Melissa's responses for Bernstein & Crisco readings:

I agree completely with Bernstein on academic testing harming the education system. I have witnessed some of the ramifications of standardized testing on students, and it angers me that both teachers and students are forced to work under such stress. However, I never knew the effects accountability tests had on ELL students, and I think Noah's situation ties in perfectly with Crisco's belief that students should use what they know, in terms of culture, and translate that into academic English. But when students, such as Noah, are mainstreamed into classes that disregard their culture which is all they know, they are doomed for failure.

I guess what Berstein is arguing is that accountability tests are the blame for ELL students' lack of preparation: "In that regard, he suggested that students needed solid preparation for college that focused on more intellectual aims, rather than on preparation for testing" (423). Though I'm no expert, this may be the reason students are so bored and uninterested in what's being taught in school. Instead of building on the different foundations that students come in with and producing beautiful and diverse structures in our students, we are erasing their foundation saying it's not good enough, laying a new one, that is definitely not suitable for our diverse students, and simply hoping for something nicely structured to come out of this mess. I believe that this is what standardized tests are doing and why they are not successful.

I was a bit confused with the Crisco reading. I agreed with Crisco that teachers should bridge the gap between the student's language and the language of academia: "ethnographic research and writing ask students to start with what they know and then do research and present that knowledge in a genre of writing that has roots in the academy" (40). I was amazed for this seems like the answer I had been looking for. She presented it so clearly. The assignments she had her students do in her class were awesome because through them she told her students, "I care about who you are and where you come from. Teach me about your culture, but teach it to me in a language I can understand." That's harmless. Teacher and student are involved in an exchange of knowledge.

But then Crisco goes on to argue the contrary, that by "forcing" student to use Standard English, we are insinuating a hierarchy (51) of language (saying that Standard English is better than their language). But before this, Crisco says, "Instead, I would like to argue that students have multiple identities and have access to various language practices..." (51). I just don't see the big deal. Standard English is just another language that students should know how to use when appropriate, just as Standard Spanish, Spanglish and other dialects are used varying on audience. Is it really so hard to say that Standard English is appropriate at this certain place? Crisco believes that students are members of different discourse communities, so why is it such an imposition to have students use Standard English in yet another community? Students have an inherent knowledge of the way language works without any formal education...they know when it's okay to speak slang and when it's totally inappropriate.

They know that they are coming to college to learn a new language. If we don't teach them this language because we are afraid of erasing their identities, we are doing them a disservice. I believe they are adults and as such, they should be responsible for the survival of their identity.



Melanie Mayer ENGL 5361 Response Feb 1 From Crisco’s “Rethinking Language…” and Bernstein’s “Teaching and Learning…”

Bernstein’s article reinforces that if we aim low (just to pass a standardized test, for example) we get low results; if we aim higher than is “required,” we may achieve greatness. In my high school, we have never sought to prepare students to pass a test. We do so much more in all disciplines. (I realize we are able to in part because we are a small school.) Consequently, these tests seem easy in comparison to the students’ regular assignments. I am baffled by the author’s statement that Noah graduated in the top ten percent of his high school class, yet was in basic writing. Does this happen?

Crisco’s article had many holes. First, if I went to France or Mexico for an extended period I assume I would need to “[acculturate]” in order to not “suffer economically” (40). I would not expect anything else. Yet in America, people expect everyone to adjust to their needs. As a teacher I would try to meet the needs of all my students, within reason, but to expect to be taught in a home language in American public schools seems a little much. Second, her point about teaching to student agendas and needs does not hold water because these may change as the students themselves grow and change. I cannot just prepare college composition students for a certain task or workforce, or high school students to just pass TAKS because their current agendas do not include higher education or an academic career. Why would I limit them in that way? I must see beyond the students’ present into their futures. Third, she calls an initiative that states “all children in CA public schools should be taught English…” assimilation and goes on to reference “laws that force students to learn English in public institutions…” (44). By her diction she is trying to demonstrate bias toward such practices but really does the opposite. She makes my point for me: it is a public school, in America, and why wouldn’t we expect some assimilation? People want all the freedoms and benefits this country offers but yet have the nerve to vocally resist becoming “Americanized,” citing that it’s not a “valued goal” (49). It is a valued goal when they want it to be, but not when it’s hard or uncomfortable, such as in education. They can’t have it both ways.

No one has to give up his heritage or identity. A balance must be struck in the classroom that depends largely on where and what the goals are. It is good to help all students find what to write, in various languages and backgrounds – but how to write is still determined by audience and purpose. Call it “publication location,” rather than social location. Crisco is a study of contradiction. It is nice to have her students write letters wanting changes based on their language learning research. But we know these letters would be correctly written because she talks about publication. She isn’t addressing basic writing at all, then, but cultural studies. -mayer

Elva Martinez for February 1, 2007

In the article “From Teaching and Learning in Texas: Accountability Testing, Language, Race, and Place” by Susan Naomi Bernstein. February 1, 2007 What I continue to realize is that secondary education is not preparing the students for a college education. Look at poor Noah. Remember my story about the twenty three year old male student that could not fill out a job application. How come? Is it right for the No Child Left Behind law? Is Texas been fair to the education system?

I would like to read more articles by Valencia, Villarreal, and Salinas about the Texas public school students who are identified as English language learners (ELL). (419) What is this? As long the students use oral proficiency in English why bother teaching them writing skills. I think secondary teachers do not want to waste their time teaching because they are so focus in getting the students to pass the TAAS test. What about the future of the students? The teachers are thinking of their short terms goals not the long term goals of the students who wished to obtain a higher education than a high school diploma. Understand, I do not blame the secondary teachers; they are only following orders from the State of Texas.

In conclusion, Noah and others are determined to continue their higher education. We have to understand that in secondary school there is only one standardized methodology of teaching regardless of their needs and desires. But when entering higher education, there are a variety of approaches in learning. We all need to find that confidence and find own voice. Can some pressure be put in the secondary education in order to prepare the incoming college students?

Article: Rethinking Language and Culture on the Institutional Borderland by Virginia Crisco. February 1, 2007 I liked how she started her article. First, she started with two quotes, one from a basic writing student and the other by Gloria Anzaldúa, a writer. Then she has the following paragraph explaining the first quote and Crisco’s reflection. Then she talked about the Anzaldúa quote and some of her reflection. Crisco contrasts Jose and Anzaldua’s point of view. Jose forgets his native culture while Anzaldua fights for identity, kind of a dual identity. “This voluntary (yet forced) alienation makes for psychological conflict, a kind of dual identity-we don’t identity with the Anglo-American cultural values and we don’t totally identify with the Mexican cultural values (40). Like Kinloch, there is a language identity and a need to respect the students’ perspectives. Like Anzaldua said that there are so many different kinds of the Spanish language that being bilingual does not mean we are talking the same language. There is no one certain Spanish language. Look at the Chicano language. The Chicano language does not fit in neither side of the two named culture. What happens to that culture? Where do they fit? Crisco mentioned these two students that have pressure from the parents. “What the experiences of Beatrice and Susana demonstrate are the pressures to be English-speaking and Spanish-speaking, to know the dominant American culture and to know the Mexican culture” (50). The parents want the daughters to keep both dominant cultures. How can that be? Eventually, one culture will win and we know which one. Out in the working sector, who can practice the Mexican culture? Crisco explained “Instead, I would like to argue that students have multiple identities and have access to various language practices that are not necessarily finite and fixed but rather flexible and overlapping (51). I want to explain that all culture have to wear different hats depending where we are at and with who. Look at the English language, we have Standard English, Academic English, Working-class and slang English. Where do we use it and with who?

I will close with these questions. How can the Spanish speakers be considered second class (California)? (43) Why too many dropouts? (44) How can Spanglish be eliminated? (52)

Elva Martinez

Adolfo Butch Cardenas' Reading Response 01Feb07

Both of these readings address the significance of culture in the classroom in Texas and California, and am very pleased that they were selected for this reading assignments concerning Mexican American students in higher education English composition. Crisco’s article brings to light many of the problems Mexican Americans face in the California higher education system by virtue of class distinction and assimilation into the dominant culture while the Bernstein article is equally enlightening with respect to state mandated testing that fails to prepare Mexican American students for writing in the academy.

While the Crisco article does identify those academic institutional barriers that hinder Mexican Americans or Chicanos from success in university-level writing , she posits her broad ranging contentions while using only one university among many in California that are just as diverse such as San Diego State, UC–Long Beach, East L.A. College and UC-Santa Barbara. Her research sources such as Mary Soliday do buttress her argument, but the data she has gathered I do not think warrants such a general solution to the problem. I do concur that ethnographic studies are a viable medium to get students motivated to write about their culture, but I feel that the key word here is to write and before students can begin to write (with their goal of learning to write in the academy) they must first learn the basics of writing in Standard English. I have no qualms with a student tapping into their culture to gain meaningful writing experience, but they must do it in the correct academic context whether it is in a literature class or writing across the curriculum.

With respect to Jose’s contention that he has been forced to choose between his education and his culture I think he is incorrect and I would think it would be incumbent upon his teacher to recognize and advise him that one does not necessarily have to give up their culture in order to assimilate into American society. Thousands have done it before him and many thousands more will do it in this country’s future. I believe students like Jose should embrace the American way of life while not forgetting his cultural roots. In other words, you don’t have to stop eating tamales just because you are learning the English language, especially if trying to enter academia. One other thing that bothered me about Jose’s essay was his contention about language that “. . . in many cases this is the only piece of Mexican culture the Chicano people have” (52). I don’t know where Jose has been living for the past few years, but the Chicano culture is everywhere as in music, cuisine, literature, politics, and the arts. The Mexican culture is a long way away from extinction in America and with the continuous influx of legal and illegal Mexicans; the Chicano culture will continue being replenished.

One of the questions that I had about the use of Crisco’s phrase “students were pushed” when getting them to write their ethnographies is; what happens when these students push back?

Since I am not a teacher in the Texas school system and have not experienced teaching towards standardized testing, I will defer to my classmates who are teachers for discussion of the Bernstein article. However, I did find her reference to Texas using oral proficiency as a sole instrument to gauge language acquisition to be almost beyond belief. This may explain in part why students are doing so poorly in their writing skills when it comes to academic writing.

Bernstein & Crisco

The readings for today seemed to really align with what we’ve been reading this week. I enjoy learning about sociolinguistics and I think that language is an important part of who we are individually. Personally I am (quite often) attacked for being Hispanic and not knowing “the language of my people,” to which I often respond by making excuses or saying that I’ve always wanted to learn. What I’d really like to say is that my language is my business and how dare they impose their ideals about who should and shouldn’t speak Spanish. I think it’s kind of the reverse of what Crisco and Bernstein are discussing—a culture being appalled by my ignorance of Spanish rather than trying to suppress it. But often it is the older generation of Chicanos who scold me, which is probably tied to the persecution they endured for their language so many years ago.

As far as teaching and which languages are “appropriate” in the college setting, it seems that it would be incredibly difficult to incorporate everyone’s language preference into a classroom. With such diversity at the university level, the professor has to be able to communicate effectively with the students, so requiring a basic knowledge of English is understandable. However, when Anzaldua was growing up, and possibly still in certain parts of the country or in certain cultures, speaking Spanish at school or English in the home were often frowned upon. What everyone is looking for is a delicate balance between the languages that students’ possess, and with that we will have a balance between the many cultures that make up each individual student.

In class we’ve been talking about “No Child Left Behind,” which I didn’t know a lot about until now. However, being a product of the Texas school system, I always thought that it was common knowledge that they teach toward the TAAS (or Taks, I don’t know what it is now). Teaching this way is an extreme disservice to the students because they learn how to write with a formula, and the majority of their high school education is spent preparing for a test instead of preparing for college. The intimidation that teachers must feel is awful—it almost makes me want to lead them in a revolt. What we need is a good revolution in the education system.


Bernstein explores the relevance of the “who” of the writing class, “how might students make sense of their own subject positions as English language learners” (Bernstein 418) within a given system, and argues that literacy is best understood as being situated in a local, cultural context. The article starts out promising but quickly leaves the classroom and veers towards societal issues. There is clearly a connection between the classroom and the outside world, but I’d like to see more research done on the subject position of the student as he or she is constructed by the pedagogy. Turning the “critical lens” on the pedagogy and our practice may provide more opportunities for viable and meaningful change. If critical pedagogy focuses too much on “macro issues,” I think the critical stance becomes a bit too utopian and idealistic even from my perspective.

I think that the thinking, such as it is, behind programs like NCLB and other initiatives is generally well-intended. However, in our attempts to improve the quality (and equality) of our schools, we seem to fall back on the idea that an increasingly diverse student population is somehow best served by a curriculum and pedagogy that “teaches” everyone the same literacy. This doesn’t make sense to me, and it seems to overlook the fact that diversity isn’t limited to cultural or ethnic diversity; several other factors are involved, and the idea of a homogeneous culture/group is an illusion. There is always diversity and any “standard” is, from a linguistic perspective, political. The lore, or “common sense,” view is that we can easily identify a common identity or experience—the middle ground we assimilate to—and that assimilation can be achieved without sacrifice. Maybe it’s because I grew up in (and left) a small, highly mono-literate country, but I don’t agree that monolingualism and monoliteracy lead to unity and “social progress:” to me, it’s a waste of cultural and linguistic resources, in addition to being the source of social and economic inequality. What is it about multilingualism and multiliteracy that is so threatening?

While the above discussion is interesting, it may not be entirely relevant, at least not until we answer Crisco’s question:“What is our responsibility, as teachers of writing, to consider students’ perspectives and to act on them in ways that support a critical understanding of difference in the classroom?” (Crisco 44). If we decide that we are responsible for bringing about change and encourage and foster activism, is it ethically/logically possible to adopt an accommodationist stance? What realistic and realizable goals, beyond the disappointing “develop awareness,” can or should we set for ourselves?


I think that one of the most interesting aspects of this duscussion is indeed "what is our responsibility as teachers of writing?"

It seems that both of these articles are commenting on what they think that our responsibility is, and yet, just as none of our ethics or philosophies will align perfectly, what students want and need will also vary with area and year and experiences that are outside of our control. What is adequate preparation for college? It seems as if this is one of the things that Bernstein is questioning in her article "Teaching and Learning in Texas." Are high schools in Texas preparing students for college, or are we merely deluding ourselves into believing that we have prepared students? Learning english is something that many in this region have to struggle with. Why is it still being used against students? Educators, especially those that agree to work in areas with higher ethnic populations should be prepared to help students with the language barrier.

I guess everyone would agree that they hate standardized testing. What is so standard? Is it that its easy to grade, easy to quantify? I like the part in Bernstein's essay in which it is suggested that "literacy develops within a specific cultural context rather than in isolation" (423). Texas schools are not teaching students english and they are not teaching them how to effectively engage in academic discourse. It is as if we expect multiculturalism to do the dirty work for us.

We do have to rethink language in general in order to see the effects of acadamia in contrast to assimilation.

Erica Rangel

Virginia Crisco’s article, “Rethinking Language and Culture on the Institutional Borderland,” reminded me of the transactional model that we discussed in a pervious class, which advocated a curriculum that was based around student interest and goals instead of the dominant model which forces a curriculum on the students and asks them to fit into it. I like this model because it does acknowledge students more. Instead of telling the students that we know what is best for them to know (not knowing their lives or goals or interests or where they have been or are going to), it allows students to determine what they need to know or at least what goals they have and how they would like to work towards those goals. I really like service learning anyway, for the real world audience/purpose it creates and for the validation that student writing is good and important and can do something, but this article made me think about how it can also help breakdown the normal academic model of privileging one audience/language.

I also liked the idea of the ethnography, mostly because Crisco talked about what teachers could learn from their students. I think we often say that we can learn from our students, but in class things just seem to fall back into that same teacher in the front dispensing knowledge situation.

I sometimes get frustrated with these sorts of talks because we always seem to end up back at “Even though we know it is not right, “standard” academic English is what they need to know.” But by saying this, and teaching this way, we are just furthering this privilege. Yeah it might be a very big thing to tackle, but if we just don’t tackle it, then what are we doing? I think that Crisco is at least a small step in the right direction, though I would think (even if slow) change has to be pushed for, unless we agree that standard English should be privileged.

Heather Dorn