Academic journal article Composition Studies

Writing, Rhetoric, and American Cultures (WRA) 125-Writing: The Ethnic and Racial Experience

Academic journal article Composition Studies

Writing, Rhetoric, and American Cultures (WRA) 125-Writing: The Ethnic and Racial Experience

Article excerpt

Course Description

According to the Michigan State University (MSU) course catalog, WRA 125 - Writing: The Ethnic and Racial Experience is a themed-based Tier I (first-year) writing course that focuses on "drafting, revising, and editing compositions derived from readings on the experience of American ethnic and racial groups to develop skills in narration, persuasion, analysis, and documentation." WRA 125 is one of many courses offered in the Tier I Writing Program. For course content, most instructors who teach sections of this course select one specific racial or ethnic group on which to focus, and self-design course readings and other materials corresponding to these groups accordingly. Therefore, most instructors find it useful to add more specific versions of the course in addition to the one identified in the course catalog. My specific description reads as follows:

As we use an Afrocentric lens, we'll study more specifically, African American Vernacular English (AAVE), African American Language (AAL)/Ebonics, and African American Rhetoric (AAR). As students, you will be introduced to Ebonics/ AAL and AAR as systems of speaking and writing, equally legitimate to Standard Academic English (SAE), the writing that you typically do in school. In this class, each of you will have the opportunity to write in SAE, AAL/Ebonics, or other language varieties and languages. While many of you may or may not be familiar with AAL/Ebonics, it is my hope that you all will have a clearer grasp on the language usage of African Americans, and how this language fits in college composition classrooms.

Institutional Context

MSU is a large, Midwestern, Land-Grant University. There are approximately 46,045 students total: 36,072 undergraduate and 9,973 graduate and professional. 54 percent of its students are women, and 46 percent are men. There are approximately 4,800 faculty and staff. The average high school GPA for incoming freshmen (middle 50 percent of class) is between 3.4 and 3.8. The average SAT combined score is between 1020 and 1240, and the average ACT composite score is between 23 and 27 (http:// www. msu.edu/thisismsu/facts.html).

WRA 125 is a first-year writing course that is housed in the Tier I Writing Program at MSU. Our Tier I Writing Program is unique because while it is a writing program, it is not housed in the English Department. The history of the department in which it is housed, Writing, Rhetoric and American Cultures (WRAC), is also distinctive because the department recently underwent a name change. Prior to 2003, the Department was called American Thought and Language. Tier I Writing's disciplinary orientation was not rhetoric and composition, or English studies; instead, Tier I Writing was historically taught as a history-focused course on Western civilization. Because there are still many faculty and instructors who specialize in History and American Studies, some instructors choose to focus on themes related to these disciplines. Many instructors who also teach WRA 125 often approach topics related to racial and ethnic groups with an emphasis on History or American Studies. For the course I designed, however, I chose an emphasis on scholarship associated with Composition Studies.

Teaching Rationale

Because my section WRA 125 is situated within the context of an Afrocentricity, I find it useful to clarify exactly how I understand an Afrocentric approach pedagogically My conceptual framework primarily relies on Molefi Kete Asante as a lens. Asante defines Afrocentric education as

a frame of reference wherein phenomena are viewed from the perspective of the African person. The Afrocentric approach seeks in every situation the appropriate centrality of the African person (Asante, 1987). In education this means that teachers provide students the opportunity to study the world and its people, concepts, and history from an African worldview .... Because all content areas are adaptable to an Afrocentric approach, African American students can be made to see themselves as centered in the reality of any discipline. …

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