Academic journal article English Journal

Keeping the Mic On: Emboldening Voices through Discussion-Based Inquiry

Academic journal article English Journal

Keeping the Mic On: Emboldening Voices through Discussion-Based Inquiry

Article excerpt

At a preparatory workshop session with 32 predominately African American high school students in the Emerging Scholars program, we introduced a clip of a Congressional hearing where Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) muted the microphone of Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) and adjourned the meeting ("Rep. Elijah Cummings"). "He just turned offthat microphone when that man was talking-can he do that?" erupted one student. "Did they do that because he was Black?" queried a second. "What we have here," we replied, "is a failure to communicate."

In a nation and political climate where models of communication and respect for another's ideas are difficult to find, we take seriously our charge to support educational practices that prepare students to critically engage in a free and democratic society. If venerable public figures such as Representative Cummings, the ranking member of the committee where he was silenced for asking a question, have difficulty finding a voice in our democratic process, what hope is there for historically marginalized youth in the rural south? As part of a summer high school outreach program, we sought to develop a practice of discussion-based pedagogy based on inquiry and research that would empower students to find their voices in the academic setting by preparing them to express themselves in literary response and well-reasoned debate.


This study was inspired by our involvement in an innovative university program, Emerging Scholars. As an outreach program that draws students from five underserved high schools to a university in the Southeastern United States, the stated mission of the Emerging Scholars program is to "[increase] the number of college graduates that come from economically disadvantaged areas and first generation families" (Emerging Scholars).

Each summer, the Scholars, many of whom have never been more than an hour away from home, travel five long hours to the university that hosts the program. The Scholars live on campus and attend courses with university faculty in English, math, history, science, study skills, and public speaking to support them in acquiring the academic capital required to transition smoothly into college and to succeed in life. The duration of the Emerging Scholars experience increases each subsequent year that students remain in the program, with rising sophomores spending one week on campus, rising juniors spending two weeks on campus, and rising seniors spending three weeks on campus.

Despite alarmingly high dropout rates at the five high schools that host the program, 100 percent of the students who complete all three years of the program graduate from high school, and 90 percent of them go on to college or to the military (Emerging Scholars). The focus on developing the voices of our Emerging Scholars in the academic setting is crucial, particularly at a time when students of color throughout the country are beginning to speak out about being marginalized on college campuses. We believe that discussion-based pedagogy, where student-centered and dialogic discussion is privileged, and where inquiry is the preferred mode of understanding a topic, can guide students not only in finding their voice but also in sharing it with others in respectful and well-reasoned ways.

Jackie and Susan are new to the Emerging Scholars program and co-teach the public speaking course. Angie teaches the English course and has been involved in the program for ten years. As instructors, each coming from a pedagogical stance that could be described as critical constructivism, we realized that we had common goals for the Scholars-creating classroom contexts where discussion and inquiry would lead to critical reading and listening and the formation of articulate and thoughtful responses. Elliot W. Eisner contends that the goal of critical constructivist teaching is "to enable students to become the architects of their own education so that they can invent themselves during the course of their lives" (652); this is what we sought to do. …

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