Before Friday’s class discussion, I was prepared to examine Ratcliffe’s ideas on rhetorical listening and Peter Elbow’s activity believe/doubting. However, after the too brief examination of fears in the classroom, I shall examine my past experiences and listen rhetorically so that my reflection can open up areas of improvement.
Ratcliffe claims that teachers have three fears in the classroom when discussion of race or whiteness enters: “(1) fears about job status; (2) fears about losing control of the class; (3) fears about lacking the authority of lived experience when discussing resistance-prone issues. Although these fears my initially stymie action, they may also be revisioned as sites for instigating productive pedagogical action” (139). In the context of the first item, my job status has always been unsecure as a graduate student and as an adjunct, so I will not waste more time developing this line of thought. The second detail provides some trepidation. While at OSU-OKC, a small satellite community college, I taught two sections of Composition One. My paper sequence wasn’t unusual, but was in line with my other sections elsewhere. During essay two’s sequence, I selected Peggy McIntosh’s “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” so that my students could see some “invisible” ideas pushing on their identities (My assignment examines identity within the context of a larger group the student identifies with). When the day came for the students to discuss McIntosh’s piece, I was nervous but excited. This particular classroom dynamic included several concurrently enrolled high school seniors, a mix of income, several races, and, finally, different age groups. To say the least, this was not a homogenous group.
The discussion began well enough, but halfway through the class, social niceties broke down. One of the white students questioned if this article’s ideas were still relevant, to which one student, an older black woman stated” McIntosh’s list has been taught to her and her family for years.” This was an interesting comment since the woman never encountered McIntosh’s actual list, but a list that her family constructed on perceived experiences in American culture. I hesitate to relay the rest of the class, but after this line of examination, the class structure broke down completely. The students refused to “hear” any opposing views, arms were crossed and faces wore a frown for the remainder of the time.
After this class, I swore never to teach McIntosh’s essay again. I was rattled by the events in the class and assumed nothing of value could come of the experience. I also assumed Comp One was not the place to examine these types of issues. But graduate school has a funny way of re-examining past experiences in a useful way. According to Ratcliffe, these “fears may also be revisioned as an invitation for teachers to examine what we mean by “losing control,” reflect on its implications, and brainstorm and research strategies for retaining a civil forum during uncomfortable discussions” (140). Reflecting on the past, what startled me most was not the comments made—certainly some were fascinating—but that I never thought my class would become so passionate. These reactions were not commensurate with past class discussions. But in my act of reflecting, and the massive amount of reading since this class, I’ve discovered that McIntosh’s piece doesn’t need to be forgotten in my classroom, just re-invented.
To re-invent discussions of gender, whiteness, and race, I must provide space for my students to see the privileging of certain aspects of their life. McIntosh’s list creates an important starting point, but for a classroom in the 2010’s, more relevant examples from popular culture can be found. One example from Modern Family’s newest episode focuses on the lack of experience. This example starts at minute 6:31.
The representation that Haley’s character provides is an interesting example of what some students face. Radcliffe’s analysis only mentions teacher experiences, but students can also share Haley’s concern. Journaling could provide the necessary space for students to reflect on events they have witnessed or taken part in. Students could certainly reflect on McIntosh’s list to see whether they have experienced the effects of white privilege too.
Secondly, if, as instructors, we ask our students to rhetorically listen, we must continue to examine texts around us that either reinforce gender and whiteness or, in the case of 30 Rock provide an avenue to critique societal “norms.”
These clips as well as other episodes provide a satirical perspective on certain tropes within our society. As a class, students can unpack these two clips and decide what stereotypes are at play. Certainly, a criticism could be leveled about these clips and how they are too blatant, but from an incoming freshman’s perspective, they may not see the stereotypes. According to Ratcliffe “ listening pedagogically to distinguish between bodies and tropes help students and teachers understand how bodies are marked by gender and race/ethnicity in productive ways and how bodies are also stereotyped in nonproductive and dehumanizing ways. Such understanding, then, becomes grounds for accountability and action” (156). If students believe 30 Rock uncovers stereotypes such as the funny gay man and black woman, how then can we use satire for rhetorical purposes within a composition classroom to unpack other instances of privilege?
By providing these contemporary examples, students can begin the process of listening rhetorically for other examples of gender and whiteness and how privilege affects them. Examples such as Modern Family and 30 Rock can provide a space for students to analyze their world and gain new perspective. For a teacher, “losing control” from time to time provided more outlook for the next class discussion and to not be hesitant to tack controversial issues.
(Sorry about the clips. It seems WordPress doesn’t like Hulu clips and it refuses to embed them for our convenience)