Category Archives: Student Blogs

The Power of the Pen

As I write this post, my sons and their friend are attempting to write their first rock song in my basement. As they phase in and out of classic rock, punk, and pop, struggling to find their “voices” as musicians, I realize that I am experiencing a musical manifestation of Huber’s strategy of making a list of her writing voices. Huber has labeled her different voices–“Hayseed Punk-Rock Girl” and “Fierce German Peasant” (among others), and the fledgling musicians are exhibiting their different voices (Zeppelin-like, White Stripes-y, Nirvana-ish). Huber’s article made me aware that because voice is a “river that is the font of story and speech,” the boy band’s songs will be a product of the unique voices they discover, and the voice in which I choose to write will influence the story that I tell.

Huber addresses not only voice but also talks about how her physical state affects her writing. She eventually learned to deal with the pain of rheumatoid arthritis by recognizing that she “had different speeds and modes.” While I do not have to deal with chronic physical pain, my mental and emotional states significantly impact my ability to write. Even just in the context of doing homework for this class, I have had to concede that there are certain times when I don’t have the mental bandwidth to be an effective writer. On my lunch hour at work? Reading–yes, writing–no. Upon arriving home from work? Helping my sons write–yes, my own writing–no. After everyone has gone to bed? Bingo! It is also challenging to focus when I’m feeling down, anxious, or both, as these feelings can be the perfect cocktail for self-criticism and even writer’s block, so I try to take advantage of the moments when I’m feeling more “neutral.”

Huber talks about writing in spite of her pain, but the authors of the other article, Pennebaker and Chung, were having people write because of their pain. They were exploring the effects of expressive writing on the writer’s health. They found that, under certain circumstances, expressive writing can improve the health of writers who’d experienced traumas: “[A]n increasing number of studies indicate that having people write about traumas can result in healthy improvements in social, psychological, behavioral, and biological measures” (Pennebaker and Chung 4). The act of writing affects us on so many levels, yet it can be challenging to provide evidence showing why writing is important. Even so Pennebaker and Chung have done just that: “Writing or talking about emotional experiences…has been found to be associated with significant drops in physician visits from before to after writing” (7). They also discovered that “the more that the topic or writing assignment is constrained, the less successful it usually is” (12), which suggests that people benefit more from open-ended writing prompts than specific ones. I think these findings can be a powerful tool to wield when advocating for adding or maintaining writing programs in schools and places dedicated to wellness.

When taken together, the articles by Huber and Pennebaker and Chung show that people benefit from having a wide variety of voices in which to write and a lot of leeway on what to write. Since the need to be heard is universal and sharing emotions through writing is healthy, teachers and health professionals alike would do well to take note. For my part, I will hang in through band rehearsal in support of the healthy, albeit loud, emotional expression that’s happening, since I now know how beneficial writing lyrics may actually be!

A Series of Labored Metaphors

This week’s first article “If You’re Struggling to Write Lead with Voice” by Sonya Huber encourages writers to identify the various voices within them and use those voice to “lead” a story. I think that there is a connection between this concept and code-switching given that code-switching is essentially this same concept but in verbal form rather than written. It is a funny idea in a way too…. It’s as though we as people all have a host of other folks inside of our head with their own personalities and temperaments. Oftentimes we switch from one voice to another without even realizing it and it is only later, upon reflection, that we notice that a change in our mental landscape has occurred. In order to facilitate this self-reflection, I think that meditation is an important tool for writers so that we can enable ourselves to recognize these voices and momentarily separate ourselves from them. It’s no coincidence, I think, that my best ideas come to me when I’m on a long run and my mind is in a very meditative state. It’s in these moments, when I am struggling to push myself forward and my breath is rushing in and out, that my brain is the most receptive to new observations and ideas. Most of the time it’s as though I never even thought these new thoughts myself: I am merely observing them as if from some outside realm looking in.

And maybe that’s the case in a funny sort of way.

However, whatever causes this phenomenon, I think that one thing is abundantly clear: our identities cannot be nailed down as one uniform being. Our minds are like classical music: the melody is always moving here and there and sometimes circling back around to the same place, but there exists no center to the music. There is no chorus or flashy guitar solos or anything of the sort. Just a fluid, organic continuation of the last note. So why then, should we limit ourselves to one all-encompassing voice when our inner worlds are much more complicated than that. We should be open to exploring the new corners of our personality and bringing them to life on paper when they arise. I think that learning how to channel the various shades of our minds is key to writing characters that are compelling and unique.

Article #2

I think I am going to write another metaphor to digest this week’s second article, “Expressive Writing, Emotional Upheavals, and Health” by James W. Pennebaker and Cindy K. Chung. Imagine this:

There is an enormous waterfall in front of you whose waters lead out to sea. It’s so tall that you can’t see the river that is feeding it and there are several levels to the falls itself, like the steps of a staircase. You can think of the water as consciousness. It’s just pure thought and emotion on its own, but when it clashes with the rocks of the cliff that form the falls itself–that is where the magic truly happens. Rather than being a flat and uninteresting body of water we have this noisy, rushing, gushing, waterfall which would probably make for a great tourist destination in our world. So, one can see that it is not the water that makes this spectacle worthy of a visit, but the rocks that the water collides with. These rocks can be seen as conflict in our lives, and we chip away at those slowly just like the water will eventually wear those stones down until they are smooth and flat. But in the meantime, we have a sight to behold.

All in all, I suppose what I’m saying is that art usually comes from a place of trauma/ conflict. After all, our lives and character are shaped by the conflicts that we experience. We can avoid thinking or dealing with them, yes, but it is better to acknowledge them and work towards a resolution (in the same way that every fictional story centers around a conflict and that conflicts eventual resolution). While some people may not want to share their traumas or even write them down privately, I think, like Pennebaker and Chung, that doing so is useful in relieving our inner suffering. As a result of this act of courage, writers often bring forth their most powerful voices.


I don’t know how to describe my voice as a writer. I know I write differently than how I speak, but that is typically as far as I can get in distinguishing my own patterns. Mikhail Bakhtin believes that we can write in many voices, and to an extent I can agree with that, as I know the ways I go about phrasing expressions, word choice, tone, and emotion, all change depending on the character of which I am trying to portray. 

Sonya Huber, author of this week’s first article, explored voice in depth when she was struggling with painful bouts of arthritis. The pain she felt caused her words to come slowly, to the point where she didn’t feel like writing. As someone who has chronic pain from years of abusing my body, I can sympathize with this as the more you focus on pain, the more difficult it is to focus on anything else of consequence. It was in this situation that Sonya discovered her voice changed, as did her audience. Instead of writing for others, she was writing for herself and using her past traumatic experiences as the fuel needed to provide voices to put her pain into context. 

Paisley Rekdal’s definition displays how our memories, emotions, and senses all influence our unique voices. Our voices are a combination of influences on our lives and influences on our techniques of writing and speaking. Perhaps this is why Huber finds success in helping stuck writers by letting them talk, providing a new experience away from the project they attempt to work on. 

It’s unfortunate that many of the writers she has come across in her teaching profession have not been able to find themselves in their own words, or do not have the confidence to see positively their own thoughts and ideas fleshed out on paper. To find their voices, Huber suggests the idea of making a running list of the voices that we internalize and conjure when writing. I guess I do this, but instead of naming them, I put a character to them, a full identity separate yet equal to my own, as each character is a part of me just as I am a part of them.  

Voice does not just extend to my working with fictional characters, but in expressing my experiences in non-fiction writing, whether it be journal articles or text to friends. Expressivist writing is writing that is used to get us to the deeper recesses of our personal experiences. Numerous studies have been done that have determined using expressivist writing to break down and analyze our traumatic experiences may actually have a positive impact on us as individuals in dealing with said trauma. 

Not expressing ourselves and getting in touch with our experiences can have negative consequences on us physically, emotionally, and socially. In this, I think about the emotional breakdown in the La Dispute album Wildlife, each song a story framed in the context of a writer who has deteriorated until they no longer understand the voice they are writing in. The songs that directly pertain to the narrator all have an isolated, suffocating, almost paranoid quality to them. They seem to scream for help, scream for someone to recognize the suffering within them, but our narrator fumbles towards the curtain call that they are sure nobody will clap for, and in the end I don’t clap. I sit feeling the pressure in my chest and my head of all I had just experienced but I don’t clap. I can’t Instead, I mimic the narrator and question, whose voice am I writing in?

The Many Voices of Trauma

Hello, fellow classmates ~~

!! WARNING !! This blog post covers very touchy subjects.

So, please read with caution and an open mindset. Thank you

If You’re Struggling to Write, Lead With Voice

 I’m going to start with this quote to explain why my blog post this week will not be as intellectually hearty and full of philosophical questions (I might take this statement back depending if I get into the groove of writing for this blog post): “I got an in-depth opportunity to explore voice when the volume and speed of mine began to slow down about a decade ago, staggering under the weight of fatigue and chronic pain from rheumatoid arthritis” (Huber, 2022). The exact situation is happening to me. I have seronegative rheumatoid arthritis, and I can attest to the severe chronic pain and fatigue. Some days, the feelings of helplessness and hopelessness are so loud that simply lifting my head off my pillow is like driving a car with a broken gas pedal. Last year I was in rehab, and then continued to push myself through any mental and physical symptoms of fatigue, ultimately ending up in the ER twice for several, day-long panic attacks. I am first-handedly feeling the wrath of my actions of last year. The volume and speed of my life right now is extremely slow; possibly even steers itself into reverse here and there, or whenever I encounter a slight scare. Imagine being stuck hearing the voices of panic-like thinking for over a week ~ TORTURE AT ITS FINEST ~.

Anyway, I often think back to the voices that led me to become hospitalized. Those voices often told me that I must keep going. To stop is a symptom of weakness. To rest is procrastination. To sleep in late is a symptom of laziness. Now that I’m on the coming down stage of the bell curve of a week-long panic attack, I understand that my notions of working, and relaxing come from my mother’s strict Sicilian upbringing that has leaked its way into my subconscious. Other lived experiences (like my learning disability) contribute as well, but I am not here to unpack my trauma, even though I’d love to (lol). I am here to discuss a writing phenomenon that popped up in my head while reading this week’s selections: Mental illness and Voice.

I have always struggled with the realization that I’m fully medicated now and might be for the rest of my life. Who am I without medication? Is this the real me? Is the ‘real me’ broken and in need of fixing? For years, I grappled with the question, who am I off my medications Vs. on my medications? While trying to dissect that internal question, I also tried to locate my ‘authentic’ voice somewhere in between the mix. The amount of shame after discovering that the anxiety-driven voice that result in lash-outs and crying fits are essentially part of my voice just like the very voice you hear in class or feel within my blog writing is indescribable. Without the anxiety-fatigue-depressive voices, would my resilience be the same? Would my drive to emotionally assist young kids in figuring out how their breath connects to their mind, body, and soul still stand? Would I be as emotionally sensitive to, and intellectually aware of myself and others around me?

Even when getting into the details of Sylvia Plath’s poem, a poet who evidently suffered from a mental illness (in my opinion), the concept of multiple voices, essentially there, to help define one authentic voice, came up in discussion. For instance, Huber even admits, “This comes up a lot: the idea of “voice” made of “voices” (Huber, 2022). This is a very meta-confusing concept that involves deep introspection and a good level of self-awareness. However, to have multiple voices is a war of the mind. And this phenomena in terms of writing should be discussed with sensitivity toward those who have lost the battle within and against their minds without fully understanding the ‘why’ – a sad reality I have seen all too much of. So, I think my mental illness(es) – PMDD, OCD, dyslexia (controversial as an illness but to me, any disability can make you physically and mentally ill), generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), and depression – are a separate wild, frantic, irritable, dull yet boisterous voice of itself that assists and navigates around the many other unidentified voices within my head.

Below are Reactions to Random Quotes:

Even the voice of this piece—the Voice that Loves Voice, I suppose—is one among several essaying voices. It has more of my speech in it, and gestures, and specifically the direct way I talk in the classroom, using shorter words and phrases and more images and some terrible mixed metaphors and similes” (Huber, 2020). THIS. THIS right here. A random stranger of an author just summed up the voice I use to teach (academics and yoga), the voice I use in the classroom as a learner, and the voice I – (I try my best to) use when talking with random strangers. The voice that loves voices – holy cow, I love it. This is the exact voice a perfectionist uses to mask the vulnerability around confrontation; therefore, we offer unlimited grace, kindness, empathy, and complete openness to whomever encounters our path, especially in a work or academic setting.

“In letting myself loose a bit, in looking for the weird voices in my own life and head and letting them out, I found new ways to say things and new perspectives on my life” (Huber, 2020). This is the exact reason to why I want to get into writing stand-up comedy. I have no idea how I will go about this but all I do know is that I have an ability to turn my animated self into a funny scene or demonstration. I would like to attend more comedy shows, and perhaps research any nearby writing workshop classes or local open mic sessions to get a feel for that ~ lifestyle ~. Dark humor – I’m talking an enormous amount of mass packed tightly into a tiny volume – type of dark. Dark humor is how I navigate life and living, and without it, I truly don’t know. I feel that dark humor has helped me cope with my anger and sadness in such a way that I can turn around and laugh about a situation rather than intellectualize the hell out of it.

I’ve been told I’m funny, and no, not just from my mom and closest friends (lol). Interestingly, my most recent uber driver and the latest Chinese delivery lady had both thanked me for making them laugh during their jobs. Apparently, I have a voice people often want to listen too, or at least are curious about, and I’m not sure if it’s the way I come off or speak openly about random topics that are on my mind. In rehab, three different co-patients had told me, in their own ways of course, that I have a powerful voice that moved them in session. Or that they specifically felt the pull and tug of their emotions whenever I speak up in group. I will never forget the one elder woman, who patted my back on her way out of group, and whisper-talked in my ear: “Your supposed to teach, darling; you have a special way of making people truly listen.” I still think about that complement and channel that energy when faced with anxiety-driven self-doubt or a severe case of writers block.

Sometimes, I think my deeply, weird voice cares too much about making others smile, and not so much myself. Hence why this quote made me pause with deep curiosity, “The Russian theorist Mikhail Bakhtin described “intonation” as “the point where language intersects with life” and Huber continues to explain that her ‘teaching’ voice often uses intonation or inflectional tones to physically connect with people, making her feel more confident and powerful. However, the arthritis-driven voice was used to “counteract [her] tendency to hide, [her] own desire to be agreeable or not offend, naming Pain Woman as a separate voice seemed to give [her] permission to channel something outside of [her] public mask” (Huber, 2020). I think mindfully noticing the different perceptions and perspectives of the world you narrate within your head, and slowly beginning to befriend and name them, rather than shame and judge them, may be the start to an answer to my many unsolved problems. Hey – Huber said it herself, “She pushes me to say what I think, to listen to the bold voice inside me, and then to follow that voice, to let it grow, to see it and understand it, and to feed it, knowing I can always switch to another one” (Huber, 2020). So, I say we start trying this voice naming thing ~~

Expressive Writing, Emotional Upheavals, and Health

“What is it about a trauma that influences health?” (Pennebaker and Chung, 2). Let me tell you: EVERYTHING ABOUT TRAUMA INFLUENCES HEALTH. However, the only beautiful thing about trauma is that it is universal; everyone comes with their own package deal of family and personal trauma. It is trauma and suffering that connects human beings because without it, there would be no such thing as sympathy or empathy. And could you imagine living in a world absent of sympathy and empathy? I fear it’d be like living the Purge but just 24/7, everyday chaos.

There is certainly a scale to trauma being that some people have it worse than others; for instance, “the more extreme the trauma and the longer time over which it lasts are predictors of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) incidence” (Pennebaker and Chung, 2). However, it is important to not diminish your own trauma in the light of others because no other human being has lived your life with your exact biological genetic factors. The way in which we respond to the many triggers within our life are uniquely determined by our upbringing, support system, genetics, and our ability to love and empathize throughout the hardships.

Sometimes, we don’t have control over the way in which we react or respond because of a mood disorder, PTSD, or unresolved trauma that floats to the surface at the worst, unexpected times. Have you ever heard about those horrific postwar psychological stories among Vietnam veterans? It could be a loud, rumbling thunder that jerks the vet’s unconscious body awake in a state of fright to discover he’s hovering over his wife’s sleeping body, gripping her neck until her face turns purple. Suddenly, BOOM, his traumatized unconscious mind wakes up his conscious mind before it’s too late, and now he’s ashamed of what he’s capable of doing without any sort of control. That is what a physical response to trauma may look like for some veterans.

For those who were neglected, abused, or abandoned in childhood may have a total opposite reaction to bodily fright. Those with anxiety may throw up or pick at their skin because “the unexpected events are generally associated with cognitive disruption including rumination and attempts to understand what happened and why” (Pennebaker and Chung, 2). Sitting in anxious thoughts leads to terrible physical symptoms. Those with depression sleep the day away to avoid the traumatic spiral of negative thoughts that become overwhelmingly unbearable. Those who have faced years of discrimination, or a degree of hate crimes may shy away in public or trust those who only look like themself, which you can’t blame them for selective choosing. Trauma is certainly shameful; hence why many refuse or claim to see no reason for therapy. I don’t where I’m trying to take this rant-of-a-blogpost, but I suppose to claim we all have a degree of unhealed trauma hovering over our shoulders, which is a weird, disturbing yet calming truth to digest.

Oh, and I take my opening statement back because I happened to write way more than I expected ~~ LOL


Francesca Di Fabio

Trauma= My best work

Disclaimer, this blog post was written from my perspective only, these are my personal connections with the readings. Anyways, this is probably by far my favorite reading and blog post. I wouldn’t say for a good reason per say, but I did enjoy reading both very much. As soon as I started reading both works, I was like “Wow, super relatable, we love writing about trauma”. Because it’s true, my best work comes from my traumatic childhood experiences that I thought I suppressed, and seems to only come out when I am writing absolutely anything. As a creative writer, not a scholarly one, I am always tapping into my darkest memories to produce a piece of work. To me, I consider it a type of healing. Whomever my audience may be, I know that the work I have produced will either be relatable, a healing experience for them, or an opportunity for my mental health to be heard. 

As addressed in “Expressive Writing, Emotional Upheavals, and Health by James W. Pennebaker and Cindy K. Chung.   “ Researchers have relied on a variety of physical and mental health measures to evaluate the effect of writing.  Across multiple studies in laboratories around the world, writing or talking about emotional experiences relative to writing about superficial control topics has been found to be associated with significant drops in physician visits from before to after writing among relatively healthy sample” (pp 9). According to this reading, I am wasting my money on therapy and I should just continue to write poetry. Honestly, I’ll take that. It is already hard enough to have the courage in publishing something so raw and connected to one’s mental state. It would truly be an accomplished feeling having your thoughts put out there to share with someone who might be feeling a similar way. 

Another study within the reading that caught my attention was the forms of writing related to trauma. Pennebaker and Chung mentioned that many writers with trauma will choose to type out their work rather than physically writing by hand. This practice involves writing a lot slower and sort of forcing the individual to become very  deeply connected with their emotions and thoughts. I never honestly thought about differentiating that concept until now. I used to write poetry in my journal a lot before it became too accessible. Meaning, I would write out every single anxious thought I had in my head regardless of where I was. The more I wrote throughout the day, the more I was able to open my journal and feel anxious all over again. 

Next, Sonya Huber brings us back to my favorite theme, which is voice. She says this very interesting line “ No matter what genres you’re writing in, the notion of voices in your work may help you explore a full range of options for what you want to write about and how”. As  any student, writer, or just anyone, I will look over my work. I have noticed my voice is a very sarcastic regular old Joe tone. Throughout the voice of my poetry however, it is someone just coping with the past memories and trying to survive another day. I do go through phases when I combine my poet voice with my creative writer voice, because they are two different people. But that’s what the power of voice is, you can make yourself whoever you want, but people can still figure you out..if that makes sense.  

Is it or Isn’t It?

Ain’t No Reason . . .

There is so much to unpack inside this week’s assigned readings that leads to, I would say, some challenging answers. Therefore, I decided to dive into stand-out points, beginning with Bad Ideas About Writing, Edited by Cheryl E. Ball and Drew M. Loewe, in the Chapter of African American Language is Not Good English by Jennifer M. Cunningham. Cummingham states, “Linguists define languages according to their grammatical origins, not their vocabulary. For example, English is considered a Germanic language because its grammar follows Germanic rules, even though its vocabulary is largely French and Latin” (p. 89). This statement brings to a study on The Adventure of English, Episode 1 Birth of a Language via a BBC Documentary. As the story goes, the adventure begins in South Bank, London. The North Sea, now called the Netherlands in Friesland, is believed to sound close to modern language worldwide. Around the 5th Century, Germanic tribes contained parts of the Jutes, Angles, and Saxon families that took their language and ours with them to live a better life. Conversely, Germanic invaders slaughtered the Friesland Celts, and the Celts later adopted the Germanic culture and language. In the 6th Century, Germanic tribes occupied half of the mainland of Britain and divided it into three kingdoms: Kent, Sussex, and Wessex, which spoke various dialects. The Anglo-Saxons emerged speaking Old English, the language we Americans speak today from names to numbers, averaging about 5,000 words in active recovery. Soon, a Monk, Pryor Augustine, led a mission from Rome to Kent. (Allen 2020).

Additionally, reading that “African American Language is more grammatically African than English, even though its vocabulary is English” (p. 89) is surely a new concept to me. As often, after being introduced to these interesting, assigned readings, it urges me to gather another take on each subject matter. Thus, this reading is no different in scope out outside perspectives that tie into the conversation, explaining the difference between grammar and vocabulary in the language. Understanding that African American English does not follow the grammatical rules of Standard American English helps us realize that these are, in fact, two grammatically separate languages and cannot be compared to one another. In her book Talkin’ and Testifyin’, Geneva Smitherman breaks down the parallel between the grammar and structure rules in West African languages and African American English. She points out the repetition of noun subjects with pronouns, such as, “My father, he works there.” and uses the same verb form for all subjects, “I know; he knows; we know; they know” (Smitherman, 6-7). This example shows how the structure of the language does not coincide with that of Germanic languages but of languages from West African tribes such as Ibo, Yoruba, and Hausa. African-American English came to be because enslaved people had to apply their knowledge of West African grammatical rules and English vocabulary to bridge the gap and communicate with their masters. They adopted the English vocabulary and applied it to a different language, thus creating a new language, what is known as African-American English, which still holds influence today. Smitherman also demonstrates how African-American English has evolved over centuries in the United States and how the structure of the language remained the same. For example, throughout the evolution of the language, there are still sentence patterns that don’t use any form of the verb to be, which is commonly found in West African languages. (Bayan 2019).

Therefore, it does “follow logically that African American Language ought to be considered linguistically (according to scholars like Ernie Smith) an African language, separate from English, based on its grammatical origins in the Niger-Congo or western and southern parts of Africa” (p. 89). But I am not certain I concur or not with all the talk about the Black American Language being an accepted language. I guess I am so accustomed to the American Language that I cannot see a specific written language for Black people.

In the piece, We Been Knowin: Toward an Antiracist Language & Literacy Education by April Baker-Bell, James Baldwin quotes, “If Black English Isn’t a Language, Then Tell Me What Is?” (p.  6). struck a chord. And need I say that is the question? Without overthinking it,  we understand African American English is a language entirely different from the Standard American English that is spoken in professional environments, in classrooms, and textbooks. This language was created for the survival of enslaved Africans in the Americas, and over centuries has evolved into a language that is an entire culture. Author of the novel Manchild in the Promised Land, Claude Brown, calls this language the “language of the soul” and is appropriately named. This language was somehow able to keep the essence of its origins while taking on an entirely new vocabulary to create something that has survived for centuries. When comparing Standard American English to Black American English, there is no comparison. They cannot be compared to each other because they are two different languages with two different origins that happen to share the same vocabulary. This would be like trying to compare the Oromo language from Ethiopia to Mandarin from China or French to Tagalog from the Philippines. It is impossible to compare one language to another if the standards are different and the structures are different. Also, how can anyone determine how “good” a language is? If the message is being delivered and is understood, who is saying that a language is good or bad? One is not inferior to the other, so in regard to the original question, is African-American English good English? The answer is yes, it is good English. (Bayan 2019).

Followed by the question, “What is the purpose of a language education if it cannot be used for various sorts of freedom or save students’ lives?” (p. 7). It seems that Vershawn Ashanti Young: Should Writer’s Use They Own English? writing profoundly answers the question of whether we should, for instance, teach how language functions within and from various cultural perspectives. And we should teach what it takes to understand, listen, and write in multiple dialects simultaneously. We should teach how to let dialects comingle, sho nuff blend together, like blending the dialect Fish speak and the black vernacular that, say, a lot—certainly not all—black people speak (p. 112). Furthermore, if people of color wish to see a change in the curriculum, then this is the way I assumed non-people of color should adhere to implementation.

What Even is Standard English

As I was reading this weeks selections I could not help but think of a close friend, Mary-rose, of mine who teaches middle school English. (I’ll send these articles to her. I dunno if she’ll read em but worth a try) She’s a stickler for the grammatical rules that Vershawn Ashanti Young talks about in his article. I’m afraid that she would be more likely to agree with Stanley Fish than with Young but I cant blame her for this , she was taught this way. To work and teach within these lines that are considered Standard English. (I am in no way saying she’s a bad teacher for this either, i wanna make that clear. Shes doing something I could neva. Teach. and doing it pretty well IMO)

The narrow, prescriptive lens be messin writers and readers all the way up, cuz we all been taught to respect the dominant way to write, even if we dont, cant, or wont ever write that one way ourselves. That be hegemony. Internalized oppression. Linguistic self-hate.

(Young 112)

I had a little trouble reading Youngs article, so instead of reading it in my head like I do with all academic writings, I decided to read it out loud and treat it more like a conversation. It felt as if I was talking informally with friends but with topics that are heavier and reserved for academic settings. Anyway, I essentially turned his article into a highlighter coloring book. If I were to place all the quotes in this post I’d essentially be quoting entire pages, so ill limit it to the ones that I found important. “Fish himself acquiesce to this linguistic prejudice when he come saying that people make theyselves targets for racism if and when they dont write and speak like he do”(Young 110). I love that this point was brought up, cause its Victim blaming 101. Oh you were denied _____ because your English is not academic, developed, standard, or refined enough. as Young says in the next lines Black English and its user don’t oppress themselves, but its the negative connotation that Black English has been given.
“A whole lot of folk could be writin and speakin real, real smart if Fish and others stop using one prescriptive, foot-long ruler to measure the language of peeps who use a yard stick when they communicate”(Young 112). I love love love love this quote. When I came across it I had to stop reading cause it felt as if a brick of realization hit my head. If we only change our perspective, our “standard” English lens then we can teach various cultural perspective, dialects etc. It sounds so simple to do, but as the phrase goes…easier said than done.

I want to point out that April Baker-Bell’s article We Been Knowin: Toward an Antiracist Language & Literacy Education did a wonderful job of giving its reader a taste of the bigger picture in just half a page.

We Been Knowin also signifies that communities of color, especially women of color, queer and trans people, people with disabilities, and people living in poverty BEEN knowin what has and has not worked. Our lived experiences have continually taught us how to think about freedom and collective liberation, and have laid the foundation for what must be done today. Though this article will reflect Black people’s epistemologies and language and literacy practices, I want to point out that systems of oppression that perpetuate anti-blackness are interconnected with and cannot be separated from how other communities of color experience racism, systemic injustices, and inequities. Indeed, sexism, classism, ableism, ageism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, and other forms of oppression do not serve our collective liberation. This complexity suggests that an antiracist language and literacy education has to be intersectional.

(Baker-Bell 2)

This was a fantastic point to preface her article with. As I read the article, I not only thought about the injustices, racism, and anti-blackness surrounding language but how these systems of linguistic oppression also effect other communities. As Baker-Bell mentions above women of color, the LGBTQ+ community, people with disabilities, and people in poverty. (Also correct me if I’m wrong but I’m sure this is the only article so far to mention people with disabilities.) On her second page she has already made it clear the injustice surrounding language effect more than one community, and that this is not only a issue for user of Black-English, but for everyone who is oppressed.

If you, for some reason, didn’t think Baker-Bell started off on the right foot then her next section Antiracist Critical Media Literacies sure was the right one. (second right foot?) The way media outlets use language for certain event is a clear indication of the necessity for Critical Media Literacies but especially antiracist ones. Living in this era of almost weekly mass shootings its difficult NOT to see the racist depictions by the media. How Baker-Bell mentions that Trayvon Martin, a victim, is criminalized while his murderer is portrayed as a “upstanding positive” person”. How white perpetrator are depicted by the media as Lone wolves or as having problems with mental health. It’s why antiracist critical media literacies are so important to teach, and understand. Educators need to adopt a “language that explicitly names and richly captures the types of linguistic oppression that is uniquely experienced and endured by Black Language-speakers”(Baker-Bell 7).

So I have to admit that I messed up on this weeks reading for Bad Ideas About Writing. We were assigned “African American Language is Not Good English” by Jennifer M. Cunningham BUT I mistakenly read the previous chapter “There is One Correct Way of Writing and Speaking” by Anjali Pattanayak. Once I realized this, I went back and read the assigned chapter. However, I believe these two chapter work wonderfully together and I urge everyone to read it.
“In the writing classroom, teachers can help students navigate Standard American English expectations while not suggesting a linguistic hierarchy. By speaking about language choices in terms of difference rather than deficiency and in relation to academic and nonacademic conventions, we can value both (or any) languages”(Cunningham 91). Cunningham illustrated her ideas extremely well in this quote. Once we rid ourselves and classrooms of this linguistic hierarchies we will take the steps to creating a proper multicultural, multilinguistic pedagogies.


English is a peculiar language because there are so many contrasting ways to use words. “I couldn’t care less” used to confuse me when I was younger because the statement sounded like the person did care a little bit. “I could care less” sounded like the care could in fact stop caring at any point. Obviously the former means that they don’t care at all and the latter means the opposite, but the way the words are set up it confused me.

English is not the only language that people speak in this country. Spanish, Portuguese, Arabic, Dakota, Cherokee, and other languages are spoken by other people. And yet English is treated like the ultimate end goal for everyone that lives in the United States. And it’s always the standard, “professional” English that is always expected of us. The white man’s “perfect” English is the only dialect that is acceptable in the system’s eyes. African American Vernacular English, AAVE, is seen as rude and ghetto, at least until it’s time for white people and non-black people of color to take words from AAVE for clicks and views.

There is no one way to speak English. Vershawn Ashanti Young’s ‘Should Writer’s Use They Own English?‘ hits the nail right on the head. With the way standard English is held as the ultimate goal of English language classes, there’s no room for tolerance of linguistic or racial differences. It is not incorrect for a black person speaking African American Vernacular English to form sentences with said language. English-based Creole languages such as Jamaican Patois and Gullah are valid languages too. They aren’t spoken the same way as “standard” English is, but that’s the thing about differences. Not every language and dialect is the same. Communities develop with their own sense of language. Just because two people share the same mother tongue doesn’t mean that their dialects will be the same.

It’s not right to claim support of people’s differences while touting standard American English as the only language that is valid for everyday speech. Black students will not trust their teachers nor will they readily participate their classes if their own language and dialect is invalidated by the system and those who work for it. Black people are already dehumanized daily, as we’re constantly made out to be thugs, brash, wild, predatory, and criminals. Black Americans’ languages are commonly used against them by racist white people, as memes and jokes about them mock their accents. Black women are the frequent targets of misogynoir, as even black men will dress up in wigs and feminine clothing solely to make jokes about brazen black women acting ghetto and messy.

Modern day minstrelsy is popular. Online Content Creators such as Shane Dawson, Jeffrey Star, Tana Mongeau, and many others have built their large platforms off of anti-black stereotypes and racist behaviors. Slurs, Blackface, screaming, racist skits, they’ve done it all. And it doesn’t help that many others online also adopt AAVE when they want to be trendy and funny, as seen on Twitter and TikTok. The amount of times I have seen someone use AAVE when they clearly do not speak it at all is astounding. Black Vernacular is not a trend to be adopted when someone wants to sound cool or be funny. It’s a real diverse linguistic family of languages and dialects.

The Shifting Landscape of Language Education

This week, we read three pieces of writing focused on how “African American English” (Cunningham) or “Black English” (Baker-Bell and Young) should be positioned in the classroom. (For the sake of simplicity, I’ll use “Black English” and “Standard English” going forward.) All three writers want teachers to teach students that Black English has value and is not wrong and encourage teachers to use students’ knowledge of Black English to their advantage in English classes. While this same idea runs through all three articles, the writers have areas of both agreement and disagreement.

None of the writers is in favor of teaching only Standard English. Cunningham wants teachers to  show the value of both languages by “speaking about language choices in terms of difference rather than deficiency” (Cunningham 91). Baker-Bell, points out that Standard English has been “language…used to oppress Black students,” which therefore cannot “empower them” (Baker-Bell ??). All three writers believe that Black English should play some role in the English classroom, but Cunningham and Young strongly disagree about how it should be used. Cunningham advocates treating Black English and Standard English as two distinct and separate languages and never blending them, believing that “[c]onflating the two into one linguistic variety is confusing at best and damaging at worst” (Cunningham 91). Instead, she suggests “code-switching” as a way of “teaching academic English without devaluing a writer’s identity” (Cunningham 85). Where Cunninham wants a separation, Young wants a blending, which he calls “code meshing” (Young 114), believing that it will “benefit everybody” because it can “add flavor and style” (Cunningham 114) and “help [students] be more rhetorically effective” (Young 116). Cunningham also takes issue with Cunningham’s definition of “code-switching,” because his own definition involves blending rather than switching (Young 113). Baker-Bell only mentions “code-switching” one time, putting more emphasis on her recommendations for how “Black Language” should be included in a classroom (Baker-Bell 9).

I found all three of the articles to be informative, and they all helped me to look at Black Language in a classroom setting differently. Even so, I can’t agree with Baker-Bell’s assertion that English teachers should “become conversant with the features of Black Language” (1) or Young’s recommendation that English teachers should “know everybody’s dialect, at least as many as we can” (111) as they are highly impractical. While it would be fantastic for a kid to walk into a classroom and find that the teacher is familiar with their language, regardless of what it might be, the suggestion that teachers should learn one or more other languages before teaching is just impossible to implement. I think that a more practical, and useful recommendation is for English teachers to learn how to use a student’s knowledge of one language to strengthen the other (just as learning Spanish in high school strengthened my knowledge of English grammar). While I don’t think a student should be chastised for blending languages, I think that there is no point in teaching Standard English if you continuously back off on enforcing the rules that govern it. If language exists to foster communication, the further away we get from everyone following one set of rules, the more confusing things become. 

A change is definitely necessary when teachers are sending students a message that some part of who they are is wrong or invalid, but a solid solution still escapes me. When we discussed multicultural classrooms, it became clear that it’s not feasible to include a representation of every culture in the curriculum, no matter how nice that would be. And as much as we want to support ESL students, no teacher can be expected to learn every language in preparation for every type of student that might join their class. I do not know what an appropriate change would look like, and none of the writers has given me a practical and specific vision of it, either. But I am interested and open to seeing what develops as a result of Cunningham, Baker-Bell, and Young’s influence on pedagogy.

Max Beaton 2023-11-20 02:25:02

The past few weeks we have been discussing voice heavily in class, and this week’s readings were a perfect culmination of those discussions. When it came down to it, all of those articles and conversations seemed to boil down to a single point: everyone has a unique voice when they write that should be encouraged rather than suppressed. Of course, we as writers should always be seeking to improve our skills and carefully craft our writing to appeal to our audience, but there are more ways than one to do that. Even though the English language has its rules, those rules can–and should–be broken when necessary. The English language is also not simply one language as each of this week’s articles point out, but a collection of various similar languages. Both written and spoken English differ slightly from Britain to the United States, for instance. Even within the U.S. itself, the English language is noticeably different in downtown Philadelphia than in a small town in Texas. Don’t even get me started on the Midwest. When I was in the Army, I met a woman from Minnesota who knew no other word to describe a water fountain than “the bubbler” and she wasn’t joking. Long story short, people have different regional dialects and should be encouraged to embrace them.

Interestingly, Jennifer Cunningham, the author of the chapter African American Language is not Good English went a step beyond merely describing African American Language as a regional dialect and argued that it is indeed its own unique language. According to Cunningham, the African American Language shares more in common with Niger-Congo languages grammatically than Standard English. While I am unsure if Cunningham’s classification is “a step to far”, I do find her argument to be compelling and her logic sound. However, the official classification of Ebonics aside, one fact is clear: it has its own unique rules and has a rich cultural history.

Now that I have established my position regarding Ebonics and other derivatives of the English (or not English?) language, I feel it necessary to offer a more critical point of view on the matter. In higher education there is a growing movement to support each student’s unique voice, but in K-12 public education I can see how that is somewhat of a pipe dream. I can say, as a middle school teacher, that teaching one language is difficult enough and that students require some sort of “default” language to aid in their communication with the general population. In creative writing projects (and certainly dialogue between characters), students should be encouraged to write however they feel comfortable, but on more formal assignment I understand why Standard American English is a requirement. As students grow their knowledge in reading and writing they should be exposed to more unique styles and vernaculars. In time, and with any luck, they will settle wherever they feel most comfortable in regard to their writing style.