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International Journal of Inclusive Education Vol. 9, No. 4, OctoberDecember 2005, pp.

371387

Discourse and difference


Linda Fernsten
Dowling College, Long Island, NY, USA
International 10.1080/13603110500147138 TIED114696.sgm 0000-0000 Original Taylor 2005 0 00 Dr 350 fernstenl@dowling.edu 631-244-3324 000002005 LindaFernsten Lakeland and & Article Francis (print)/0000-0000 Francis Journal Avenue, Ltd Ltd of7Inclusive ESayvilleNY (online) Education 11782USA

This article contends that students whose discourses differ from the dominant academic discourses of school may develop negative writer identities as a result of their language struggles in the academy. Using Critical Discourse analysis, the study explores the writer identities of two college writers in order to understand how embedded ideologies and power relations shape understanding of writer identity. The article goes on to suggest how the use of hybrid genres, acceptance of more multicultural discourses, and introduction of political discourse in the classroom can empower educators and students to overcome language policies that work against them in the academy.

The broad grin, confident stride and friendly demeanour of the striking young man approaching my desk seemed to contrast with the words he spilled out that first day of class. Worried about this required writing course, he said that he did not hate writing, but certainly would not be here if it were not a junior year requirement. Something about college writing left him frustrated and feeling less capable than he believed he was. Despite these concerns, he clung to the hope that this would finally be the class that would fix whatever was wrong so he would feel more competent and successful. Across the room, in the corner farthest from the instructors desk, another student gazed out the window. His body language told a story of frustration and alienation. The university required a passing grade in this upper level writing class in order to graduate, and he had put off taking it as long as possible. Already painfully familiar with students whose writer identities suffered substantially in the academy, I mentally reached for my magic wand, desiring perhaps even more than they to produce the wished-for transformation to successful writer. How many writers had entered my classes hoping to exit good writers, that is, able to face the challenges that teachers/professors put before them in written assignments? Over the course of 20-something years, I had metamorphosed from the teacher who believed all students under my tutelage would learn to enjoy writing to the professor who realized writing issues were intrinsically complex and layered, with no quick fixes.
Correspondence to: 350 Lakeland Avenue, 7 E, Sayville, NY 11782, USA. Email: fernstenl@dowling.edu ISSN 13603116 (print)/ISSN 14645173 (online)/05/04037117 2005 Taylor & Francis DOI: 10.1080/13603110500147138

372 L. Fernsten Language and Struggle A heightened awareness of these students plight would come to light though research using Discourse Analysis, especially as student understandings fit into the theory, history and practices of composition classrooms. Their stories would add another level of awareness to my practice, another piece in the complicated puzzle of teaching multicultural students about writing more effectively. The knowledge that would emerge would not cure their writing frustration, but it would open a broader discussion about the politics of language with future students and make me an advocate for change in traditional composition classrooms. What Harris (1997) discussed as a conflict issue regarding student writers and the academy would now have actual faces to focus my understanding. The idea that certain students may be in conflict with language policies in academia was clarified by Lu (1992), who writes of identity as related to issues of race, class, gender, and the social and political considerations of language. Lu hypothesizes that the marginalization students feel when writing in the academy comes from the way they believe their own discourses have been received there. This judgement of their writing as flawed creates conflict, struggle, and tension as they labour to write within the institutional bounds of the university. Feeling uneasy about the writing they have produced, students seek to explore their areas of competence, embracing an idea that sounds like I am competent, BUT . The but so often relates to requirements that conflict with use of language as these students know it. Instead they explain why they struggle with grammar, organization or numerous other differences in language. However, they remain without a discourse to help them stop blaming themselves. Rose (1989) contends that The discourse of academics is marked by terms and expressions that represent an elaborate set of shared concepts and orientations: alienation, authoritarian personality, the social construction of self, determinism, hegemony, equilibrium, intentionality, recursion, reinforcement, and so on (p. 192). Taking this concept into poststructural theory, Ivanic (1990) asserts that writers encounters and experiences are both enabled and constrained by sociocultural factors that reflect their access to different discourses. It is through the discourses of those who critique and grade their work that the students in my classroom who were struggling to become more skilful users of academic language had come to see themselves as deficient. Weedon (1997) argues that language differentiates and informs us about what is socially accepted as normal. Rather than simply reinforcing this notion of normalcy by insisting that privileged discourses represent the only correct standard, teachers and students can explore the way different discourses position people in the academy. This, in turn, could enable them to better understand the personal and political consequences of their participation in different discourses (Ivanic, 1998). The words of the two students in the case studies that follow provide insight into what is too often a silent struggle. By tying the ideologies embedded in the language of their stories to composition theory and the practices of writing teachers, I make explicit the power of academic discourses to marginalize and label those who are different.

Discourse and difference 373 Academic Discourses Academic discourses, with their formality of tone and style and highly structured paragraphs, are adopted by many colleges and universities and have been the dominant form of college writing instruction since early in the twentieth century (Berlin, 1987). Bizzell (1999) summarized this type of writing as typically using the most formal and ultra-correct form of language and treating as errors usage that would be acceptable or unproblematic in casual conversation. Its typical employment of an objective persona (often difficult for students with dialectical differences) implies that emotions and prejudices do not influence ideas. Those who struggled with the discourse were often labelled basic writers (Horner, 1996), and defined variously as novices, people with grammatical difficulties, immature thinkers, cognitively delayed and deficient, still popular characterizations today. What followed this construction of deficiency was the idea of initiation, a model whose contention was that writers needed to be trained or socialized into the discourse community of the university (Bartholomae, 1986). Struggling writers, unable to measure up to the expectations of the writing classroom, were seen as outsiders to academic discourse, people who needed to take up academic discourses and were struggling in their attempts to do so. The privilege of the required academic discourse was accepted without question. Lus conflict view added an important new dimension. It envisions writers as existing in a borderland, affected by institutional oppression. This view encompasses the poststructuralist notion that identity is multiple and conflicting, flexible rather than fixed (Sarup, 1989; Berlin, 1992). Academic discourse, itself, is acknowledged as privileged, with a social and historical background. Importantly, this representation embraces the concept that all linguistic choices have political dimensions, acknowledging that writing for some is associated with struggle, diversity and privilege. Not surprisingly, in some college composition, second language, and social justice classrooms, there are those who reject the view of basic writers as deficient or developmentally delayed. Instead, writers who speak English as a second language or a non-dominant dialect are viewed by as skilled users of different languages (Davis, 1988, p. 36). Like Vance and Len (pseudonyms for the students in the case studies to follow) their discourses are infused with certain ethnicities, races, classes, and regions, and, in their struggle to adopt the discourses of the academy, they come in conflict with gatekeepers who brand them less able or less intelligent. Plunged into a world that valorizes academic discourses, they submit to the marginalized identity of bad writer and remain, like Vance and Len, stuck on the idea that they need to be fixed. Having been a classroom teacher, I feel a need to answer the voices of colleagues (as well as those, at times, in my own head) that too easily dismiss the political concept of conflict and argue that these kids just need to learn how to write. Privilege is not a subject that finds a wide or comfortable audience in public schools. Dominant culture, whether related to race, ethnicity, (dis)ability, class or gender, exerts a powerful hegemonic influence and, under the guise of common sense, can silence

374 L. Fernsten many voices and work to keep oppressive situations invisible. As a teacher who has witnessed hundreds of students leaving our educational system convinced they are bad writers, and, therefore, silenced to various degrees, I believe society has paid too high a price in the name of good writing. My stance is not a rejection of Standard English. However, by explicitly acknowledging that the teaching of writing is a political act, we help demystify the power of institutions to define and label what is good and what is correct (Fernsten, 2004). By redefining the variety of dialects as different ways to communicate, and by explicitly teaching that use of particular dialects in certain situations represents effective communication, we can help students further investigate the nature and politics of language use. Discourse and Identity Students social and linguistic backgrounds can marginalize them in the academy, much as they did Richard Rodriguez in Hunger of Memory (1981) and Mike Roses students in Lives on the Boundary (1985). Len and Vance seek respect and success without quite understanding what it is they must surrender in terms of identity to achieve that respect in the institution where they study. Stuckey (1991), in The Violence of Literacy, argues, The truth is literacy and English instruction can hurt you, more clearly and forcefully and permanently than it can help you, and that schools, like other social institutions, are designed to replicate, or at least not to disturb, social division and class privilege (p. 123). How does one avoid contributing to the silencing of multicultural voices? Having come to the conclusion that their writing is inferior, many do become silenced, accepting the negative label of poor writer as an absolute truth, rather than a social and political negotiation reinforced by traditional practices in educational institutions. In institutions where valorization of formal academic discourses is the norm, marginalization of different discourses should be no surprise. Fairclough (1990, p. 90) writes, Why then a struggle between discourse types? What is at stake? What is at stake is the establishment or maintenance of one discourse as the dominant type in a given social domain, and therefore the establishment or maintenance of certain ideological assumptions as commonsensical. This research emerged from my experience of watching the struggle of young writers with negative writer identities, i.e. those students who had come to see themselves as unable to successfully negotiate the writing tasks required of them. I began by asking my college student to reflect on issues that included the following: Who are you as a writer? How did you come to this view of your writing self or what influenced the writer identity you constructed? I asked them to tell a story about a pivotal writing experience that they had had, positive or negative. In addition to this data, journals, portfolios, tapes of writing conferences, and my own field notes regarding observations of their writing and workshop behaviours, and conversations from our required junior year writing class were collected and analysed (Fernsten, 2002). From this work, Vances and Lens stories began to emerge.

Discourse and difference 375 Discourse Analysis Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) provides a way of closely examining the use of discourses and unpacking the social, cultural, and political influences that are work in language. Different specializations may approach CDA in diverse ways such as pragmatics, conversation and narrative analysis, sociolinguistics, and ethnography, among others. Discourses may be studied at the micro or macro level, but the analysis still moves to the interpretative and explanatory. In the following analysis, I employ a thematic view and use composition theory to examine the embedded ideologies the students use to discuss their writing and writer identities. The link between their texts and the social world of college composition is mediated by my understandings of the historical aspects of composition theory and what it means for students to write in and for the academy. Using a form of Faircloughs methodology of CDA, I searched for themes related to composition and writer identity in the collected data. That involved searching language for embedded ideologies and power relations. Unlike CDA that emphasizes grammatical and linguistic analysis, this analysis uses broad interpretations, more akin to the case studies of Lather (1991), Fine, (1992), Willett et al. (1996), and Kamberelis & Scott (1992). Ivanics (1998) work with adult learners, while not focused on composition theory and having a sociolinguistic orientation, also involved writer identity and the way discourse use can position writers. In working format, all texts were placed in charts and analysed as to the writer identities students had constructed and the discourses they were taking up. These discourses were then analysed for the composition ideologies, values and conceptions of the world evident in the texts. What did Vance and Len accept as natural? What were their understandings of the writing classroom? Of writing, itself? How did they construct their personal writer identities? The key function of CDA in this study was to help uncover how discourses are implicated in producing and replicating the ideological interests of writing classrooms and, therefore, how the discourse, itself, is a critical factor in shaping how students see themselves as writers.

Vances story Vance was an education major at a large university in the Northeast the semester he enrolled in my required junior year writing course. He was an outgoing, friendly, talkative young man with an easy-going manner and amiable sense of humour that endeared him to his classmates. He was also a member of the universitys football team, which privileged him with tutors who regularly checked his progress to ensure he was successfully keeping up with assignments. Vance was African-American and from a major urban area with traces of Black English Vernacular (BEV) in his speech. His mother had raised him and his brothers primarily on her own, the father having left the family when Vance was young. During the semester, Vance wrote of the poverty he faced growing up, the difficulty and violence of life in the projects, the

376 L. Fernsten disappointment he felt in his no-good father, and the pride and love he had for his mother. Ethnographically, his classroom behaviours, like his identity papers, demonstrated a mixture of identities, in tune with the poststructural concept that identity is, indeed, multiple and conflicting. A number of his initial assignments, both formal academic and expressivist, were incomplete or showed little evidence of comprehensive rewriting. (Expressivism is a writing philosophy that espouses individual control over textual meaning and production and is often viewed in opposition to formal academic discourses where form and correctness of text take precedence over expression of individual meaning.) On the social side, Vance worked enthusiastically in response groups, both giving and seeking support. He remained a favourite partner in small discussion groups, pleasant and loquacious. He was among the first to teach me how important it was to be heard in his own voice and how frustrating it was to accomplish that in a school setting. Unlike many of my students with negative writer identities, no matter what the assignment or how difficult he found it, Vances attitude had a positive edge. He would inquire about steps to use to break down difficult writing tasks and regularly assure me that tutors would work with him. If he had to miss time because of travel with the team, he would arrange to get assignments in on time. Vance saw a gap between his writing and that of many of his classmates, as did his response group, and I believe that caused him some anxiety. Still, he did not appear overly discouraged or frustrated like so many others. His confidence and enthusiasm in the face of roadblocks, whether an extension of family, sports, religious training or other factors, were unusual and uplifting. Vance took up the identity intermediate level writer in his initial writer identity paper. However, he said he felt embarrassed about the quality and content of some of his writing and feared not understanding the requirements of some assignments. The discourses he drew on had him articulating traditional academic writing concerns about his grammatical correctness. He was, however, far more positive when he drew on expressivist discourse, saying he wrote his best when he could pick his topics, as he liked to write from the heart. Vances words lend understanding as to why expressivist writing can be so important in the writing classroom. It allowed him to tell stories that people liked and accepted without their getting waylaid from his ideas by form and structure. He could relate events that helped his predominantly white classmates understand who he was and what was important in his life. This was not a student who had come to hate writing, but one who struggled with structural aspects of it. He brought a sense of pride and confidence to his work despite unsuccessful experiences, and, while he did enact some resistance to academic assignments, he did not appear defeated by the systems negative critique, as did many others. On the other hand, he realized his continued efforts had not solved his writing issues, and though he was not giving up, I remain unconvinced that he sincerely believed his writing would significantly change. Earlier repeated experiences kept him playing a writing game with little hope of winning.

Discourse and difference 377 Texts selected for microanalysis The following texts were selected from Vances completed portfolio and represent a sampling of ideas and discourses pertinent to this papers issues. His first assignment Who Am I as a Writer? demonstrates competent and confident aspects of Vances identity while pointing out his acknowledged difficulties with academic writing tasks. It was when he took up this traditional discourse that he also took on a stunted or deficient identity. The numbered lines that follow are Lances own words, divided, generally, into sentence units. Following each of Lances texts is the microanalysis. Vances paper on Who Am I as a Writer? 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. The type of writer that I am is that I am a straight forward writer Whatever is on my mind thats how I write I write like the way I talk If someone was to ask me about the way that I write and if I am confident in my ability then I would have to say yes I was always told that I have a vivid imagination I know that I am not the best type of writer But I am not one of those writers who would get you to lose interest and fall asleep as you read something that I wrote When I get the chance to write abut things that I like I seem to excel in this situation Its like a river the ideas keep flowin and flowin out of my mind My ideas just flow and I might misspell things here and there And the grammar may be slightly incorrect But the effort is there and I try to do my best

Analysis. Vances construction of writer identity assignment brings up three themes that echoed throughout his work over the semester. These are his deficiencies in relation to academic writing, his strong preference for expressivist assignments, and his continued efforts to do well. He also points out his struggles with spelling and standard grammar (lines 1011). Without knowing it is a recognized writing ideology, he aligns himself with expressivists when he calls for writing from ones feelings about topics that interest him and letting the ideas flow (lines 79). Vance says he excels when he writes about things that he likes. However, responders to personal writing quite often focus more on the ideas of the piece rather than form and structures. His poignant expressivist prose could have affected his audience differently than his struggling attempts to adapt to the discourses required in some academic classes. While both class readings and classroom discussions opened the door to a wider understanding of what shapes peoples use of language, a political discussion of language was left out of our writing conferences and my written feedback. I learned too late to help Lance that a simple introduction of political concepts is not enough to change my students years of experience. The language of deficiency that comes through in his text is the discourse of stunted growth, the predominant ideology in many composition classrooms.

378 L. Fernsten The mixed identities that seemed to be the norm for most of my students are represented by the different identities Vance assumes in this piece. He feels that he is an excellent, imaginative writer (lines 58) when the topic interests him, for example when he can share his strongly held feelings about family and the trials and tribulations he has experienced. He likes to write about topics that are important to him in a language he finds comfortable. Expressivists, certainly a minority in college composition teaching, would support the concept of writing about what is important in a language that is most accessible to the writer. While expressing confidence about his writing, Lance acknowledges difficulty with spelling and grammar. The required standardization and formality of more academic discourses highlight his language difference. Here, the ideology of stunted growth is clear. He has been told he does not measure up to the standard, and without quite understanding all that implies, he repeats the mantra of writing teachers. Another of Vances recurring themes is that of effort. Tempering the idea that readers may not see his writing as good, he writes that he is putting out a strong effort and trying his best to get it right (line 12). This may be related to a best effort athletic discourse or even a holdover from the grade school concept that giving ones best effort is what really counts. In the elementary grades in the USA, students are frequently told a good effort is what is important, but by college, that ideology has all but disappeared. The other of Lances texts that I would like to share is his midterm letter. Midsemester all students were required to review their portfolios and peer/teacher responses and write a letter, the instructor, reflecting on their work in the course. Vances Mid-term Letter discusses aspects of academic writing and demonstrates how he moves between a deficient and a competent identity, depending on the discourse. He also shares aspects of his personal life which may have put him in the margins in terms of traditional formal tasks 1. Dear ________________ 2. The way that I view my writing may not be the same way that everyone else views their writing 3. As I sit back and look through my portfolio I realize that I really need to work on my mechanics and grammar 4. Its not like I dont know what I am doing it just the simple fact that the way that I write my papers is the way that I speak 5. The thoughts just come running out of my head like a waterfall 6. I realize that my thoughts and everything is all their but my organization and grammar can use some fine toning 7. I also realize that I am not one of those people who chooses to use those big words 8. I am a straightforward person so I tend to get right to the point and I dont dilly doodle around the point 9. I like the fact of getting feedback either from my peers or a teacher 10. I rather it be a teacher because you would not be a teacher if you dont know what you are capable of doing

Discourse and difference 379 11. By my being able to sit down and read a response on my paper or for someone to say it to me it just makes me try to work that much harder so I will not get a response back 12. Even though I learn from the responses I want there to be a time in which there is no response on my paper, that it is an excellent well-written paper 13. That right there is my goal to achieve 14. The times that I felt really good about myself in writing was when I write about something that means a lot to me or I feel very strongly about 15. Like when I wrote the story about my mother 16. I love my mother with all my heart 17. She is my role model and I want to be just like her 18. When I was able to display the feelings I had and the struggle that my mother went through raising three boys, getting robbed and evicted from the projects in Brooklyn, New York. 19. Having a no good husband who took off when the going was getting tough 20. Never saw her kids except on Sundays when it was time to go to church and give thanks to the man upstairs for making a way out of no way 21. When I get to express my true feeling like that, I believe that I am one of the best writers, and my chances of making mistakes (are) really low because that is all coming from my heart and when your are coming from your heart there is no way I can make a mistake 22. Now the times I feel like I am an average writer is when I listen to other people writings and they are using their extended vocabulary, and that they have such an imagination that makes me not even want to raise my hand and read my story 23. Not saying that I am not proud of it because I am proud of whatever I do but I guess I feel inferior or even timid 24. Well I guess that I have learned to have more patience in my writing 25. That change will not come unless I work hard at it then it will come 26. Also that it would be nice to be one of those profound writers but since Im not, I dont give up 27. And that it is not bad at all to be one of those laid back kind of writers who keeps you interested and not wondering what does this and that word mean 28. But I really notice myself working a whole lot more on writing so that I change a lot In this text, Vance moves between a competent and stunted writer identity. He makes clear that formal writing is both unappealing and difficult for him and reiterates his pleasure in expressivist assignments, especially when he is able to share personally meaningful experiences with his readers. He believes he views his writing differently from the way others view their writing (line 1). While he does not elaborate, many of my students who say they do not write well feel they are unlike other writers, without realizing how many others also feel isolated and unlike others when it comes to writing well. When using a formal academic discourse and discussing areas like mechanics, grammar (line 3) and organization (line 6), he consistently takes on a

380 L. Fernsten writing-deficient identity. However, the fact that he chooses not to use big words (line 7) and dilly doodle around the point (line 8) are not problems in his writing, as he sees it, but a choice that reflects familiarity with a different type of discourse. He identifies as a straightforward person (line 8), as he did in his initial piece, and that seems to be a part of his identity he does not want to relinquish. In line 4 Vance asserts that it is not a matter of not knowing what he is doing, its just a matter of writing the way he speaks. Again, expressivists would support his choices, as would composition theorist like Lu (1991). Unfortunately, difference in writing is equated with incorrect in most academic arenas. Gee (1990) writes that all discourses are ideological and embody viewpoints and values at the expense of other concepts and viewpoints. The formal academic discourses of universities come at the expense of non-dominant discourses in the culture and Vances words bear witness to those tensions. He implies that assuming the formal tone and language of academic discourse would mean changing a part of who he is, a part in which he takes some pride. He associates his language with being straightforward and honest. In Lus terms, Lance is in conflict with the universitys requirements. Without a discourse to politicize his situation, however, Vance ends up seeing himself as not only different, but also inadequate, assuming other students do not share this struggle. Vance says that he would rather have the teacher review his work (line 10), as s/he is more capable. Other students who have echoed this preference let me know they felt threatened by sharing work with peers. Unlike Len, however, Vance also reports liking feedback from both peers and teachers (line 9). Initially, it came as a surprise to me that so many disliked and feared peer response groups. Naively, perhaps, I had assumed peer groups would be welcomed as a place to find an interested audience and discuss a variety of writing issues. Their previous experiences seem to have emphasized mechanics, however, and too many with language differences come away battered by their peers critique. This finding has provided the impetus to focus more on helping students respond to ideas rather than language structures, though changing old patterns is not easy. Many of my students want to do what their teachers have done to them point out errors in grammar and format. During one response session, two women in Vances group came up to me when he was out of the room and asked what they might do with a paper that had as many errors in it as his did. They felt that it was impossible to work with ideas before addressing the mechanics. Vance came into the room as we were speaking and, though he did not hear the conversation, I assume he had some sense of it. Language difference, whether it is the result of race, class, education, or other factors, is an issue Vance understood. Wanting to write a good paper and discovering all his efforts did not seem to change how his papers were received, remained a problem for him, no matter how positive he tried to be. Even in this process classroom, Vances stated goal remained to write a paper and get no response (lines 1213), as, ironically, no response would mean to him that it was a good paper. Clearly, too often language difference had overshadowed important ideas for his audience of white middle class instructors and peers. In line 21 Vance articulates what expressivists have long espoused, that being able to express

Discourse and difference 381 his true feelings makes him one of the best writers, because when ones work comes from the heart there is no way one can make a mistake. When Vance listened to his peers papers in response group (line 22) he felt he was only an average writer, inferior and timid (line 23). While he has learned in life to stay proud (line 23), he feels he is not doing as well as others and, again, falls back on the hollow bootstraps mantra that hard work (line 25) will make the difference. His wish to write so people will stay interested and understand his vocabulary is surely a reaction against the dominant discourse he tackles. Formal academic discourse can shut out some audience members, so he appreciates writing that he finds more inclusive, that he is accessible, and that he believes others will enjoy. He associates his language choices with being straightforward and honest and intimates that the language of school is not his way. With no discourse to politicize his situation, his explanations lack power. Lens story Len was Haitian-American, in his senior year and, like Lance, planned to enter the field of education, but was still unsure in which capacity. He was clearly uncomfortable in the writing classroom and, though trilingual and bright, found writing formal English difficult. Len had an uneasy relationship, stated and observed, with aspects of the academic discourses he had been required to adopt and concerns about peer response that further reflected his fragile relationship with academic writing. Of particular interest to me, as instructor and researcher, is the surprisingly positive relationship to writing I discovered when Len participated in expressivist as opposed to traditional formal writing. Information about his difficult earlier life in another country and problematic school history cast a light on how difference can have its price in the academy. He had put off until his senior year this required course and was a frequent resister, advising me that his papers were too incomplete to discuss or forgotten at home, though his attendance was excellent. Lens class journal revealed a strongly held view that learning another language should not make one forget his/ her native language tongue, whatever it may be. He commented that this was not easy to do in the USA. Because of his classroom silence, many students did not realize Len was trilingual or Haitian, assuming he was African-American. Even when other bilingual students shared personal experiences, he did not openly reveal those aspects of his identity until the end of the semester. Whatever had silenced him was powerful. In conversation one day, when I told him how important it was for others to hear his voice of experience, he told me solemnly that many did not want to hear opinions very different from their own. I would like to report that by the end of the semester Len had gained confidence in his ability to write. Unfortunately, I do not believe that is the case. In his final letter to me, he reiterated many of the themes you will find in the microanalyses that follow. These include the idea that he is different from others, still fears the comments of those who read his writing, and, despite the fact that peer response may help him

382 L. Fernsten complete a better paper, he would choose not to do it. This was the discourse he came with, and, despite discussions on the complexities and politics of language, it is the discourse with which he left. I am left wondering if the ideas of social and cultural influence and the power of academic discourse to both free and oppress had touched him and realize, as is usual with my students, I will probably never know. Lens history, set beside the analysis that follow, tells a story of identity that could be missed in an instructors need to get through curriculum and prepare students for writing in the real world. Lens response to Who Am I as a Writer? 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. It is very easy to explain the type of writer I am I never thought of myself as a good writer I do not know why but I never liked writing very much But there are times that I enjoyed writing certain topics that catch my interest and most important my readers I am a better writer when the topic will catch my audience interest I favor topics like comedy, sports and subjects that reflect and relate to adolescents I like writing about things that happened to me as a young adolescent First of all, I am a bilingual student that never like favor writing much from the first time I had to write a paper. I am a strange student that has many views of doing things One day I might like to write my ideas, views on paper and other times I might want to let my views out orally

Lens words remind me of the painful difficulty some students have in writing successfully for the academy. As he tells it, he is not a young man who hates writing. He is someone who has felt unsuccessful in writing academic papers. In line 2, Len makes his claim that he has never thought of himself as a good writer, drawing his identity from the deficient writer construction familiar in many classrooms. He also claims not to know why he doesnt like writing (line 3). In lines 47, he attempts to explain, however, that there are some kinds of writing he actually enjoys and attempts to uncover what kinds of writing that encompasses. It is here that, like many other students in the class, expressivist discourse, i.e., writing that values personal voice and story, is the discourse he draws on. These statements signal Lens attempt to establish a positive identity that reflects the competence he has felt at times in writing and language. He is a writer, but feels unsuccessful when people focus on his formal construction of language. In Line 8, Len establishes his bilingual identity and may be intimating that he has situated himself as a writer on the borders, someone affected by difference. By calling attention to his difference in lines 810, he embraces the uncertainty that affects those who do not seem to fit in the social milieu in which they have found themselves. Here he sees himself as (line 9) strange, unlike the other writers, similar to the way Vance constructed himself as different. Some days he just prefers expressing ideas orally. He, too, offers no political discourse to establish an identity that may

Discourse and difference 383 further understanding of his writing situation in the academy, but takes up the discourse more common in schools that there is something strange or wrong with him because he does not fit the systems idea of good writer. Lens response to What has been your best or worst experience with writing? 1. My worst experience with writing is the remarks that I get from people evaluating, correcting my writing 2. The first evaluation is always full with numerous remarks on how to improve the writing 3. I hate watching someone evaluating my writing because of the remarks and comments that I expect to see 4. Id rather have them correct it without me being present 5. Many times I get response back from people who evaluate my writing like how to make my writing more accurate, need more details and they always tell me that I have unnecessary information in the paper 6. It makes me feel very low meaning unable to write anything well 7. I am a student that needs serious help writing a paper of any subject 8. I am an individual that has strong feelings for my writing 9. It hurts me most of the time when I get my evaluation paper back 10. I decided to start ahead of times because of the numerous corrections that I feel that I might have to do to do an accurate writing assignment 11. Through out the semester I like to improve my writing abilities so I can be a better writer 12. I look forward to quitting the weakness that I have in papers 13. I also know that all the problems and weaknesses may be taken care of at once 14. But I feel I can improve those weaknesses Examination of what he was saying in this worst experience paper indicates Lens tremendous struggle and his clear awareness that writing for him in the academy was a landmine of problems. Academic writing created frustration as he had discovered that no matter how much time and effort he put in, he had had little success. At the end, Len says he understands all the weaknesses and problems may not be taken care of at once, but will there be any progress at all? Even though he is hopeful that this writing class will be useful, as a senior, he has had writing classes before. He has tried hard before and still his writing is a problem. In line 1, Len makes a decision to focus on a worst experience, having had a choice to tell about his best or worst experience with writing. If we reflect on the way many papers in the academy are reviewed, i.e., correct and return, it becomes clearer why students like Len become frustrated. Focused on his lack of proper or correct formal discourse, many instructors miss his ideas. The cycle continues as Len becomes more convinced he is a bad writer and spends extra time trying to write formally rather than focusing on the ideas. He becomes trapped in the language maze. In the past, others have positioned him as an immature writer with grammatical difficulties, and here we see he both accepts and subtly resists that identity. The worst thing, he says, are the remarks of those who read his work. The fact that

384 L. Fernsten the first evaluation is always full with numerous remarks on how to improve the writing (line 2) is problematic for him. This demonstrates both a lack of understanding that writers, novice and professional alike, are commonly dissatisfied with first drafts, and a repetitive pattern of responders to focus on what is wrong. He personalizes the responders comments and interprets them as a reflection on his personhood. The fact that he hates being present during response (line 45) calls attention to the complexity of his writer identity. Is it oppression he feels? Why does he feel fearful and powerless when it comes to a discussion of his writing? In line 5 Len reveals the types of critique he has received. The work needs to be more accurate, needs more details, and needs to eliminate unnecessary information. In a process classroom these would not be untypical or harsh responses. For Len, who feels battered by the responses of others, however, they are crushing. Convinced his writing is deficient and positioned as an outsider after trying long and hard to improve, hes concluded nothing works to the satisfaction of those judging his work. He feels low, unable to write anything well(line 6). Len now positions himself as others have positioned him, someone who does not write well in school. I am a student that needs serious help writing a paper of any subject (line 7). This construction relates to the historical composition positioning of basic writers, describing them as stunted in growth or cognitively delayed. Len never points out that second-language speakers often struggle with the grammar of their second language. He does not mention that being unable to write ideas well in the academic discourse of a second language is common. He does not even say that appropriating the conventions of academic discourse may be difficult for anyone who had had little access to it. He lacks the political discourse to do so, and so assumes the discourse of those who have labelled him a poor writer. In line 8, Len says he cares deeply for his writing, as if a reader might assume that someone who writes as he does must not care. How many times in the traditional classroom have teachers made the assumption that errors indicate carelessness, laziness, or a lack of effort? He refutes this by saying he spends much time writing and starts ahead of times (line 10) to make sure he completes an accurate assignment. No teacher suggestions have worked, however. He feels bad, low, and believes the problem is within him. He looks forward to improving his writing abilities and quitting the weakness (line 12), as if it were a choice and a matter of self-control. Len, like so many others who struggle, typically blames himself for being a poor writer. Implications for Teaching While these cases review Vances and Lens stories, their voices echo the expressed feelings of many others in my classes. CDA gives a way of both studying compositions power relations and understanding the embedded ideologies that shape how these young men have come to see themselves as writers. Examining how their language is the language of composition classrooms and coming to understand their struggles have helped transform my practice in a number of ways.

Discourse and difference 385 Now expressivist genres are a part of every course I teach. When running writing workshops, I am careful to include a number of alternative ways of responding, such as pointing, summarizing, or analysing major points so responders do not focus on mechanics, especially in initial readings. I take more time training responders by roleplaying the types of responses that can be helpful and those that might silence writers. Previously, I had not realized how much more competent and satisfied writers felt when allowed to write in an expressivist mode. In expressivist pieces, both Lens and Vances sense of success and acceptance of self as competent author were dramatically different from the stunted writer identity they took up when required to use more traditionally formal discourses. Spigelman (2000) argues that composition curriculum must shift away from its emphasis on product and give students access to the epistemological discussion of competing models of teaching writing, whether they be the classical models of rhetoric, expressivism, or other competing forms. Even in required formal academic assignments, I allow for hybridity, which blends genres and discourses and encourages a personal connection to the topic whenever possible. It is my sincere hope that students with negative writer identities will learn a new view of writing, one that allows a view of self that is neither deficient nor marginalized, but one that is empowered, even revolutionary in the academy. Rather than fearing how others may respond, and therefore becoming effectively silenced, I suggest they ask professors for models of good papers, discuss how a different dialect may affect a paper, and encourage them to request the opportunity rewrite papers where language use is an issue. If students respond to assignments thinking they present a challenge that can be met by a variety of tactics, paper roadblocks will not as easily silence them. Pedagogically, it is reasonable to set expectations that are clear and challenging. Students convinced that they are bad writers, however, may fall victim to the inaction that preys on people convinced that past failures predict the failure of future efforts. Helping students understand writing expectations and assisting them in the goal of attaining them may involve different strategies for diverse students. It may mean, for example, introducing a process discourse within the classroom and helping writers work through multiple drafts. Murray (1984) explains that traditionally writing teachers would evaluate writing as if it were a finished product of literature. He contends that students learn better if they are taught that writing is a craft and that moving a paper to a form acceptable to ones instructor involves a process or series of steps. Wider acceptance of more multicultural discourses and more freedom of presentation in academic writing may help diverse students move more effectively through required writing tasks. If multiculturalism is truly a part of the pedagogical goals of an academic community, we can explicitly discuss writing strategies for students who are linguistically and socially diverse. We can teach academic discourse, if that is the goal, in ways that do no leave second language students (and others) feeling colonized and marginal to the dominant discourse. I advocate taking up a political discourse, one that empowers instructors and students to discuss language difference openly, rather than pretending it does not exist. A political discourse invites teachers and students to talk openly about their

386 L. Fernsten conflict with the system, without blaming themselves. It accepts that struggle, conflict, and tensions arise when individuals do not feel included in institutions and helps people understand the concept of invisible privilege. This last recommendation has particular importance, as without access to certain discourses, one is unable to change identity. Having students read articles on the political nature of language, as I did in this course, was clearly not enough. Brodkey (1992) believes that teachers and students can reconstruct themselves in relation to political realities via discursive practices that resist those representations that work against them. Teaching aspects of critical language awareness in our classrooms helps in this reconstruction and becomes an avenue for more inclusive, culturally competent environments. Gaining meta-knowledge regarding how dominant discourses affect us in society is important in helping students who speak a different dialect feel less marginalized. Inclusive classrooms are a human rights issue, and viewing difference as a resource rather than an obstacle is a way to help overcome present barriers. It is possible to increase the successful participation of multicultural students by re-examining the policies and practices of teaching and responding to writing in our schools. By doing so, we also become more culturally competent instructors. More must be done and, I admit, my own practice remains in process in this regard. With students, I explore writing fears and exchange ideas regarding how they as future teachers will enhance writing practices in public schools. We examine social justice issues in regard to high stakes writing exams that demand conformity of text from children. Because most of my students are future educators, reflecting on their own writing practices, examining where they are, how they feel about writing and working with young writers, and where they stand in regard to the familiar dominant practices in the academy is critical Faircloughs (1990, p. 90) words guide my practice. Some teachers already see their role in terms of empowering their students, in the words of one practitioner, to deal with communicative situations outside the classroom in which institutional power is weighted against them, preparing them to challenge, contradict, assert, in settings where the power dynamic would expect them to agree, acquiesce, be silent. This educational process must be grounded in a dialogue about the meaning of power and its encoding in language. Silence is unacceptable.

Notes on contributors References


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