Posted in CBW 2016, CCCC 2016

Keynote: Grasping the “Phenomenal Forms”: A Dialogue on Taking Action in Basic Writing

The CBW Workshop keynote presentation is being given jointly by Deborah Mutnick of Long Island University and Shannon Carter of Texas A&M Commerce. These two scholars’ work is well-known in basic writing circles, and both have given much to CBW as an organization.

The theme of this joint keynote is the relationship between surface realities and underlying social structures and the implications for the teaching and learning of writing. Guiding questions: How do we foster critical consciousness in the classroom? How do we foster students’ sense of agency? How can teachers help students overcome obstacles to learning?

They will return to two case studies in their previously published work–“Joe” in Mutnick’s Writing in an Alien World and “Eric” in Carter’s The Way Literacy Lives. Mutnick begins with a discussion of the work of Luis Villacanas de Castro, author of Critical Pedagogy and Marx, Vgotsky, and Freire.

So how do we foster students’ sense of agency? Carter gives us her big reveal: “Eric” is her brother. Eric had diverse, significant, and complex literacy practices outside of school, but those literacies were not able to be deployed in school. Eric didn’t see these literacies as literacy, either–the “real” writing was done in school. What he did outside of school wasn’t writing, in his view. Carter argues that school-based literacies have become so entrenched that only they are seen as literacy, while a wide range of literacy practices used outside of school are dismissed and ignored as not literacy. What Carter wants for Eric and all students is rhetorical dexterity: the ability to read, compose, and negotiate across linguistic codes. Mutnick then briefly discusses”Joe Baxter” from her book. Joe inspired the title of her book when he wrote a paper that asked, “Blacks in Science Fiction: Why Are We Invisible in an Alien World?”

How can teachers help students overcome obstacles to learning? We can practice Freirean conscientizacao or “critical consciousness.” We can engage in egalitarian, democratic dialogue, not because we want to be “nice” to students or even “democratic,” but because students needs democratic dialogue in order to grow intellectually. We as teachers needs to create the culture for students to transition into active intellectuals.

We must also engage in participatory action research. Rhetorical dexterity combined with participatory action research may help students engage with the phenomenal forms that impact their lives. We must create contexts through dialogue and participatory research in which students can take their own daily lives as the object of their reflection process.



I'm an Associate Professor of English at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, where I teach graduate and undergraduate courses in writing, literacy, and folklore.

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