Revolution Lullabye

November 26, 2006

College English Special Issue

Filed under: Uncategorized — by revolutionlullabye @ 2:52 am

Happy Thanksgiving! As I was reading Trimbur’s article in this special July 2006 issue of College English (“Linguistic Memory and the Politics of U.S. English”), I compared his description of the “systematic forgetting of the multiple languages spoken and written in North America” to the similar systematic forgetting of the multiple origins of people in North America on Thanksgiving Day (577). As I sat down for Thanksgiving dinner in Westborough, Massachusetts – just a stone’s throw away from Plymouth Rock, really, compared to people who live in L.A. – I thought, why am I celebrating this handful of English Pilgrim settlers? What is their connection to me? I know I’ve appropriated a meaning of Thanksgiving of my own on top of that – a day to give thanks for the blessings of family, friends, and life – but why these chosen Mayflower few? Isn’t our collective American history larger than that?

Anyway – here were some of my thoughts about the special College English issue. I’m leading discussion on Tuesday, so check out what I’m thinking and add your thoughts so we can have a good conversation for the first 1/3 of class (check out Eileen’s schedule – the day’s jam packed!)

1. Real neat connections in a lot of the articles, but especially Trimbur, with how the development of the modern American university created the English-only character in higher education that exists today. Languages other than English were removed from instruction to their own departments to be objects of study. Can that be reversed? I suppose that’s my question throughout these articles – can the university become a place where multiple languages are spoken? Can the institution handle that? What would have to change? And how could it happen?

2. Composition, at least as I’ve seen it in the histories we’ve read, is an uniquely American discipline and field, one that was founded in “proper English” instruction at Harvard and elsewhere in the late 1800s. English has been composition’s gig for almost 120 years. If you look back at the kinds of articles that were written in the past few decades, they’ve often taken up decidedly English topics, such as the implications of teaching English grammar and questions of integrating Black English into the curriculum. How would our field change if we saw the international and the L1, L2, and so on student as an intergal part of our pedagogy and theory? Would it be a more accurate reflection of the world we and our students must live in – an increasingly gloablized world, where we must know how to negotiate across boundaries of language and history in order to communicate? What will be the focus, then, of composition? Horner mentions this train of thought too – will composition cross borders – will other scholars in other nations take it up as a focus of study? (572)

3. What do you think of Smitherman’s 1987 proposal (cited in Trimbur), calling for “a national public policy on langauge that would (1) teach standard edited English as the language of wider communication, (2) recognize the legitimacy of nonmainstream languages and dialects and promote mother tongues, along with English, as the medium of instruction, and (3) promote the learning of one or more additional languages, such as Spanish or other relevant languages” (586).

4. Language isn’t just a bunch of words strung together. It is a living history of a person’s culture. How, then, can non-bilingual students go about adopting the history that comes with a language? Where can they adopt these languages?

5. Horner: “Language, literacy, and citizenship are viewed as interdependent: to be literate is to know the language, and to know the langauge is requisite to citizenship” (570). What are the citizens we are forming in composition? What is the language of this citizenry? How can we teach it to our students?

6. Matsuda discusses how the containment of international and L2 students in ESL classrooms has led to “the myth of lingusitic homogeneity”  in our composition classrooms. He argues that that containment is preferred by some international students, who feel they get more one-on-one attention in a more supportive environment. Is that the best way to have both international/L2 students and native English speakers learn how to communicate in this increasingly complex world? Should we move to an inclusive model, like the one being used in public schools to integrate special education students into regular education classrooms? Can the learning needs of international students and native speakers be met in a “regular” comp classroom? What kind of teacher could handle that? I’m reminded in this article about how much time it takes to acquire the discourse practices of a second language – and I think back to TA orientation at Syracuse. Remember how the new international TAs came five days early to practice their English – how they were taped and evaluated? What do you think?

7. Canagarajahwrites argues that the researcher of second language writers should, ideally, be a speaker in both (or all) the langauges of his or her subjects. As burgeoning compositionists, we might be those researchers some day. How do we go about acquiring these languages? Why, if we (as Matsuda suggests) are going to encounter more and more L2 writers in our classrooms, are we not required to take a language as part of our coursework? Does that put us at a disadvantage? Shouldn’t we – a field that centers itself on the importance of effective communication in the globalized world – of all people know languages other than English?

 Tell me what interests you –


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