Socioeconomic Status and Prestigious College Education

I don’t know how I feel about Monica Bielski’s article, “My Hidden Class Consciousness”, because of the way she forms her ideas about socio-economic status and its effect on college students’ social identity. Her position on the matter seemed privileged, yet filled with grievances against a seemingly good system. For example, she was accepted into Oberlin College, which she seemingly presents as a college that is rigorous, difficult, and a somewhat prestigious institution because of these faculties. If it is so rigorous and difficult, and prestigious, how did someone like herself get accepted into the school, if receiving a public school education and growing up in a middle-class family is such a drag? And why does she seem to think that because of her background of experiences that formed her social identity, she is somehow disproportionately affected by this system?

Monica defines Oberlin as a liberal arts private school that has a mission of talking about gender and racial inequality (213). Monica then argues that she began to notice how her social identity affected her academic experiences, and presents this to the reader by describing how socioeconomic status and its marginalizing effect upon social identity (which is somewhat accurate, but not entirely). I noticed that Monica focuses on social identity’s effect on academic experiences because she illustrates how “rich kids” at Oberlin wore “‘thrift store clothes’”, along with students of lower class families who could only afford to purchase clothes from thrift stores (213). And it seems this choice of clothes somehow corresponds to the fact that students from families of high socioeconomic status feel guilty for their lucky chances to be raised in families with wealth (218). The thrift store clothes, then, seem to symbolize this rich-guilt; and this symbolization becomes a metaphor for the prolific statement, and ironically lacking dialogue at Oberlin, about social identity and its transitive effect upon the academic status of the student.

I do not quite understand this argument about social identity’s effect on the academic experience of a student. Monica claims coming from a blue collar family affected her ability to more readily transition to college life than her peers from more wealthy / marketable white collar families; because her parents did not know about the process of applying for college, and were of therefore no help to her (216). In this way she equates socioeconomic status to social identity. However, in the same paragraph, she claims her father encouraged her to work hard in school. Does this not contradict her statement, that her parents did not know about the process of applying for college? Sure they might not have known much about the entire process, but they knew well enough to encourage their daughter to take advantage of the public education she was receiving in order to get into college. And did this not have a better effect on her than on some of her peers of an ostensibly better social identity? After all, she became class valedictorian, and got accepted to a college she describes as prestigious.

But wo to Monica: for she had noticed the strife of college when her reading and writing skills were not up to par for the level of rigorous work Oberlin assigned- and it must be because her social identity provided her no previous assistance or know how that was good enough (217). But that is the reality of prestigious, rigorous universities. Often the skills you learned before you get there are no longer good enough, and it requires years of work to improve them (isn’t that the point of college? You’re not supposed to be ready right out the gate, otherwise you wouldn’t need to go to college). It has nothing to do with a middle-class social identity. Sure, your socioeconomic status definitely has an influence upon whether or not you can get extra help from private schools or private tutors. But, that does not mean wealthy students don’t also struggle tremendously in college environments, which I have seen firsthand. I know first year students from wealthy families, who lived in Manhattan, or San Francisco; they’re damn wealthy, which allowed them the opportunity to have attended private schools all their lives. But they struggle too- they are up to four or five in the morning a few times per week, trying to catch up to the level of academic experience required from them to succeed. And these students for sure did not get to where they are now solely because of their parents. Sure, their parents must have been a major asset, but if they had not put in the work to get into college, than they clearly would not be there.

I come from a blue collar, working class family. I, too, went to public school. I also did not have many of the opportunities my peers had, who came from wealthier white collar families. And I had more opportunities than students I knew that were poorer than me. But I worked hard to get to where I’m at, Pitzer College. It was hard work, and I may have had to work a smidgen harder than some very wealthy students. But I noticed that my social identity, when juxtaposed along with a wealthier or poorer peer’s, is not the sole reason for why I got to where I’m at, or for why others succeeded or did not succeed.

I am not stating that open dialogue about socioeconomic status and social identity is a bad thing, or that this open dialogue does not have a positive effect on academic cultures. What I’m saying is Monica’s argument about for why she thinks colleges should have this conversation, based on her own middle-class experiences presented in her article, is a little vapid. Monica seems to have been privileged: she had a family she claims was wealthier than most white collar families, just less marketable; she had a family that encouraged her to work hard in her academics, which is more than most can say about their families (hell, mine encouraged me to do whatever I wanted, do well in school or don’t do well in school, as long as I was a reasonable and good person). And because of these reasons, Monica became her class valedictorian and therefore received financial aid from Oberlin (she claims it’s hard for middle-class blue collar families to pay for schools like Oberlin without aid, but if everyone received aid from such a prestigious university, how would the college get money to give out?) It seems to me that, by taking advantage of the public school system, and by having a fairly intuitive support network, her social identity did not affect her ability to enroll in college, at all. And therefore, socioeconomic status in regards to families like hers, are not the sole effect to which middle-class students could experience enough cultural friction to affect their academic performance. Clearly, it worked for her, and it worked for me. And it’s worked for many people I know from middle-class blue collar backgrounds. And therefore, social identities like hers are privileged compared to most.

The real people we need to wholeheartedly discuss are students and families of lower socioeconomic status, who are disproportionately disenfranchised in this way because of their race and gender. This causes enough cultural friction to effect social identity and academic experiences, because of the strife that follows systemic living conditions such as these.

So I get Monica’s point, but I don’t really understand Monica’s focus or reason for writing her article. It seems to not quite get the whole picture.

Moussu and ESL Student Tutoring

I think Moussu’s article on ESL needs and writing center philosophy is interesting because of its attention to the struggles that ESL students face when being tutored. Specifically, in the beginning of his article, Moussu states that ESL students believe they are meant to be taught how to properly structure their writing, and how to use proper grammar. However, Moussu notes that this is inconsistent with the North’s axiom that commonly guides writing center mission; about how the writing center’s mission to make better writers, not better writing. But, as Moussu points out, this is not the main concern of ESL students: further, he recognizes how teachers place importance upon the mission to teach ESL students structure and grammar, of which is divergent from the compositional instruction they received beforehand. Moussu illustrates how many ESL students prefer this teaching through a style of “authoritative linguistic feedback” because they are used to this emphasis upon authority in education, which directly correlates to the instruction they wish to receive about grammar and structure during a consultation (58). However, this juxtaposes the mission of writing centers, which are supposed to give voice to the writer, and explore their ideas about their papers.

And, in my opinion, this is where Moussu gets interesting, because his article diverges away from any other text we’ve read thus far. Moussu acknowledges this emphasized importance that writing centers notice grammatical and structural inconsistencies in an ESL student’s papers, to then teach these students how to become more critically understand English writing standards.

“For example, basic grammar rules and terminology, as well as key principles of second-language acquisition can be taught and discussed with tutors so that they gain a better understanding of the language-learning process and the unique writing difficulties that ESL students face” (63).
It is important to note that by acknowledging this point, he also recognizes that to accomplish this endeavor, tutors must also be taught the “key principles of second-language acquisition”, because this will empathetically guide their processes whilst teaching ESL students.

However, if I’m not missing something from this article (and correct me if I’m wrong), does it not seem counter-intuitive to teach ESL students the things they most desire to learn in this seemingly described sympathetic manner? What mannerisms should be enacted in the tutoring session, considering most ESL students, as Moussu points out, desire an authoritarian teaching style? If not authoritarian mannerisms, how do you gain and retain credibility with an ESL students? I’m curious to hear some replies about experiences some tutors have had with ESL students, and whether or not they had to take more direct approaches to tutoring context and grammar, what they placed emphasis upon, and whether or not this had an effect on making this student a better writer vs. giving them better writing?

Tutor and Writer Identities – My Take

I really appreciated Fitzgerald and Ianetta’s chapter on “Tutor and Writer Identities” in The Oxford Guide for Writing Tutors because of their understanding, objective, and inclusive approach to tutoring students with different identities from the common American identity. What’s truly interesting about this chapter is its focus on American standards and how those are influenced by American identity, and then focuses on this idea to teach the reader that tutors must understand their own identity to most effectively teach students of diverse cultural identities. The “multi-modal tool kit” is a useful exercise they express tutors should use in order to compositionally tutor students of divergent identities from traditional academic identities with which they might personally associate: they go as far as teaching the tutor how to acquaint themselves with the tutee, to how tutors should negotiate priorities for the session in order to circumvent any unnecessarily wasted time (120). The practicality that these tools in the toolkit represent for the tutor is the ease to which they can most effectively, and without judgement, put identity aside in order to understand the holistic compositional needs of the tutee. In this way, this chapter is very inclusive and understanding to the plight of non-traditional or multilingual students (even the phrase multilingual writers is cast in an inclusive light) (124) because it attempts to objectively understand their compositional needs by intending to move away from subjectively inferring them based off any identity prejudice.

I also want to mention that the fact that Fitzgerald and Ianetta categorically include students who identify with physical and mental disabilities in the same chapter as cultural and gender identities is interesting to me, but something I think is appropriate and a rather commendable inclusion to further their point about tutoring various identities. I believe this to be so because of my own experiences as a child growing up with family- and volunteering with people- with mental disability; and therefore I am inherently biased in regards to this subject.

I recognize that categorizing students that identify with mental disabilities alongside students of diverse cultural identities in the same chapter might seem a little taboo in regards to its possibly latent prejudicial implications about identity diversity in American academia. However, I disagree with any notion that this inclusion might have had any latent prejudicial implications. This is because I think the intention of Fitzgerald and Ianetta’s categorical inclusion of these students was to effectively further the pursuit of circumventing identity prejudice that people of mental disabilities, even of American origins, experience in American education because of their academically nontraditional status.

Did anybody else notice this categorical inclusion of mental and physical disability identities in the same chapter as diverse cultural and gender identities? Did anyone think this to be inherently prejudicial or troubling in any way? Or am I overanalyzing this?

Sommers’ ideas about the benefits of paper feedback

Nancy Sommers’ essay, “Across the Drafts”, is an enlightening read because of its reflective nature. Sommers reflects on an essay she wrote in 1982, “Responding to Student Writing.” She contemplates her revised ideas on the role of teacher feedback when responding to student essays. Sommers contemplates how the type of feedback a student receives from a teacher has serious implications because of its lasting consequences on the student’s abilities as a writer. Further, Sommers contemplates that in order to provide the best lasting consequences unto a student, teacher feedback should become dialogical exchange between the student writer and the instructor, in which the student is guided in such a way that is constructive and useful for all types of papers. This idea about the importance of the relationship between the instructor and the writer is derived from ultimate goal of providing feedback to a student paper; to most effectively strengthen the student’s abilities as a writer, so that the instructor’s primary process of providing feedback should be through “humane, thoughtful, even inspiring responses” (Sommers, 248). This is because providing feedback through this primary process will influence the student to apply the instructor’s feedback in their future writing endeavors. However, Sommers explains that this ultimate goal can only be accomplished if the student engages in this mutual exchange by accepting the instructor’s feedback in a constructive manner. If this exchange is marked with mutuality, than the ultimate goal can be promoted by three factors: “plenty of opportunities to practice writing throughout their college careers, not merely in one course or one year, and plenty of opportunities to receive writing instruction in and beyond the first year, especially instruction in one disciplines method” which will supply the instructor with plenty of opportunities to provide genuine feedback (Sommers, 254).

However, although the ultimate goal of providing feedback is posited to be most effectively accomplished by a mutual relationship between the instructor and the student, where the former provides constant genuine paper feedback and the latter institutes it constructively, Sommers’ goal seems to be lofty in regards to its consideration of the time it takes instructors to provide genuine paper feedback. In the essay Sommers reflects upon, she states that, “Most teachers estimate that it takes them 20 to 40 minutes to comment on an individual student paper” and that most courses have “20 students per class” with “8 papers” per course (Sommers, 148). If my math is correct, if a teacher is teaching through this cycle of giving papers and providing feedback, and if they are acting most properly within these marginal standards by spending forty minutes per paper to comment on twenty student’s papers (which is a conservative estimate for the amount of students enrolled in most first-year college writing courses), then the teacher can expect to spend six thousand and four hundred minutes, or approximately one hundred and seven hours per course correcting student papers. If a teacher instructs six courses per semester (which is not uncommon estimate for a full time college professor), the teacher will approximately be spending six hundred and forty hours per semester responding to student papers. Even if the instructor’s response time per student paper is cut down to its lowest margin, they will still spend three hundred and twenty hours per semester on this exercise. This is an awfully repetitive and time-consuming exercise for a teacher. I wonder if there is an alternative process in which a teacher could provide genuine feedback through a process that is not so liberal with a teacher’s time. I believe Sommers’ standards on how to most properly teach college writing are especially high for most first-year instructors, and if we are to conform to these standards, there must be a mechanism to teach teachers how to provide feedback to students quickly and efficiently. This feedback mechanism should be communicated to the student in such a way that does not tamper with the necessary mutual exchange between the teacher and student, as to not hinder the ultimate goal. Maybe this necessity can be promoted by providing a general template of responses that have key significance; templates that both the student and teacher mutually understand. I’m not sure how to align to Sommers’ lofty yet virtuous standards of how to teach writing, but I think it would be interesting to read a study that takes into account how to provide paper feedback in order to increase the student’s writing abilities in the most time efficient manner for the teacher.

 

Hiedy Ho, I Done Diddly Wrote This

On the surface level, the translingual approach of teaching how to write seems to represent a valid, pragmatic teaching pedagogy that broadens a student’s cultural and literary understanding vis-a-vis lexical analysis. However, in the journal College English, the opinion piece “Language Difference in Writing: Toward a Translingual Approach”, written by Bruce Horner et al., the translingual approach of teaching how to write is depicted as a deeply ingrained political subject that requires much attention to political detail. The translingual pedagogical approach endorses “more, not less, conscious and critical attention to how writers deploy diction, syntax, and style; as well as form, register and media” (Horner et al., 304). The translingual pedagogical approach promotes this literary critical attention, however, for not just the purpose of providing students a broader knowledge of literary lexicon, but also for the purpose of combating conservative ideologies that endorse a monolinguist pedagogical style of teaching how to write. The argument against the politically conservative ideology that promotes monolinguist writing pedagogies, through “Standard Written English”, is that this monolingualism is “conservative in the root sense of attempting to preserve what is in fact a false ideal of a uniform language and language practice” (Horner et al., 306). Horner contemplates that by teaching through a translingual approach, its inherent pedagogical benefits can be an implementation of a cultural teaching-movement that directly combats monolinguist lexical prejudice en masse through the next generation. This promotes societal inclusiveness, which represents a full-bodied understanding of the overall benefits of teaching through a translingual approach.

In Horner’s four points of retort against conservative writing pedagogies, he center his counter-argument around one overarching point, ignorance. Horner believes it to be ignorant of the conservatives to assume that by teaching through monolingualism, they are not promoting the dominant culture in society. Horner says that to “eradicate difference in the name of achieving correctness” is to promote ignorance by another name, because languages are “subject to variation and change” due to “language learners” also acting as “language learners, and creators” (Horner et al., 306-307). As students of language also inherently act as the lively continuation of its growth, it’s not possible to assume monolingualism would achieve traditional linguistic uniformity if those learning it are also changing and manipulating it for the future. Therefore, it is not logical to assume that the conservative argument in favor of pedagogical monolingualism is to promote traditional linguistic uniformity. In this way, Horner labels conservatives as either 1) ignorant politicians who do not have a fundamental understanding of writing pedagogies and their consequential benefits or disadvantages; 2) ignorant politicians who fail to understand the legitimacy of heterogeneity in English, and what abandoning cultural lexicon implies to a minority student; or 3) conniving politicians that, for some pernicious reason, attempt to disenfranchise minority communities that harbour different lexicon from majority demographics.

Writer’s Block can Sometimes Rock, Although Mostly Not

Whether you’re a novice or expert writer, writer’s block is an issue all writers deal with unhappily, yet constantly. Hell, I face writer’s block when I try to compose a post for this blog. However, I think that writer’s block is good in the sense that it will force oneself to increase their breadth of knowledge. Jenny Love, in the chapter “Learning from Writer’s Block” in her book Working with Student Writers: Essays on Tutoring and Teaching, quotes Mike Rose as stating that writer’s block “in some cases… [can] be an inevitable part of compositional growth” (Love, 147).

In the moment, writer’s block may seem just like it sounds; a block wall in the mind that separates one’s ideas from the faculty to cognitively compose them. Having a major interest in global history, I think about writer’s block in this way: the Berlin Wall is writer’s block, the allied side of the Berlin Wall is your ideas, and the Soviet side of the Berlin Wall is where you wish to implement said ideas. With the wall between the two, it is not possible for a transference of knowledge to commence. The lack of communication between the two sides of the wall forced West Berlin, the allied side, to create routes around the wall; which eventually tore it down.

In West Berlin, the Germans were starving due to the Soviets blocking trade routes from East Berlin. The allied forces wished to communicate to the Germans and the world in such a way that represented the inherent difference between Communism and Democracy; accomplished by simply aiding the Germans with food. The United States carefully considered that if they airlifted food in cargo planes into West Berlin, the Soviets would not take any political action against them; they knew Soviets did not want to continue to further exacerbate the possibility of another World War. Therefore, in an humanitarian operation known as the Berlin Airlift, the United States communicated to the Germans the inherent possibilities of Democracy. Eventually, due to that meddling idea of Democracy, the Soviets could not control the fall of the wall.

In this way, the analogy I use in regards to Berlin can represent the struggle for writer’s block. Eventually, if you work hard enough to compose your ideas, the wall of writer’s block itself will fall. You may not know how to get around the wall that blocks the potential to compose and produce a useful text, but if you carefully consider what you wish to communicate, you will find ways around it. By finding ways around the wall, eventually, you’ll have enough momentum to break through the wall itself. Such ideas to get around writer’s block could be any of the following: talk about your ideas with somebody you know, reflect on why you’re writing, or take a step-back from what you’re writing (Love, 149). With these methods, you’ve set yourself up to to break down any particular wall that blocks your composition capabilities. In this way, you can increase your breadth of knowledge to effectively compose and communicate these particular ideas that you have.

 

Big Ol’ Sullivan Coming in Hot

Due to my own community college experiences in the Santa Barbara City College english department, my initial interest was peaked in Sullivan’s paper, “An Essential Question: What Is ‘College Level’ Writing?”, at the premise centering around discussing the development of common standards applicable to community college writing. Furthermore intriguing, Sullivan’s argument about community college level writing transcends into broader arguments: the issues of slippery language, facts and falsities of assessment, the apparent similarities between remedial community college writing standards and remedial enrollment within upper-level colleges and universities; these pervasive issues are to be taken seriously when facilitating a dialogue about college level writing standards. What fully peaked my interest most, however, was his political concerns for college education due to the influence of political forces outside the educational realm, setting precedents on the standards and methods of what and how to teach.

Sullivan exemplifies the struggle to teach and create college level writing standards, that are applicable to different levels of students, as he argues his political concerns for the future of education. Sullivan argues that the State budget is a preeminent issue that legislatures or other political entities/citizens take into consideration in regards to college writing and departmental funding. To slash the budget, interventionism within colleges occurs without remorse. Interventionism as an antithesis to the development of college level writing standards is explained when Sullivan takes-for-example the CUNY budgetary cuts of Rudy Giuliani, ‘America’s Mayor’. Rudy removed from all four-year city funded institutions remedial courses that could have otherwise benefited those in need of particularly specific standards (Sullivan, 11).

Dire effects occur to the development of college level writing standards when outside political forces impede in any way; not to mention for the underprivileged in need of structured and applicable education, which could arguably lead them towards future success. For example, by removing all remedial courses in attempts to trim State budgets, many negative after-effects can be deduced: administrations increase standards and decrease clemency for students of great intelligence, who lack writing skills; administrations insert those in dire need of remedial college level writing education in upper-level courses, causing them major stress to sink-or-swim– a biologically sympathetic nervous system response that detracts from long-term learning; class sizes increase as the budget decreases, and students of remedial level writing, who would otherwise be taught how to write at a constructive rate, are lumped in with students of higher-writing aptitudes; and arguably the most important issue to take arms against– the fact that government-set precedents for colleges reduces the possibilities for teachers to confer across schools and determine the best standards for their locale, region, or state, as they know-not who truly needs writing assistance and who is already a college level writer; which can cause confusion on how standards should be constructed and taught.

There are options; there are always options to turn-around our harmful actions. One question to consider that might empower teachers to set their own standards, which Sullivan wishes to come true, is this: What if an NGO was created that conferred teachers across locales, regions, States, and across the country to teach each other their methods, their issues, and their results. Through specific statistical analysis over a however long period of study, can’t they decide where, what, how and why the best teaching methods can be taught? Hopefully soon the USA will get its act together, and fix our educational issues. For now, scholars like Sullivan, preeminent in their field, are crucial to the continuity of intellectual dialogue.