This week, we were allowed to read articles that we found interesting in relation to our specific interests. Despite the fact that I am in a literature and cultural studies practicum, I wanted to discuss the writing classroom because my ideal cultural studies course would have a heavy writing component.
Jennifer Beech’s article, “Redneck and Hillbilly Discourse in the Writing Classroom: Classifying Critical Pedagogies of Whiteness,” explores whiteness exists in the classroom, and how writing instructors can facilitate interrogations of whiteness in their classrooms. Moreover, Beech argues that, “deconstructive pedagogies will work to expose the role of language in maintaining racist and classist structures (such as historicizing and critiquing discriminatory epithets), while re-constructive pedagogies will aim to provide students with the rhetorical tools for employing language toward transformative ends” (174). Keeping this in mind, then, we can see how the writing classroom can benefit from a pedagogical style that deconstructs structures, and reconstructs language.
As Beech also points out, Rednecks and Hillbillies fall outside typical constructions of whiteness, as well, and it is important to explore how and why this happens. Rednecks and Hillbillies, and other “white trash” are seen as other, or as non-white in some way. This is often because they do not fit the mold of what ideal whiteness is, and this management of identities causes issues in the writing classroom. The strange thing, for Beech, is that class is not often seen as a creator of identity. As Beech explains, “Class is about power some people have over the lives of others, and the powerlessness most people experience as a result” (175). We need to figure out how class shapes our students in writing classrooms, and in cultural studies classes. It appears that this type of interrogation would be especially important in cultural studies classes because class identity shapes how students interact with or experience cultures.
Beech brings her argument to the cultural studies classroom, specifically:
In a cultural studies classroom, teachers can facilitate student reflection upon various mainstream discursive constructions of poor whites by bringing such texts as Foxworthy’s jokes into conversation with critical texts like Marchand’s and with authoritative/reference texts like the OED. In performing these cross-readings, students learn how to use competing texts to denaturalize and historicize language,and, simultaneously, gain valuable research and reading skills. While writing up their research on a particular race- and/or class-based epithet, students will need to further reflect upon the ethical implications of their own writing about a particular group: what will their texts contribute to the conversation?
Beech’s argument is especially applicable to the student population of Wayne State, as many of our students are working class commuters. It is important to validate their experiences, and make those experiences welcome in the classroom. Beech’s article makes this point, as well, by exploring how the working class experience is diminished in the writing classroom, and any achievements are attributed to “hard work” or bootstraps narratives (178). Moreover, exploring experiences that do not fit the ideal of whiteness allow our students to move beyond stereotypes–not just of whiteness, but of all identities. As Beech states, “Stereotypes are a fantasy, a projection onto the other that makes them less threatening” (180). Exploring what makes up these stereotypes, for Beech, is what happens during the deconstructive phases of our pedagogies.
The article also makes an interesting point in regards to whiteness. Beech quotes the work of bell hooks by saying, “Since most white people do not have to ‘see’ black people (constantly appearing on billboards, television, movies, in magazines, etc.) […] they can live as though black people are invisible, and they can imagine that they are also invisible to blacks” (42). Making whiteness visible allows our students to see how all identities are constructed, and how all cultures are influenced by the identities that inhabit them.
The deconstructive and reconstructive pedagogies create what Beech calls pedagogies of repositioning. These teaching methods don’t have to take into account all middle class discourse, or take the evaluation out of the classroom, but they do have to make spaces for middle class discourses. The point is to create spaces for students to “reposition themselves in relation to several continuous and conflicting discourses. Similarly, our goals as teachers need not to be to initiate our students into the values and practices of some new community, but to offer them the chance to reflect critically on those discourses- of home,school,work, the media and the like-to which they already belong” (183). These deconstructive, reconstructive, repositioning pedagogies, for Beech, allow for the instructor to become the students’ ally.
[T]eachers who see themselves as allies for their working-class students can help their students see that literacy and school knowledge could be potent weapons in their struggle for a better deal by connecting knowledge with the reality of working-class students’ lives.
This type of pedagogy not only helps working class students, as it can be applied to all students. When students feel that their experiences and sources of knowledge are validated, they are more likely to critically engage with whatever text (whatever that word means) that we present to them.