Academic journal article Composition Studies

Black Spaces: Examining the Writing Major at an Urban Hbcu

Academic journal article Composition Studies

Black Spaces: Examining the Writing Major at an Urban Hbcu

Article excerpt

A structural analysis of racism suggests that education will not produce less racist institutions as long as white people control them.

-Christine Sleeter (244)

Citizens of all sorts- whether they are teachers in the schools, college faculty, members of the mainstream general public, spokespersons for culture, or legislators- are likely to agree that a teacher's job is to "improve" students' language.

-Peter Elbow (359-60)

Education in D. C. public schools is horrible. Seven months ago I sat in my sister's 12th grade class and it was unbelievable. The teacher had no control of the classroom. Students "clicked up" in groups and held whatever discussion interested them. The teacher walked up to the few students who were working and asked them what page they were on. She gave them all the answers, basically doing the work for them. My sister graduated that spring with two C minuses. She went to school for two classes and couldn't do better than that. Sometimes my sister says things that don't make any sense and I am amazed that they graduated her. The D.C. public school system is a travesty and I feel sorry for students going into the world without the proper education.

-Student blog post

I teach at an HBCU in Washington, D.C. My school, an urban public land grant university, sits in affluent Northwest D.C. surrounded by international embassies and offices of Fortune 100(TM) companies. At once, it is like other colleges and universities and, at the same time, radically different. Like me, most of the students have traveled on D.C.'s buses or subway to get to school; they have come from other places like Ward 7 and Ward 8 in Southeast DC- places where news crews venture when stories of inner-city crime and decay are needed. The students who I meet with are mostly black, either from inner-city DC. or have recently emigrated from countries like Cameroon, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, and Ethiopia. Many speak multiple languages deftly, though more out of necessity as vestiges of colonialism and empire, than out of progressive curricula and choice. Most are women, many of them single mothers working and taking classes. These students are, in many ways, the abstractions that curriculum theorists and teacher educators at suburban colleges and universities do not know, but write about and construct anyway. It is interesting and important for these students to have a place at this HBCU situated next to the embassies of Israel and China, and on the fringe of Cleveland Park with its multimillion dollar homes, just as it is important that appropriate curricula exist in such spaces. These relationships are important, though not for the reasons that one may immediately perceive.

In The Mis-Education of the Negro, Carter Woodson issues a mandate for a different and original program of education for African-Americans, specific to their own conditions.1 If we, as curriculum theorists in the field of composition studies, are to take this mandate into consideration when designing and implementing appropriate curricula and pedagogy, then we must start paying attention to the gritty materialities of the places our students inhabit and come from, the places they hope to go, and especially the worlds they aim to create. We must especially be concerned with the spaces that we (reproduce through our assumptions about curricula and knowledge construction within writing major initiatives at all levels and the sort of assessments and evaluations we privilege within the writing major. Certainly- or at least educators for social justice would hope- we do not want a writing major whose curricular assumptions tacitly subscribe to the notion that the "same educational process which inspires and stimulates the oppressor with the thought that he is everything and has accomplished everything worthwhile, depresses and crushes at the same time the spark of genius in the Negro by making him feel that his race does not amount to much and never will measure up to the standards of other peoples" (Woodson xiii). …

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