John L. – Reading Response
I greatly enjoyed the first three chapters of The Way Literacy lives. Shannon Carter was completely correct as to her assessments of testing in this country. Not to use a completely inappropriate metaphor, but the state of education in this country is much like the state of professional football (wait, it makes sense). In today’s current NFL, players have gotten too big and too strong or the game, and season and career-ending injuries are becoming more and more prevalent each year. The NFL keeps tweaking the rules, trying to find ways to protect the players by only allowing certain hits and blocks, but it’s just rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Soon, everyone will realize that this problem is unsolvable – the game will have to radically change or it will die.
In education, increased testing procedures is the same as increased rule tweaking in sports. In an era where every historical fact is retrievable in seconds from the internet, what is the purpose of making students memorize dates and places? In the days of typing and spell checks, what is the purpose of making students learn cursive and spelling? Grammar checks are making grammar less important, and grammar is becoming less important in an increasingly email/text/alternative media based society. Testing students using TAAS, TEAMS, and the other forms of objective testing are obsolete, as those subjects they are testing are becoming more and more obsolete. Shannon is completely correct when she writes that separating students based upon these tests puts many students at an unfair disadvantage.
Shannon discusses this again in her second chapter. In this chapter, she discusses how THEA tests are largely useless and irrelevant, as they encourage a glib and facile, but speedy, answer to a prompt. Shannon argues that very few people can perform to a high standard when asked to write under pressure. Shannon also points out in this chapter that students write differently when presented with different audiences – that teaching a uniform theory of literacy is useless. I do disagree where she writes that the effects of literacy on the psyche are fleeting, and that one doesn’t need literacy in order to survive. This is true to an extent – base survival is possible for an illiterate. But that illiterate will remain at the base of the socio-economic ladder, excepting those rare cases that display an aptitude for sports, entertainment, inheritance, or the lottery. And literacy does make people more intelligent. Show me a person who has read a thousand books and show me one who’s read three, then tell me whether or not literacy can improve intelligence. As George Orwell wrote, our words create our concepts. Destroy (or refuse to teach) words and you destroy concepts.
I have sympathy for Shannon’s position in the third chapter, that academic literacies are not inherently superior to vernacular literacies. And I think she is wrong for the right reasons. But I do think she’s wrong. She’s right that family and cultural pressures can hinder an ambition to education, but one cannot one cannot assign a neutral value to such pressures. If we accept education as a good (and as present and future teachers, we should) then those things that hinder education are not. I know that this may be my “middle-class value-set” (although I prefer to be thought of as an upper-class person without money), but if we give education no positive value, why should our students? Durst’s teaching philosophies, as described by Shannon, seem to find a great middle ground between those critical and practical concerns.
Especially in the last paragraph, Huot’s article "Reading Like a Teacher" seemed to imply that the only thing standing between a student and literacy was a teacher’s ability to assess a student’s work. This conflicts with the third chapter of Shannon, where she lists cultural and family pressures that can inhibit literacy. Also, while I agree with Huot that a teacher’s response can affect the level at which the student writes, I believe that assigning assessing students’ writings based upon culture is an inherently terrible idea. Creating a bifurcated classroom in which students are held to different standard based upon culture is a return to the educational “separate but equal” philosophies of yesteryear. I would like to think that authors like Huot do not recognize this fact.
"Testing is the cornerstone of reform" said George W. Bush, as quoted in Chapter One of the Carter reading. This statement is in direct contrast with the main idea of the book which addresses the subject of literacy as a social practice, integrating the three models of NLS, activity theory, and critical literacy. Carter explains her reasoning for arguing against assessment-based placement, i.e., TAAS, former TASP, and THEA, and for the autonomous models of literacies. In her discussion, she discusses the old year 2000 "B rule" of TASP as the State of Texas attempted to give more "freedom" (13) to public universities. In this same explanation, Carter gives what I believe to be her foundation for what assessment should be: in school and out-of school contextually based standards of testing college readiness. (She also quotes a response by Dennis Baron to the Future of Higher Education in stating her thoughts on this.)
While Carter challenges standardized testing being used as placement for students who go to college and live in the real world - not an academic one, she also gives light to the fact that there still exists a national exit testing criterion. She states, "...I can certainly see why my predecessors felt they had no other choice" as she leads into her theoretical justifications for just saying no to skills-based testing. Okay, I get that Carter wants to get rid of the "status quo" (10) with its "high-stakes testing" (11), but what is the alternative? Does she really think that for instance, the CCCC is going to get its way with saying that writing in not objective?
The purpose of the THEA (Texas Higher Education Assessment) is to test for higher education placement. What is so wrong with that? I understand that someone from South Texas does not know what a snow plow is or someone in New York does not know that you can eat a cactus. These are obscure questions which do not dominate the test. By the same token, I am not saying that I completely agree with teachers teaching to the test so students can graduate from High School and land in all college-level classes. I believe there is a place for defining literacy based on as the NLS defines: "reading and negotiating various contextual forces...identity formation, political affiliations...social...ideological frameworks" (17). However, could there be money and time allocated by the state to assess these factors on a placement exam?
I do believe we need to understand literacy differently and trust me when I say that I had to take a breath before I could sit down and write my response to Carter. This subject is touchy, tedious, hot, and etc. I do not know where to begin to throw my support behind Carter other than to do what she has done at TX A&M - Commerce. I guess we need writing program directors and English Department chairs in Texas and across the boarders of Texas to rally in support of the social nature of literacy. Then, maybe change would come.
The Huot article, "Reading Like a Teacher," reflects on the struggles to understand and improve the duty to respond to student writing. The author believes we currently lack a sufficient and coherent theory for the ways we respond to student writers. Huot presents ideas to help new teachers gather understanding in order to address beliefs and assumptions that guide current response practices. “It is important for us to understand that reading and responding to student writing constitutes a particular kind of literacy event.” (119) His goal with the article seems to be to assert that teachers can improve teaching and learning by taking the time to adequately assess more critically and thoroughly the way a student constructs his/her work. I agree that Huot has a point. The issue of feedback is unique to each instructor. While some teachers write personal notes and/or correct every comma, others may write general encouraging comments in the margins. There is a strong contrast between these two techniques. However, I believe that at some point, students deserves some feedback to gain insight into their progress or to double check they are on the right track for success in the class.
The first three chapters of The Way Literacy Lives discusses issues relating to basic writers and also issues relating specifically to Texas basic writers attempting to gain skills within the restrictions of the TAKS and THEA tests. Shannon Carter also makes the assertion that “fostering in our students an awareness of the ways in which an autonomous model deconstructs itself when applied to real-life literacy contexts can empower [students] to work this system in ways critical theorists advocate” (2). All in all, Carter makes a good argument. I was certainly able to agree with most of what she says. This occurred mostly because I teach in a system motivated so intensely by TAKS.
I did, however, have some concerns with some of what she was saying. Some of her statements were a little dated and, even though they were at one time true, they are no longer valid in the current Texas Public School system. At least, they are not supposed to be. Carter says that it is the habit of Texas Public Schools to throw kids into special education classes in order to exempt them from standardized tests (page 7). I do not deny that, at one point, this was true. I went to a small, rural high school where I actually saw this happen, but it’s not happening anymore…at least not in a way as detectable as year’s past. Currently, a school can only exempt 1% of the school from taking some form of the TAKS test and there are several forms. Those who do exempt are normally severely disabled (extremely severely disabled). The school has to show good cause. From what I understand, there are TAKS tests that allow assessment of skills taught in the life skills classes. So, on test day, everyone that can take a test will take a test. I couldn’t help but feel that Carter stuck in this information to make a point and did not bother to check on the policy.
TAKS drills are not coming curriculum at just the poor schools. In fact, I would assert that schools that are more in trouble with TAKS often tend to allow for more innovation because of the position they are in. Yes, there is more accounting for the meeting of the TEKS, but I never recall doing as much TAKS prep at the inner-city school I student taught at as I currently do at my current position. The “alignment” issue, though, is a product of the TAKS test. In the name of fostering student performance, many districts have currently bought into curriculums designed by service centers instead of relying on their teachers to plan and execute their own curriculums.
I found Carter’s assertion that people lacking in certain literacy skills will develop coping skills in order to survive. This is true, at least in the cases that I have seen. My only concern is the people who do not develop such coping skills. On a recent trip with my family, I had to stop at a drug store for a bottle of ibuprofen for my son. While I was there, I saw a woman staring aimlessly at the children’s fever reducers. Eventually, she apologized and allowed me to get what I needed, but went on to say that her daughter just had her shots and that she needed to get her something. After determining the child’s age, I was able to suggest something for her, but had reservations about making such a suggestion. The woman had coped by asking me for help, but I worried about who she would ask later when she had to actually give her child the medicine.
Huot argues all the points that I have been arguing all along. The main point Huot makes is that a teacher goes into grading with a certain set of expectations and preconceived notions that are going to effect how they grade a given assignment. I'm not 100 percent on some of his examples, but he makes good points with all of them. White teachers grade white students better than they grade African-American or Hispanic students, but African American teachers grade whites and African American's equally, and Hispanics less. This does show the role of culutral-context in grading/rating, but at the same time it can also simply show that African American teachers are more keen to accept AAVE as legitimate than white teachers are. However, the example of graders blindly receiving professional writing and student writing and rating the professional writing worse definately shows the role of context in rating. These raters believed they were recieving student writing so they rated it lower than when they knew it was professional writing. I agree with him that a teacher is going to be limited while grading to what they are expecting, and the context that they are setting in their mind for their grading. The problem I have is finding the solution. It seems simple for me, but I don't know that "grade open-mindedly" is really something that can be universalized too. This article addresses the fact that teachers are just as human as their students, and just as keen to error due to misconception, or poorly planned preconceptions. Since teachers are human, they also have a high likelihood of wanting things to fit a pattern or plan, similar to first year and basic writing students who we are training to think outside the box. It's hard to get every single teacher to think outside the box, and it's even harder to get people to uniformly think outside the box. The human fear of the unknown makes a lot of people really want guidelines and rules that are always clear cut.
I think Carter did a really good job of articulating the conundrum of how basic writers have been defined by the standardized testing monolith, and equally how a critical literacy/critical pedagogy approach can prove equally problematic and reductive in imposing an instructor’s leftist politics on the students. She finds irony in a critical pedagogy whose tenets are to “challenge all authority and all ‘givens’ other than the instructor’s authority and the ‘given’ that all ‘givens’ are suspect” (50). While critical pedagogy is great for getting students to question their received values and ideologies, it is not without its own inculcating tendencies. I was glad to read someone addressing this issue, as we’ve tackled this in several class periods trying to get to a “right” answer ourselves. So far, it seems that Carter is saying there is not a right answer to be had. Perhaps we do the best we can by these students, helping them to confront what literacy means to them and the tensions that may exist between that definition and the way power institutions define literacy. In putting together my teaching portfolio, I kept coming across the same issue. How exactly do we go about this? Carter states that the primary objective of the program she created was “to help our students develop the flexibility and skill necessary to negotiate multiple, always changing literacies, learning to hone and apply rhetorical dexterity to increasingly complex rhetorical situations” (20). However, it’s easier said than done. As she willingly admits, it is hard for a teacher to think of every situation in which “violence” can be perpetuated.
The student writing that Carter quoted offered some of the most logical explanations for the problems in assessment and standardized testing used for placement. One student talks about how he has test-anxiety and blanks out when he gets the test. That is what years of being labeled sub-standard can do…the student digresses in his ability to “perform” instead of learning how to master the testing process. We have covered the unfair nature of timed testing, which is completely true, but another great point is that nothing is learned from this system. Carter quotes a student who indicated that “the entire process of literacy testing leaves far too many ‘questions…unanswered’ and this lack of information is harmful to him as it requires him to suffer the consequences of not knowing the answers he needs and, because literacy is presented via this autonomous perspective, he must ‘start all over from scratch’ when he enters this new context” (38). This was something that hadn’t occurred to me, but I can’t imagine how frustrating it must be to be placed in a BW course, not given a reason, not given points to work on to get up to the academy’s standard, etc.
I thought that Huot raised some interesting questions about assessment. He asks, “Why do teachers read student writing in the first place?” (112-113). I kind of sat and thought about that for a few minutes because it’s one of those questions that seems so inherently obvious. But really, if teachers’ assessment of writing can be so variable, subjective, and inconstant, why do we put a grade on writing? Can we put a grade on writing? How else can we determine a grade for a writing course if the answer is no? Huot believes that we have to marry theory and practice more in order to shift the focus “from how we respond to why we respond, making us reflect upon and articulate our beliefs and assumptions about literacy and its teaching” (112). I agree, we all bring preconceptions and our own literacy values to the table, as writers and as readers of writing. The problem comes in when you have to assign a point value (which, when you think about it, is pretty contrary to much of what writing studies scholarship espouses and identifies with—thinking about the CCCC Position Statement we read) that is arbitrary at best and completely capricious, whim-driven, and unfair at its worst. Some of his suggestions seemed a bit abstract to be consistent with (for me), which returns me to my initial anxiety about being a writing teacher to begin with. How truly fair can assessment ever be? It seems that we read much chastisement of current practices and an urging to be value-neutral in terms of literacy, language, dialects, structure, form, content, context…what else is left to assign a value to?
Reading like a Teacher
Huot discusses the current grading methods of teachers. The author hopes to, "rearticulate what it means to read like a teacher...a dialectic between the way we think about language and between the way we think about language and teaching and the way we read and respond to student writing" (112). I thought it was interesting how Huot included the research from Arnetha Ball's study on how Euro-American and African-American teachers grade students of different races and ethnicities. She had the teachers read read essays from Euro-American, African-American and Hispanic students and the results were interesting (albeit somewhat expected in my opinion). The Euro-American teachers rated the Euro-American students the highest out of a six point scale, followed far behind by African-American and then Hispanic students. The African-American teachers, however, rated African-American students the highest, followed by Euro-American and then Hispanic students. When I say the results were expected, I mean that I figured the white teachers would rate the white students the highest out of the three groups. I think that the reason the African-American teachers rated the African-American students the highest is because they are more familair with AAEV, and therefore more accepting.
Sorry, but they were sold out of The Way Literacy Lives so I don't have it!
The first three chapters of Carter's book serve to take a critical look at the teaching of literacy, what it really means, and how it is often used, purposefully, inadvertently, or for lack of better options, to help or hinder students (sometimes helping them in the short term but hindering them in the long term - as with getting them to focus on passing TAKS). These are issues that we have gone through in this class and discussed many times, and Carter brings them together to illustrate a country in which testing often is more determinant of how literacy is taught rather than a society in which literacy and its very nature determine how it is taught. Certainly, this is ridiculous, and there is very little theoretical justification for the backwardness of it, but this is how existing power structures have determined to do things.
I liked John's analogy to the NFL very much even though I don't really keep up with football until the playoffs, but I think he had a good point there. Also, Christine brought up some very valid points to the effect of, "If not standardized testing, then what?" - this was also something that came to my mind when reading Carter. It really all seems to come down to the question of "What is ideal, and what is practical?" The idea of a class ratio of 25-30 diverse students to one teacher (who is one race, one SES, one creed, you get the point), is hardly ideal, but practicality necessitates it, so there becomes the need for standards and tests. To reform those tests (rather than simply adding to them) or the means of assessment, there would need to be a wholesale reform in the way lawmakers vote on issues of literacy education. This hasn't happened in the many years of critical literacy's existence; I don't know what makes people delude themselves into it will happen now.
So the problem for many of us in the field looks like, "The enemies are power and money; we have little or none, and the people we must convince have both. Add that it is in their best interest in maintaining both to keep things the way they are (backwards). Why should the corrupt individuals who can change the system want to?" It's a lot like all the AIG creeps where you almost need a figure with both intelligence and authority on your side to make any change.
In reading Huot, who was discussing instructors different ways of assessing student writing, I was reminded of reading Haswell's "Minimal Marking." It was mostly because I had always been frustrated with marking papers because it was like I was doing all the work and the students were not learning. They needed to be the ones doing the work. So, anyway, my outlook on marking student papers has changed drastically since reading that article. I had always heard the axiom, "If you are working harder than the students are, the students are not learning." Anyway, that's a bit away from Huot's point, but it was worth mentioning because I think everyone in this class could benefit from reading that Haswell.
Back to Huot - according to his suggestions, it seems almost arbitrary to grade at all since we all have our biases, but that is the job of an English professor (to grade writing, not have biases). I think the answer lies somewhere in realizing that we have those internal biases but in consistently working to reduce or eliminate them. That's how, it seems, we become better and more fair as evaluators of student writing.
These first three chapters of The Way Literacy Lives bring some new ideas to build upon those we saw previously in other readings, especially Basic Writing as a Political Act. The first chapter, focusing on standardized testing, seemed to represent some of the conversations we have had in class discussions about the TAKS and THEA tests. I have recently been observing a high school class and have seen what she meant by the focus on teaching to the test before test time and the shift that occurs after, how the final portion of the year after TAKS is the only time teachers really feel like they can teach what they want. I like the case Carter makes against standardized testing, especially in the context of multiple literacies. I think this book provides an excellent history of Texas education since the 1980s, showing the movement towards and reaction to standardized testing.
Carter's solution to the problem of testing and labeling "Basic writers" is to "help students develop rhetorical dexterity...[and] explicitly validate the complex sustems in which these students are already considered literaate by taking them seriously and asking our students to do the same" (22). This concept seems to guide the whole book, esrving as the framework for what teachers should aim towards for "basic writing" students. I really like this idea of validating multiple literacies, which is what I felt like I was trying to do this semester with my "Good Writing" assignment and having the students bring what genres they thought were good writing.
One of the assignments she mentions that I really like was the "objects of litearcy," in which the students describe some object that represents their past experiences with home literacies. She also has the students read The Violence of Literacy by Stuckey, which to me really emphasizes Adler-Kassner/Harrington's idea of making it political by letting the students in on the conversations scholars and teachers have. I liked these three chapters, and I am excited to see what else is coming! I used some of this book during Comps, so I know a bit about the overall premise and conclusion, but I didn't get to see everything, as, you know, it was kind of a frantic time.
Huot also brought up some interesting points about assessment, which gave some practical uses for the classroom. James's point about the arbitrariness and biases made me think about Contessa and the post-modern way of viewing student work. It seems difficult at times to remove some of your own perspective to allow the students to have their own--which is also an issue that Carter discusses in her book by referencing how she tries to not push her liberal views on conservative students. I just wonder how many students can see through this and really do feel somewhat attacked for having a different perspective. I like to play devil's advocate with my students, by questioning any perspective they present, and I find that it helps keep them from knowing my stance on an issue.
As per last time I am keeping this short. Some of this ended up in my portfolio reflection anyway. This week’s readings were so awesome. I actually read the Huot book last week, and found it very practical and well laid out. I think many of his suggestions on assessment and the value of trained and researching teachers who assess were dead on. I would like to read this chapter again and take some more detailed notes, as I still don’t feel I understand enough about it all, (I guess I need to take the practicum) Carter was fabulous. While I am not a feminist, nor do I want a great deal of political ideology being pushed at students, I think she phrased things wonderfully. I have been hard on some of the texts we have looked at but this one is well worth the read. The people she cites and the details she give make for a deeper understanding and a better view of the overall framework. The fact that she points out where some of her ideology and practice didn’t work, where it did, where others have failed or succeeded was also very helpful. I couldn’t put it down, because in order to get to the next point you just had to keep reading. I found it fantastic the way that she connected the gaming and computer literacy to her argument. I found the whole thing compelling. I LOVED the inclusion of the technology readings. I want to get my hands on them and see what they have to say. (Lots of this text made it into my project)
Carter's assessment of the state of testing seems well founded and especially applicable, considering she is refering mostly to her experiences with the same tests that we have encountered (or at least I have) here in Texas. I was one of the fortunate students who never had a problem performing successfully on these types of exams, but I also had the experience of studying with some of my friends who did not share the same literacy practices that served me so well. This is not to say they were illiterate; many of them were more avid readers than I was. Many of their experiences just weren't as conducive to the kind of test taking skills that mine were. For example, having a mother who taught K-12 nearly my entire tenure as a student in those grades gave me the opportunity to see the grading and curricular planning that many students don't get to see. Some of my friends came from households where grandmothers or aunts or cousins lived in under the same roof and many of them were more interested (for very good reasons) in what they needed to do to get their family car running or getting medical treatment for family members with no income. On top of that, many of those extended family members spoke Spanish and did not even attend school here. I am not trying to paint a picture of poverty or extreme hardship here, I am simply making the point that for some of these students, whose literacy skills were tested in the same way as mine, the environment for developing those kinds of literacies was inherently and necessarily less viable.
So, then, when Carter cites Basic Writing as a Political Act in describing the need to establish curricula that promote collaborative relationships between teachers and students, I think that she is arguing for classrooms in which the kinds of things I was given access to by having a teaching parent are given to students that don't have that particularly beneficial atmosphere at home (22).
The problem with that is that, while it moves toward leveling the playing field for developing the literacy that is expected from standardized tests, it still focuses on the same goal of autonomous literacy. In order to achieve what Carter calls for in Chapter 2, the assessments themselves would have to be adapted to the kind of writing that is relevent outside the classroom. The student who writes to the test successfully because s/he has been given insight of the kind I had with my mom still may not have any reasonable application for that kind of literacy at home (even if that particaular kind of literacy may benefit the student in college and beyond). Therefore, I understand Carter's argument of "The Way Literacy Oppresses" as a gain for some individuals (who adopt a particular kind of literacy quickly) in exchange for the complete isolation of the complex literacies of their childhood, family, culture, and community.
By segregating literacies in this way, we are homogenizing our higher education from the roots up and reinforcing the heirarchy of power that excluded many of us in the first place. Not only are diverse populations with unique literacies "making greater and greater sacrifices for lesser and lesser reward," we are watering down the very institution that they rely on to move them out of oppressive power structures and economic imbalances (58). This is an injustice to students and to academia alike.
Huot's examples of cultural results in grading seem to reinforce the idea that this practice of teaching toward autonomous literacy skilss has already done some damage within education. If students of similar cultures as the teacher are receiving better assessments, then the teachers themselves are missing out on the diversity that could benefit their understanding of complex, albeit foreign, modes of thought. Rather than seeking intelligence in the things they are marking as incompetent, as Shaughnessy promotes, they are dismissing them as inferior. This kind of single-mindedness stifles the students' desire to learn and simultaneously stifles the teacher's active and ongoing pursuit of better insight. Old habits die hard, as the saying goes, and once teachers begin to see literacy as a singular, autonomous entity, it can be a difficult process to reverse course in the face of something dissimilar.
I am going to do something a little different this week. If not, I will just post another talk about my ESL students, because I see them in these readings once more. Instead, I want to respond to Darcy’s post. I think she brings up a very interesting question at the end of her post:
"It seems that we read much chastisement of current practices and an urging to be value-neutral in terms of literacy, language, dialects, structure, form, content, context…what else is left to assign a value to?"
This is precisely the problem. We judge everything, but even the standards we judge them by are judged. Students are put under such a microscope no wonder their voices are not heard in their writing. We talked about this in Etheridge’s class last summer, that some things are okay not to grade. Freewriting being one of those things. How can you grade a student’s thoughts and emotions? You can’t; but you can just encourage them to either bring them out more, or channel them more academically. It reminds me of reading “The Border Patrol State” in Concannon’s class last semester where the Border Patrol is targeting everyone, basically, because even white men and women can be “suspicious.” If everyone is “the other” then is there really an “other” anymore.” If you are grading every little thing based on the education system’s philosophy, is the student even a human being with a voice anymore or is he just another pass/fail?
I was reading this pretty cool syllabus from Northern Arizona State today regarding using pop culture in the basic writing classroom. Here is the link if you are interested: http://www.mhhe.com/socscience/english/tbw/rosendale/Gray-RosendaleModuleTBW.htm Rosendale used pop culture to bring out a students voice because that is where their literacy lives, in their everyday life, not in the classroom. In order to truly assess a student’s connection between writing and meaning, you have to bring the classroom to their social circle because that is where it lives. Songs and texting and digital technology are what they are interested in. Case in point: I waited too long to introduce my students to Wiki this semester, maybe if I would have trusted their knowledge more, some would have gotten more into the lessons if they were digitalized instead of paper, and plenty of it. I think Carter reasons using Elspeth Stuckey to distinguish how students can really get turned off because of class, technology and differences in education. If I were teaching a grad course in Literacy, Carter and Stuckey would be two books I would assign during that semester. It is all about social contexts and the reality of difference in culture, class, and education. The problem is that the education system is too set in its ways that to make a break in its ideology of assessment would bring the system to a monetary standstill. Ah, politics, money and that poor “other” of education.
Reading chapter 1 clears up a lot of questions I had about the history of the standardized tests. The very nature of a bureaucracy is to create a lot of unnecessary paperwork in order to make it look like someone is doing something productive, while in actuality the outcome is usually lacking any real productivity at all. And, as Carter suggests, the nature of a bureaucracy is to resist change. Still, both Carter and Huot find ways of implementing change in their methods of teaching. They both start by questioning the rules and definitions, finding the inconsistencies, and then thinking critically to come up with solutions. Carter questions the definitions of literacy, identifies the “metaphors of conflict,” and posits new “ways we might conceive of the basic writing classroom” (28). Huot questions the “teachers’ perceptions of writing quality,” and urges teachers to become more aware of their own “expectations of student writing.” Carter examines the issue in a broader sense than does Huot, but both seek to redefine the definition of literacy, Carter on a large scale, and Huot at the level of teaching. What Carter says is true about people who do not read and write: one definition of literacy does not fit all. The main message is to question old perspectives and definitions of literacy so that we can all learn something new again.
I liked Carter’s chapters here, and am anxious to see what she will discuss in regards to “outside literacies” (I mean, she already mentioned “Star Trek” literacies!). When reading about “Testing the Teacher” with its discussion of standardized tests, I couldn’t help but feel I was reading about my hometown all over again: “‘Our analysis reveals that behind the rhetoric of rising test scores are a growing set of classroom practices in which test-prep activities are usurping a substantive curriculum.’” (9). My dad is an Ag. Mechanics teacher, and one of his primary complaints is that his the curriculum has increasingly become directed to “the test,” with the regular classes being shortened in order for a TAKS class to be placed at the end of the day. What good is an education if its geared towards one test, one that is presumably supposed to test an abstract “bundle of skills”? (11). Of course, this argument could continue for eternity, but what makes Carter’s different is the sheer amount of research and how she effectively weaves together so much into one whole.
I also think the idea of “rhetorical dexterity,” where students are given the skills “necessary to negotiate multiple, always changing literacies, learning to hone and apply [these literacies] to increasingly complex rhetorical situations,” is an admirable goal, and one that I think should be emphasized (20). But several problems emerge here, and Carter herself outlines these. One, we have to get other instructors to recognize that there isn’t one literacy, a priviledged ability to “read and write” the canonized texts, but Two, we have to find a balance between that and recognizing that students will still always need to know that literacy. In theory, rhetorical adaptability sounds great, but how do you get there? Maybe she will explain further.
The other thing the text got me thinking about was the “violence of literacy,” and especially with the case of Ana. How often do we do this to our students, and how often do they not tell us we’re doing it, even if they’re not disabled? I thought back on my time working at the newspaper, and I had a blind reporter on staff. His process of writing stories and getting them to me was basically self-contained: he wrote from home on his laptop, which had the JAWS speaking program, and sent the stories in by email. However, there were several times when he asked if he could get a computer in the office. I told him I would check up on it with my advisor, but I knew that the JAWS program was not cheap, and that there had to be a visible need, as determined by disability services, for the computer. As it was, we just didn’t have the funds, and he continued to work from home. I think Stuckey, and Carter, would agree that our conceptions of literacy, through technology, were doing violence to his ability to work closer to the staff. It was a tough situation, and Ana’s story brought it to mind.