This week, one of my assigned readings was Elaine Richardson’s “Coming from the Heart,” in it, Richardson referenced a student named Rhonda who she called a “closet” AAE writer, and then she compared a sample of her writing with a sample of Toni Morrison’s, saying the two styles are nearly indistinguishable. If I read this statement properly, I am confused: Morrison is one of the most celebrated African-American writers ever and her style is, from my understanding of these things, universally acknowledged as both AAE and acceptable among the Standard English literary canons, not to mention passionate and emotive. How could Rhonda’s style be not AAE or not “coming from the heart” if it is nearly indistinguishable from Morrison’s? Thoughts? Edit: I did not read the statement properly–Richardson was coming down on the student for her indistinguishable voice, not for sounding like Morrison.

Anyway, after reading that, I wanted to know more about Richardson’s research because I found myself reading bias into her piece after the Rhonda/Morrison example. So this week’s article is:

Richardson, E. (2000). Critique on the problematic of implementing afrocentricity into traditional curriculum: “the powers that be”. Journal of Black Studies31(2), 196-213 . Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/2645913?&Search=yes&searchText=”elaine richardson”&list=hide&searchUri=/action/doBasicSearch?Query=%22elaine+richardson%22&gw=jtx&acc=on&prq=elaine+richardson&Search=Search&hp=25&wc=on&prevSearch=&item=2&ttl=66&returnArticleService=showFullText&

This article argues that while the Eurocentric-based education system is dominant in America,  there is also an African-centered approach/orientation to knowledge and implementing it in the composition classroom. She situates this argument in the context of the African-American (AA) literacy lag, with the literacy lag being shown as AAE students placed disproportionately in college-level remedial writing courses; low college completion rates among AA students; and AA students’ lower scores than their White counterparts on the National Assessment for Educational Progress (Richardson, 2000). Richardson then explains 5 theoretical traditions for the African-centered composition curriculum:

1)Asante’s theory of Afrocentricity: an inclusive approach that is predicated on the assumption that students are  both the subjects and agents of their experiences (Richardson, 2000).

2) Giroux’s suggestion that literacy education must understand the its political contexts so that students can both locate themselves in and shape history (Richardson, 2000)

3) Fox’s concept of “position”: “a geographic metaphor that locates African-American writers in relationship to race and history, race and institutions, and race and gender” (Richardson, 2000).

4) Gates’s “theory of ‘signifying’,” which “ish the all-encompassing term for the ways in which African-Americans use language to critique the dominant culture’s view of reality” (Richardson, 2000)

5) Baxter and Reed’s “bidialectal/contrastive” curriculum, which uses the nonnative language/variety to teach the target language (in this case AAE to teach Standard Written English [SWE]) (Richardson, 2000).

Richardson then uses examples from her classroom, where she implemented this curriculum. She noted that it created a dissonance in her learners’ consciousnesses because the statement “black anything is nothing” was so deeply rooted into their minds (Richardson, 2000). Richardson uses examples from the types of assignments and texts the class studied to concretize the Afrocentric approach to composition teaching, identifying some students as resistant to the approach and others as “thinkers” (Richardson, 2000).

To me, the most interesting part of this article was the assignment where students had to write in Black discourse style for a Black audience because of the subversion of expectations. It is clear that this approach challenged students, and by the end of the course only four students reported that they still didn’t think AAE was a language/didn’t believe learning about it was valuable for their education. I think this is a highly interesting article that challenges conventions, and I would strongly recommend that composition teachers read it while forming their curricula.

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