Over the course of this seminar, I have established a new theme for LIB 200, which I am tentatively calling Literacy and Linguistic Diversity in New York City. This theme came to be because of three primary reasons:
1) Conversations in my LIB 200 classes have routinely turned toward what we broadly term “culture” in society. When we talk about society and technology, we frequently talk about who creates the technology, who uses it, and in what ways. Given the ethnically and linguistically diverse population of LaGuardia, I have decided to address these issues more directly. Additionally, as my own work is in sociocultural literacy, I am often concerned with how new literacy practices develop and to what ends. A student in my LIB 200 class last semester commented that he rarely read novels anymore, though he used to. “I feel like now I’m so used to reading short pieces on a screen that I can’t read a book. What can I do about it?” he asked. This began an intriguing discussion about how technology shapes our literacy practices and, vice versa, how it is shaped in response to existing practices. Those practices are themselves determined by the people and situations in which they occur.
2) Many of our students are already keenly aware of the societal struggles faced by those who speak a different language or who speak English differently from those who hold power in American society. My students responded very passionately, for example, to the Lisa Nakamura lecture we attended. Issues of equity and inequity are very close to home for so many here, and while we have been talking about race a great deal recently in part due to unfortunate current events, we less often address the linguistic aspects of this conversation. This conversation is happening in scholarly discourse, but less among the general public. Samy Alim, for example, has written recently about Obama’s use of multiple Englishes. Many of our students style shift (or code switch) regularly – as we often do as well – but we less frequently address how automatic that process may be, how false it may be, and the reasons why we do so in American society. How, too, have these oral language practices changed with the advent of social media and text speak?
3) I want to challenge my students. I have gotten into many discussions this semester, both in this seminar and with colleagues outside of workshop, about the ways in which we do or not challenge our students at LaGuardia. In English departments in particular, I think there is a danger of underestimating students’ intellect and comprehension solely based upon their writing skills. Do we emphasize form over content? By LIB 200, I would like to think that my students have a firm enough grasp on the writing process to craft a paper without the step-by-step guidance we often provide in composition classes. As such, LIB 200 is, to me, a place of ideas. While literacy and language might be complex topics with equally complex scholarship, I want to give my students reading assignments outside of their comfort zone. The more we treat our community college students differently from their university counterparts, the more we keep them in a lesser position, academically and with regards to their own identities.
On the most practical level: I am not teaching LIB 200 or a cluster in the immediate future. I do plan to adapt this theme and the syllabus-in-progress to an English 101 course I will be teaching. These issues, I would contend, should be foregrounded rather than kept to at-home conversation and scholarly discourse.