhetorical. Strategies, and procedures for communicating in a meaningful way.
2)The ability to actively manipulate language with conscious attention to surface form.
This seems to dovetail with themes in previous readings. The gem out of this reading for me was the idea of language being “verbal clay….to be molded, and probed, shaped and reshaped, and, above all, enjoyed (Kolln, p 125)”

I was very excited by some themes that Hartwell raised and would like to revisit them:
• Those who dismiss formal grammar instruction as the cornerstone have a model of instruction that is focused around a complex interaction of learner and environment in mastering literacy. (P108) I personally believe that teachers are the guardians of learning threshold. That interaction between learner and educator can be magical.

• Hyperliterate perception of the value of formal rules. Most students reading their writing aloud will self-correct a majority of grammar 2 errors. Hyperliterate is such an interesting way to frame things.

• Mastering codes from top down (issues of voice, tone, register and rhetorical strategy). Not bottom up (grammar usage, to usage, to fixed forms of organization)

Vocabulary:
Tacit: understood or implied without being stated.
Posit: assume as a fact; put forth as a basis of argument.
Orthography: the art of writing words with the proper letters according to standard usage.

Teaching Grammar

At the very beginning of his article Grammar, Grammars, and the Teaching of Grammar, University professor and author Patrick Hartwell agrees with the conclusion offered by literary scholars Richard Braddock, Richard Lloyd-Jones, and Lowell Schoer in their 1963 journal article Research in Written Composition. They conclude that

In view of the widespread agreement of research studies based upon many types of students and teachers, the conclusion can be stated in strong and unqualified terms: the teaching of formal grammar has a negligible or, because it usually displaces some instruction and practice in composition, even a harmful effect on improvement in writing.(pg. 105)

Even so, Hartwell goes on to present the issue of grammar and its debate among other scholars. This issue he argues has always been a controversial topic in the classroom and continues to adversely affect teachers everywhere. His main argument debates that “formal grammar instruction, whether instruction in scientific grammar or instruction in “the common school grammar,” would have little to do with control over surface correctness nor with quality of writing.” (pg. 125). In essence, Hartwell is stating that the issue of grammar is a complicated one that needs more research. One specific example that he highlighted to make this point is found in his agreement with author Martha Kolln, who has conducted extensive experimental research in the studies of grammar and also “calls for more definition of the word grammar” (pg.106).  

Furthermore, in the article, Hartwell uses the research results and conclusions of several scholars and writers of this debate to validate his main point. Considering the beliefs of these scholars, Hartwell presents four questions that are meant to articulate the grammar issue against those who are pro-grammar. These questions are,  

  1. Why is the grammar issue so important? Why has it been the dominant focus of composition research for the last seventy-five years?

  2. What definitions of the word grammar are needed to articulate the grammar issue intelligibly?

  3. What do findings in cognate disciplines suggest about the value of formal grammar instruction?

  4. What is our theory of language, and what does it predict about the value of formal grammar instruction? (This question-“what does our theory of language predict?”-seems a much more powerful question than “what does educational research tell us?”) (pg.108).

The questions asked allow both grammarians and non-grammarians readers to choose a side in the debate. One has to agree whether they prefer the traditional style of teaching grammar or reason with other non- grammarian scholars who agree that grammar teaching in the classroom does not equal witting success. I personally, will side with other grammarians on this issue because I also agree that the traditional style of teaching grammar does improve student writing and success in school.

Hartwell provides the answers for these four questions in detail by properly defining the meaning of grammar. This is another main point that Hartwell suggests as a solution to solve this issue. In order to have a clear explanation and reason for teaching grammar, Hartwell describes the five definitions of grammar presented by 1954 scholar W. Nelson Francis. These five definitions of grammar are, Grammar 1: the set of formal patterns, Grammar 2: linguistic science, Grammar 3: linguistic etiquette, Grammar 4: school grammar and Grammar 5: stylistic grammar. Throughout the article, Hartwell goes more in-depth providing example that clearly apply these five rules of grammar as well as describing each style of grammar.  

Hartwell’s debate was strong and very passionate. Overall, the article was an edifying resource that provided me with the knowledge and viewpoints of the issue of grammar. The thesis presented factual and credible sources for the argument made and his case study is well supported. Even though a majority of scholars argue that teaching grammar in the classroom does not lead to student success in writing I conclude that in the context of academic writing strict teaching of grammar should be though in every classroom and even college campuses. I side with the grammarians on this issue in hopes that students from any background will learn to write academically and use proper writing language. In conclusion, based on the results of experimental research on this debate Hartwell concludes that “Teachers should formulate theories of language and literacy and let those theories guide our teaching” (pg.127). I reason with Hartwell’s final conclusion, however in order to move forward in the attempt to solve the issue of grammar we need to answer more difficult questions. Such as should the government eradicate the requirement of standardized test in schools?  Without the constraints of grammar, how will non-native learners of English write properly? What is the point of English classes if grammar skills are not being thought and enforced in the classrooms? Answering these questions in addition to Hartwell’s questions will bring us closer to solving this ongoing debate.

Click Here to Read the Article! 

Presentation Paper 

Presentation Powerpoint 

iv. grammar matters (?)

Call me crazy, but I love grammar. In every form. Each of the 5 ways Patrick Hartwell describes in his essay “Grammar, Grammars, and the Teaching of Grammar.” Anything structure- and usage-related are so fascinating to me.

I love critiquing it… I love employing its rules (and breaking them)… I love learning it… heck, I even love learning grammar of other languages and seeing how they compare to English…

No matter how many times my friends tell me learning conversational Korean is easier by watching dramas and not by studying the intensive grammar rules of the language, I will still geek out over the latter activity.

Just as I understood both sides of the argument for voice, as presented in Peter Elbow’s “Voices in Writing,” so too do I see the merit of both sides of The Grammar Issue. Honestly, the two topics go hand in hand, don’t they? Or rather… go at each others’ throat. [Totally random, but do y’all think “throat” or “throats” is more appropriate in this sentence? While there are more than one metaphorical throats in the situation, it’s just one throat each… So like… What’s the dealio…]

Anyway. The expressiveness of voice v. the technicalities of grammar. Who’s right? Who’s more important? Is there an appropriate balance?

Regarding that last question, I believe there is. Scholars and professors debate about the need for “formal language” in academic papers–arguably for the purpose of snob-nosed elitism rather than comprehensiveness in writing, but that’s neither here nor there–and with that, the rigidity of formal grammar rules and word usage.

While I agree that a certain amount of clarity in language is necessary in academia, I feel like the stress professors/teachers put on student to adhere to those rules is too much and too severe should the student fail to do so. I’d rather not say “fail” in this instance, but you get what I mean.

So back to that balance. When a person strives to follow every single grammar rule thrown at them, it’s a) daunting because even when you fix a sentence to follow one rule, you’re probably breaking three other obscure ones in the process, b) discouraging that the focus isn’t on the content but the means in which it’s presented, and c) damn boring.

Ya gotta throw a lil spice into your writing once in a while. Honestly, in all my past research papers, I feel like I’ve attempted to change sentences around, bend the rules, throw in some spice and humor.

Whether or not I’ve succeeded is another matter entirely.

But anyway, the attempt is there. Academics can be boring enough as is, so come on y’all. Loosen up a bit. The world is too serious, throw a joke into your dissertation. An “ain’t” into the mix, a “gonna” in that intro, and a “fjdlsjfkld” into that struggle of a conclusion.

That last one is a bit extreme. Save that for Twitter.

So, tl;dr, balance, my friends. Grammar is important for clarity, surely, but–… oh. A thought just hit me. I’m drawn back to my last blog post about multilingualism and writing. Adherence to specific, base grammar rules makes for easier translation, easier understanding for those whose native language may not be the one used in the paper, and easier sharing/spreading of information because of that understanding.

Hoo boy. Talk about flip-flopping an opinion. Let’s move on before I change my mind again.

I’ve mentioned how, in the writing center, our focus isn’t on grammar. It’s on the content, while grammar usually stays by the wayside, chilling while we sort out the Big Issues first.

I try to ignore it while it sits over there, just in my periphery, staring and giving a little wiggly wave every now and again.

I succumb to the temptation to point out a necessary comma sometimes. Shhhh, don’t tell anyone.

We’re not supposed to teach in the writing center. We’re supposed to nudge the student to use the knowledge they already have. But of course, we end up teaching a little bit sometimes. It just happens.

And honestly, when it does happen, the one thing that I hate about “teaching” grammar is the terminology. Comma splices, appositives, pluralization, possessiveness, verb-tense agreement, parallelism… It can get jargon-y very quickly. So it’s tricky figuring out how much jargon-y explanation is necessary (and if the student is willing to hear it all).

Alright, I’m just gonna point out One More Thing from Hartwell’s paper, because I was Literally just thinking about this recently: the unspoken rule that is the order of adjectives. Under the header of “The Grammar in Our Heads” (p.111), Hartwell takes into account our Grammar 1 knowledge.

For years, I didn’t know it was a rule to order adjectives a certain way. I just… did it. “The four young French girls.” That’s exactly the way I ordered the given words in my head. Number, age, nationality. I recall seeing a longer list somewhere on the internet, and maybe I’ll find it before I post this… {I found it.} Or maybe I’ll tweet it out. {Boom, baby.} Or both. Regardless, it was mind blowing.

And it’s so fascinating how any rearrangement of that order just makes it sound… wrong. And how, when analyzed, the order can completely change the concept of the sentence. Fancy subtly nuanced grammar stuff. Wowie. I wonder if there’s a purpose to the order, and how it came about. Pretty sure people didn’t just realize what sounded the least awkward when giving several descriptive words to a thing.

Hm. Food for thought.

Alrighty. That’s it for this week. Looking forward to discussing this article more in class.

G’night/G’afternoon/G’morning!

— C

Monolingual methods & the ? of Equity

Teaching Writing in a Multi-Linguistic World

Another thoughtful evening spent thinking about crucial issues in current writing theory and practice.  Thank you Vee for a thoughtful presentation which guided us through Teaching Composition in the Multi Language World (Matsuda).  Your coverage of the article layed the ground work for an interesting discussion, and the choice to share a video from the television show “A Different World” about college students who attend Hillman College (a HBCU- Historical Black College/University) was particularly instructive. One of the characters from the show speaks “African American Vernacular” and had trouble understanding “Romeo and Juliet” by Shakespeare in her First-Year English class. Until she realized, it was all about translation.

This video served as an illustrative entry point for all of us to keep in mind when considering the politics of language instruction in general.  As sense of legitimacy and power conferred in the mastery of language (in writing) requires a certain kind of determination, as well as a ceaseless supply of intellectual curiosity.  As we have read, Writing Centers, tutors, first year Comp programs often create learning environments where the ELL student is an afterthought.  There is little preparation and even less effective policy that truly supports this vast population of learners.  This is a truth despite the dramatic diversity of our local context.  Our own NJ could very well be more multilingual that the UN (or at least on par).  And still, we have little in place to support this multi-linguistic reality in our shared learning contexts.  Our discussion revealed that the ELL reality is not for the faint of heart.  To learn institutionally under such limited resources while experiencing a  dismissal of any previous global, cultural, multi-linguistic knowledge often becomes part of a sting of stigmatization & “remediation”.  What remains is a profound challenge that is rarely confronted comprehensively (whether by educators or institutions).  I am glad that within our discussion we covered an acknowledgement of the psychic truth of ELL experience.  For any academic consideration of these issues (through theory) should always be rooted in a compassionate understanding of that inherent struggle.  What is clear that we need further support from a professional development standpoint.images-3

Thinking about Empathy & Bias

For the second part of class we turned to the recent Studio Visit with Equity Unbound.  The topic of the informal conversation for this cycle was Empathy & Bias, which was a perfect follow up to some of the questions we had been considering re: the mono-linguistic bias of writing studies and composition studies.  This meaningful conversation covered much important ground, from thinking about identity, borders, and translation, to considering intersectionality and the problem of “cultural taxation”.  We also contributed a bit to the #unboundeq twitter feed to add some reflection.  In addition, you are invited to share thoughts in your next blog post:

What is next?

Have a relaxing and replenishing autumn weekend.  I look forward to our time together on Monday.

Sincerely,

Dr. Zamora

Grammar, Grammar, and More Grammar!

“In view of the widespread agreement of research studies based upon many types of students and teachers, the conclusion can be stated in strong and unqualified terms: the teaching of formal grammar has a negligible or because it usually displaces some instruction and practice in composition, even a harmful effect on improvement in writing” (Richard Braddock, Richard Lloyd-Jones, and Lowell Schoer, 1963).

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Confession time? Grammar has never been a good friend of mine. (Surprise, surprise). The foundation of my grammar comes from various teachers, moving from one school to another, and simply just not having a consistent education. At least that is what I believe. After reading this article, there are probably multiple reasons as to why grammar has never been my friend. Patrick Hartwell, the writer of this article “Grammar. Grammars, and the Teaching of Grammar”(https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B-NQx4UJlVmxdl9TV1dHUi1EWUU/edit), uses other scholars and sources to support his argument of how grammar and experimental research is crucial in this field of composition. Hartwell uses Janet Emig’s term “magical thinking” as part of the base for his article. The term “magical thinking” is “the assumption that students will learn only what we teach and only because we teach” (Emig, 105). For me, I took this definition as there is this invisible rule that the only reason why students are able to take in the information that is given to them is that their teachers are giving them the information. Students are capable of learning outside of the classroom as well.

Apart from Emig, Hartwell also uses Janice Neulieb as a source to discuss grammar. Neulieb wrote, “The Relation of Formal Grammar to Composition in College Composition and Communication” where she wants to reconstruct the definition of the word “grammar”. Her new definition of grammar, “the internalized system that native speakers of a language share” (140). She also expresses a certain goal for this field that is geared toward helping students. “Our goal should be to help students understand the system they know unconsciously as native speakers, to teach them the necessary categories and labels that will enable them to think about and talk about their language” (Neulieb, 150).

What I found interesting was how the article was mainly focused around four questions in order to point out the various grammar issues. Out of the four questions, I believe the first one is the most important. “Why is the grammar issue so important? Why has it been the dominant focus of composition research for the last seventy-five years?” (Hartwell, 108). This is not a simple question as it may seem. There are people who believe in teaching grammar the traditional way and then there are people who believe in teaching grammar the non-traditional way. The reason why the grammar issue is so important is because of the students, native speakers of English and non-native speakers of English. “Developing writers show the same patterning of errors, regardless of dialect” (Hartwell, 123). If problems are being shown in both native speakers and non-native speakers, then the different questions and experiments that Hartwell has pointed out to us could be just what the field needs in order to solve these problems.