“Voice in Writing Again: Embracing Contraries”
In his article “Voice in Writing Again: Embracing Contraries,” Peter Elbow argues for two seemingly contradictory positions on voice, or the unique way each person’s writing “sounds.” Voice, he argues, is present in every aspect of writing, from politics to personal blog posts. We must pay attention to voice and teach students how to develop their own, as it enhances our understanding of texts and improves the rhetoric in our own writing. However, we must also learn to read without voice, focusing solely on text so that we can judge the content and its merits rather than being pulled in by a persuasive voice.
As usual, I found myself agreeing with everything Elbow had to say. Admittedly, this could be because he has such a clear, convincing voice (which is refreshing after reading so many overly academic, jargon filled articles this semester), but I think even stripped of its voice, this article presents sound ideas. Elbow defends his position thoroughly, and he even calls out other scholars who have tried to argue against his point of view.
As always, Elbow is also one of the few academics who offers practical suggestions about how to implement his theories into the classroom. For example, to teach students to pay closer attention to voice, he asks them to read a text out loud to convey its meaning to listeners. Reading texts out loud is great advice to aid in understanding difficult language, and I’d love to tweak this method for use in the Spanish classroom. However, I do wish Elbow had given more practical advice for how to teach students (and ourselves) to ignore voice and to focus on content, as this is an incredibly important skill for modern readers who—thanks to the Internet—are constantly bombarded by deceptive advertisements and persuasive politicians.
“The Silenced Dialogue: Power and Pedagogy in Educating Other People’s Children”
Lisa Delpit’s “The Silenced Dialogue: Power and Pedagogy in Educating Other People’s Children” was a thought provoking read about a difficult subject. Delpit exposes how black educators’ ideas are silenced by well meaning white liberal teachers who prefer to teach using a process over product approach. Delpit argues that in order to succeed, black students must instead receive explicit instruction on the “codes or rules for participating in [the culture of] power” (282).
I have a lot of complicated thoughts about this article, and I’m going to do my best to articulate them clearly while also recognizing my own subconscious biases and my privileged position as a white, middle class teacher in a diverse school district. First, I agree in theory with the majority of Delpit’s arguments, including her outline of the “five aspects of power” (282) and her explanation of why many black students are labeled as “behavior disordered” due to misunderstandings of “veiled commands” (289). In addition, I’m glad she includes testimonies from black students and teachers, and I agree that these voices must be heard in order to create a more equitable education system, especially considering that—despite the diversity of the student body—teaching is a predominantly white field.
Despite agreeing with most of Delpit’s ideas in theory, I’m frustrated to read yet another article that seems to advocate for giving already overworked and underpaid teachers more responsibilities (in this case, instructing students how to navigate a complex culture of power in addition to teaching regular academic content). There is only so much teachers can do while working within the confines of the incredibly flawed education system, which is arguably a racist institution of power.
Yes, white educators must examine their own privilege, but I’m not convinced they have as much power as Delpit suggests (although, maybe by saying that, I’m just proving Delpit’s fifth aspect of power). Obviously, as a white, middle class teacher, I have more power and privilege than my black, lower class students, but in the grand scheme of things, I myself feel pretty powerless at times: I’m powerless to change the broken, flawed, and outdated public education system, and I’m powerless against many of the injustices my students face (especially now, when remote learning is exposing and exacerbating achievement gaps between lower class black students and middle class white ones).
I think the issue of power is more complex than black versus white; although race is absolutely integral to the discussion, class plays a large role, as well. Delpit even mentions that “poor White people” face some of the same issues as black people when trying to navigate the culture of power, but she diminishes this point’s importance by relegating it to a footnote (282). With this in mind, I’m not sure it’s best to teach black students to assimilate into the current power structures, which really only benefit a small (but incredibly wealthy) percentage of society. Shouldn’t we instead be exposing the cracks in the current systems of power, showing students who is keeping them down and how they’re doing it?
This position is perhaps too idealistic; I doubt schools, which are notoriously conservative institutions, will be advocating for societal revolutions any time soon. But I think Delpit’s article is even more quixotic because she advocates for “societal change…from the top down” (293). Firstly, I take issue with the implicit argument here that teachers, many of whom work multiple jobs to pay off exorbitant amounts of student debt, are somehow at the “top.” Yes, most teachers are white and middle class, and again, they do have more power than their students, but using only those qualifiers to determine power creates an incredibly limited and narrow perspective. Secondly, I don’t believe that change can ever come from the top down, because the people on top want to stay there. Historically, hasn’t most change come from the bottom up—from grassroots movements, from organized protests, from the masses getting out and fighting for what they believe?
I know I got a little off topic here, and I worry that by shifting the conversation to include class, I’m just another one of the white liberal teachers who is silencing the dialogue about race by ignoring valid concerns about how best to support black students in the current education system. It’s difficult for me to know whether my disagreements with this article are reasonable, or if my subconscious biases are rallying against ideas that challenge my position of privilege. Either way, I know I must continue ruminating on the ideas Delpit discusses and examining my own privilege and power in the classroom in order to create a more equitable learning environment for my students.