Multiculturalism in the Classroom
As marginalized communities in the United States push to have their voices heard, it is essential that classrooms reflect cultural diversity and recognize differences in backgrounds, giving each student the chance to reach academic success. In the paper, Professing Multiculturalism: The Politics of Style in the Contact Zone” Lu expands on scholar, Mary Louise Pratt’s paper, Arts of the Contact Zone. Pratt’s paper advocates for the integration of contact zones, “a social space where cultures meet, clash, and grapple with each other, often in contexts of highly asymmetrical power (Pratt 34), into educational environments to promote diversity. Lu takes this notion farther and argues for the inclusion of student driven discussions to use individual cultural differences as examples of world views. Though in theory, Lu’s intention to facilitate conversations and drastically change the education institution may help expand students’ understandings of cultures, if incorporated, contact zones could create an unpleasant learning environment. This negative atmosphere would prevent students from learning traditional writing techniques which would harm their qualification for future career opportunities.
Though the notion of bringing personal student discussions into the classroom may expand students’ world views may work in a utopian scenario, the reality of student driven conversations and analyses based on personal backgrounds could leave minority students feeling further alienated. Lu states, “This type of activity reduces the alienation students often experience” (457). Though conversations driven by diversity may work in a class room that is composed of a variety of cultures, it would not function the same way for classes that have a distinct majority culture. Unfortunately, though universities are attempting to diversify campuses, social areas are divided by race and poverty, resulting in classrooms with a dominating culture and few minorities. This makes it unlikely that a class room will have a range of students who are willing to discuss their background. Grobman shares this perspective and states, “Under the right circumstances, this approach could work in professional communication classrooms…However, we must be cautious of this approach in the contact zone, for Lu’s classes, unlike many others (including mine) are relatively heterogeneous. Thus, she can use student communication without singling out minority students” (Grobman 440). In classrooms where students share a similar background, many would share views on language which would limit the perspectives shared. Additionally, a classroom contact zone could create an uncomfortable environment that further segregates classrooms by forcing those few minority students to choose between exposing beliefs that do not fit in, and deciding to stay quiet out of fear, at the cost of their education. Lu’s approach to multiculturalism through classroom contact zones may result a counter-productive learning environment if incorporated into the wrong class room settings.
To avoid exposing student differences in a way that makes the classroom accessible, there are better ways to incorporate contact zones which will benefit everyone’s learning environment. Lu suggests that contact zones should be content based, meaning discussion and class material are generated by students. Unlike Lu’s proposition, Bizzell and Grobman approach incorporating contact zones into the class room by emphasizing integration into the course by redesigning the curriculum. This alternative shifts the perspective of contact zones suggests that they can be an approach to existing content rather than a means of generating it. Grobman suggests “incorporating multicultural content into professional communication courses in such a way that lends thematic unity to the course… In so doing, we wed race, class, and gender issues with rhetorical content and assignments” (Grobman 439). Grobman intends to incorporate multiculturalism into the classroom by carefully selecting content that matches the theme of the unit and provides well-rounded global perspectives. The selection of “theme” as the unifying factor will provide a focus on course content will prompt students to talk about assignments and readings rather than a particular minority student’s differences. Similarly, Bizzell also approaches contact zones through course material. She states, “I am suggesting we organize English studies… in terms of historically defined contact zones, moments when different groups within society contend for the power to interpret what is going on” (Bizzell 167). Her choice to organize the contact zone through history is an approach that, like Grobman’s selection of theme, will provide teachers and students with a starting point to begin the discussion of multiculturalism. These alternative techniques reveal that there are better ways to incorporate diversity and an understanding of cultures into the classroom than by putting individual students on the spot.
Though Lu’s interpretation stems from intentions of creating social inclusion and a more accepting world, her propositions would be extremely difficult to implement successfully into learning environments with a dominant culture. To incorporate multiculturalism into pedagogy, teachers must be willing to change their routine and syllabi. Unfortunately, Bizzell reveals that she has observed“faculty’s unwillingness “to depart from their specialized fields” (Bizzell 163). If teachers are not adapting their methods of teaching, contact zones are unlikely to prosper. Even if teachers were ready to introduce diverse material into their classroom, it is unlikely that they would be qualified to speak on every perspective from multiple cultures without adding their personal bias to the classroom. To assist teachers in making this leap, learning resources would have to follow. For multiculturalism to be introduced in every class, textbooks would need to determine how to include relevant and diverse cultural information into the curriculum. Though this would help teachers, “the reluctance of most of the major textbooks in the field to adequately deal with intercultural communication steps from its depth and complexity, the obstacles it presents to both the students and the teachers” (Grobman 437). Without text books following the trend of cultural integration into the classroom, students will lack resources necessary to understand course material. Cultural information is vast and because a single course could not manage to cover in depth explanations of each cultural approach to writing, it would extremely difficult to justify the decisions of which cultures to include in the curriculum.
Finally, along with potential benefits, it is essential to consider the consequences of incorporating contact zones into the classroom when it comes to students’ futures. Lu states, “I encourage each student to think about “life” in terms of how she has lived in the past, is living in the present, and envisions for the future” (Lu 453). I agree with Lu that adding multiple perspectives to the curriculum will help expand students’ world view, however, when thinking about the future, fear that the disregard for proper grammatical structure will limit students’ opportunities. Lu criticizes the focus on grammar and proper writing technique when he claims, “how to sound right becomes a “real” concern for my students” (Lu 446). Though traditional writing techniques should not be the only worry in a classroom, it should still be given attention to prepare students for writing college and job applications which care about grammar and punctuation use. Perhaps, less of an emphasis on writing technique would be more appropriate in a creative writing classroom, rather than every class. In attempt to change social standards and increase tolerance, students should be exposed to diverse perspectives, however, need to continue practicing writing technique because there are specific standards to meet outside of school.
Though Lu’s interpretation of Pratt’s contact zones is well intentioned, there are better ways to incorporate multiculturalism into the classroom which prevent individual students from feeling isolated from the majority. To begin making shifts toward promoting diversity, strategies to ensure teacher and textbook compliance would be essential to creating a cohesive classroom. Though difficult to implement, multiculturalism is worth including in the common curriculum because it challenges students to understand that there is are multiple ways to look at the world. That being said, traditional education should not be rapidly abandoned because this may leave some students unprepared to enter the workforce. To create a well-rounded learning environment, classes need multiculturalism in moderation.
Bizzell, Patricia. “‘Contact Zones’ and English Studies.” College English, vol. 56, no. 2, 1994, p. 163., doi:10.2307/378727.
Grobman, Laurie. “Beyond Internationalization.” Journal of Business and Technical Communication, vol. 13, no. 4, 1999, pp. 427–448., doi:10.1177/105065199901300403.
Lu, Min-Zhan. “Professing Multiculturalism: The Politics of Style in the Contact Zone.” College Composition and Communication, vol. 45, no. 4, 1994, p. 442., doi:10.2307/358759.
Analyzing the Writing Process
In the research paper, A Cognitive Process Theory of Writing, scholars, Flower and Hayes attempt to quantify and analyze the writing process. To do so, they composed a series of interviews in attempt to figure out which decisions writers make when they write. To test their findings and explore alternatives, I recreated their processes using an English 14 student and studied her approach to writing in depth. Rather than focusing on the entirety of Flower and Hayes’ hypothesis which includes four key points, I am analyzing point one which states “the process of writing is best understood as a set of distinctive thinking processes which writers orchestrate or organize during the act of composing.” I have decided to look at this point closely because my experiments best outline the distinctive thinking processes that writers go through while they are writing.
Additionally, I will be observing three key components of how writers get their information. Like Flower and Hayes, I will look at:
- The task environment: what the writer is asked to do
- The writer’s long-term memory: the information that they know without having to research.
- The writing process: planning, translating, and reviewing.
Rather than viewing the writing process as a linear process, I will look to see if my subject combines a variety of these writing practices throughout the writing process.
- Participant Selection: Convenience sampling
- To conduct this experiment, just as Flower and Hayes did, I prompted my participants to write an article for Seventeen Magazine. This article is open ended and gives participants freedom to address their audience by telling any story that they think would appeal to an audience that ranges from about 12-17 years old.
- The writer was given unlimited time to approach the task as they wanted, however was told that they were not expected to write for more than five minutes. I then analyzed their choices and the time they spent in each stage of the process, including thinking, pre-writing, writing, and editing.
- To analyze the writers’ processes, writers were asked to think out loud and explain their writing as they conducted the writing process. This included all brainstorming, corrections, and pauses while contemplating what to write.
- While writers were composing, I used my phone to videotape their computer screen while also recording the spoken audio. This way, the verbal dialogue matches up with the typed text on the screen and allows me to follow her thought process.
- Finally, I analyzed her writing process by observing the time she spent in each stage of the writing process and how these stages overlapped.
Subject’s Final product:
What went into the final product:
|Translating||6 minutes, 31 seconds|
|Total time||8 minutes, 15 seconds|
In total, my participant spent eight minutes and fifteen seconds on their article for Seventeen Magazine. In this time, she began with prewriting, started writing, edited along the way, and thought through sentences out loud which showed hesitations and moments of thought.
Though prewriting is often considered an essential stage of the writing process, I observed that my participant only spent 26 seconds out of 8 minutes and 15 seconds prewriting. In this time, she wrote out the prompt at the top with a question mark. This allowed her to focus in on what she was being asked to write. She also identified her audience. She chose to target 17-year-old students. During this stage, she used her long-term memory to identify a topic that would be interesting to this demographic. She knew that 17-year-olds were either juniors or seniors in high school and would be looking toward applying for colleges soon. This knowledge allowed her to create a story that fit the prompt.
After prewriting, my subject began writing. While writing, she continued to brainstorm and came up with ideas along the way. This demonstrates that the writing process includes planning, translating, and reviewing, and that this process is not linear because it happens throughout writing rather than in sections. My subject used prior knowledge to determine which language to use when addressing the audience. She decided to use phrases that were easy to understand and were targeted at a young audience. She also used past knowledge when writing because she drew her ideas from experience. Rather than creating an abstract article, she wrote about her college decisions, including majors and nervousness. This allowed her to write quickly because she did not have to do external research. It also made the article more personal which is appropriate for the type of article she was prompted to write.
Rather than editing the article at the end, my subject spent the majority of her time editing as she wrote. I found that this interrupted her writing process because she would often pause or say “umm” after fixing a spelling or grammatical error. I counted pauses after spelling and found a correlation. My subject fixed errors five times throughout the article and paused four times immediately after. This demonstrates that focusing on aspects of the writing process that are do not correlate to the prompt interrupts the flow of ideas. At the end she also stopped to think about how she needed to “wrap this up.” Though she had a conclusion, she added a new one that she believed better summed up the article. This should be considered editing her final draft of the paper.
When discussing the results of the study, it becomes evident that the writing techniques my subject used to create an article for Seventeen Magazine supports Flower and Hayes’ conclusion that knowledge develops as throughout the writing process. Students tend to spend little time during the prewriting period and tend to use their first draft as a sort of “pre-write.” This allows writers to build off of previous knowledge and develop new questions and ideas that were not available to them prior to starting to write.
It is also essential to look at writing as a process rather than a finished result. From this study, I found that the process was more important than the product because it showcased the writer’s thoughts, consideration of the audience, and rhetorical techniques, all which came together to create an effective final product. I believe that if more emphasis was put on the writing process, students would gain more confidence in their ability because there is no right way to write. This would also take the pressure off of the final product which will never be perfect because writing is always changing and adapting to new circumstances and audiences.
Threshold concept: Writing creates a more homogenized world by circulating ideas
Though global media is credited with initiating globalization, writing is the underlying feature of media that leads to the spread of ideas though content which ultimately leads to a more connected world. Globalization can be understood as anytime something happens across borders. This threshold concept includes anything that utilizes writing and happens across borders such as text, websites, essays, contracts, advertisements, and more. Building off of the threshold concept, “writing enacts and creates identities and ideologies,” it becomes evident that no matter the form, writing spreads ideologies which can in turn result in world convergence as people access the same material and adopt similar viewpoints.
The location of writing influences the product and spreads the implications to those who read it. Depending on their location in the world, “writers are socialized, changed, through their writing in new environments, and these changes can have deep implications” (Adler-Kassnerand Wardle 49). Writers’ surroundings impact their experiences and therefore, the product. Today, only six major media organizations control the world’s media. Though there is an illusion of many media programs, for the majority, every form of content is under the control of Disney, Time Warner, News Corporation, Viacom, Comcast, or CBS (Lule). Unfortunately, global media companies influence what the majority of the world sees each day, leading to a loss of culture due to a predominantly Western influence and less world coverage than news prior to globalization. With advancements in technology, from the printing press to mass internet access, and the ability to translate texts from different languages and spread writing has become a way to facilitates global interactions. This reality allows ideas to constantly transfer between countries, contributing to globalization, communication, and interaction across the globe.
Writing allows authors to intertwine their worldview and perspectives on various topics into their texts. In doing so, they spread their ideologies and justifications to readers who may not have as much information on the topic or the critical thinking skills to question them. Whether conscious or subconscious, writing has the power to educate groups of people, making it essential to have an awareness of the biases and motives behind an author’s work. Writing and media have the power to create stereotypes and dictate how not only individuals, but countries feel toward other nations. Alliances often develop when countries share common goals and ideologies. By combining technology with writing to spread ideas, more people than ever before have access to similar texts that contain ideas that differ from their original perspective on life. This increase in access may result in a call to action, for example, raising concerns and rebellions against a dominating regime, or merely result in a change in outlook on what is valued in society.
Though writing has the power to create a more homogenized world, it can be viewed as exclusive to those without access to technology. Consequently, writing has the power to divide and override neglected populations while uniting those with more privilege. This division leads to a loss of culture and further homogenization. When analyzing shifts in power and ideologies around the world, it becomes evident that “writing is deeply involved in struggles over power, the formation of identities, and the negotiation, perpetuation, and contestation of belief systems” (Adler-Kassnerand Wardle 49). Those without technology or the ability to write are left out from the power struggle to control the global conversation. Without diverse voices heard, cultures begin to lose their originality as they adapt to new global norms. Though some forms of writing can be beneficial, such as the spread of life-saving healthcare discoveries, other forms can be harmful to populations without an equal voice. For example, Western advertisements which display one body type and a caption to sell a beauty product may leave a subconscious imprint on those who cannot meet those expectations. The inequality of the digital divide and participation allows outside writing to dominate cultures without an equal voice. Though this creates a more homogenized society, it is essential to remember that this collision of ideas may not always be a positive result of writing.
The increased ability to spread content and ideas across the world influences how societies interact with one another. Writing allows people to distribute messages and ideologies which influence both those who have access to writing and do not. Though many are excluded due to a lack of technological and educational resources, they are included in the homogenization as their culture becomes overrun by those who are in power. The world continues to circulate ideas in new ways as technology develops, creating a direct impact on the convergence of people toward homogenized ideas and cultures.
Adler-Kassner, Linda, and Elizabeth Wardle. “Naming What We Know: The Project of This Book.” Naming What We Know: Threshold Concepts of Writing Studies, 2015.
Lule, Jack. Globalization and Media: Global Village of Babel.