“Publicly Speak the Truth:” DeShaun’s Literacies

writing-notesTonight we will look at a student essay, using the models of African American literacies and rhetoric that Elaine Richardson provided for us last week, alongside the critique of schooled-literacy-as-white-property in Rebecca Powell’s introduction. We will ask ourselves how DeShaun defines himself as a writer and how/if he subverts the requirements of white-schooled-literacy in his essay.  We will use a worksheet that I designed for freshmen classes in 2005 alongside a copy of DeShaun’s essay (this essay actually took up 3 blue books, unfortunately not reproduced here, masking all of his arrows, erasings, cross-outs, etc): Worksheet w DeShaun’s Essay

Let me introduce DeShaun’s essay.  DeShaun was a freshman in one of my first year writing classes many years ago, on the eve of our entry into our war on Iraq.  In that teaching context, students were required to take a departmental midterm where they were given two essays to read two weeks in advance. At the exam, they were given an exam question that they had to answer in two hours.  For this particular exam, students were assigned: 1) George Orwell’s canonical essay, “Shooting an Elephant,” where he launches the polemic that the colonizer is also dehumanized given what he represents/does to the colonized, and; 2) an essay by Amitav Ghosh where Ghosh connects the impossibility of imposing our will on Iraq to Britain’s failed attempts to do so in colonizing India.   Here are the exam questions (students must choose one)… please read them VERY carefully:

In his essay, George Orwell states that at the time of the events he describes, he “could get nothing into perspective”. Summarize how the experience of shooting the elephant changes the narrator’s perspective about imperial power. Apply this understanding to Amitav Ghosh’s discussion of current events. Be sure to summarize enough of Ghosh’s essay to give the necessary context for your discussion. Drawing on your own knowledge or experience, evaluate the extent to which you agree or disagree with the authors’ views of imperial power.                                                      OR….
 Summarize Amitav Ghosh’s argument about the “new American empire”. Make a connection between Ghosh’s ideas about the current situation and the view of empire presented in Orwell’s essay, “Shooting an Elephant”. Be sure to summarize enough of Orwell’s essay to give the necessary context for your discussion. Draw on your knowledge of these and other readings and your views of imperialism to make an argument about the American presence in Iraq and its potential effects on Iraqis and Americans alike.

DeShaun failed the exam with the lowest score in the class but with, ironically, the longest and most developed essay.  The full story and DeShaun’s essay are here along with the results of what happened with him (in an essay called “Writing While Black”); an example of a (5-paragraph) essay that was scored highest is also included.

The most important point here is to imagine a strategy for dealing with this situation.  This ain’t a practice exercise.  It ain’t hypothetical.  It ain’t theoretical. It is all the way liiive.  Everyone in this graduate class is tutoring in some capacity, working in K-12 schools or with youth, or teaching college reading and writing classes.    So here is where all that talk we talk counts.  What’s your response to this situation (as in what will you DO)?

Stay tuned for a letter I wrote to writing center tutors who stunningly failed to imagine DeShaun as their equal…