Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Genre & empowerment

 I came from a home that elevated reading, argument and debate into a secular religion. Not a day went by when my parents didn't concern themselves with what I was reading, talking about reading, talking about talk, talking about what was coming out of the radio, talking about what they read out loud to each other or to us coming out of newspapers, Radio or TV listings mags - any bit of written text. They didn't stop telling stories about their lives, and relating those stories to the values that underlay them - as most people do, when they tell stories, actually!

Michael Rosen, "How Genre Theory Saved the World"

Me too, though we had a regular religion also. Reading was absolutely constant in our home. Books, newspapers, magazines, books on tape, radio, cereal boxes, etc. If I didn't remember to bring a book into the bathroom I'd studiously read the back of a shampoo bottle.

Rosen's point in the blog entry that quote comes from is that genre theory (in Australia and elsewhere) was meant to give poorer students better access to the 'language of power' by explicitly teaching occluded genres, but that it didn't really work, because the best way to really master those genres is to be immersed in them in your out-of-school life. (An interesting parallel to language learning, perhaps. Immersion seems like a pretty transferable concept.)

Let me think through this though.

language of power = language of elite/powerful/people with money/middle class and above?

I grew up in a house with tons of books, newspapers, magazines, etc. Was it because we had lots of money? Well, we didn't have 'lots' of money, but we had enough to buy books and stuff. And my parents were teachers. The point is, I was part of a culture that valued eduacation -- I don't know if this is just WASP culture or what. I guess it is. (Many of my aunts and uncles have PhDs or work in education as well -- though only one other member of my generation on both sides of my family works in education besides me.)

The argument I think is that you can't teach people to really absorb and swim around in genres they don't see being viewed as valuable in their everyday lives. So if my family was part of mainstream american WASP culture, that was my advantage because I got very easy access to the "language of power."

But doesn't this whole approach suggest that making or remaking students into "language of power"-people is the goal of education? It seems like a kind of crass goal. What if somebody comes from a community that doesn't give a crap about, I don't know, NPR or environmentalism? Isn't that their prerogative  

I mean, I guess my own somewhat romantic view of education as a whole-person kind of character-building thing (I'm pretty sure that's what I like about education) is similar, in that ultimately it results in a certain kind of person emerging with a diploma.

Or does it? To have read the right books, to know how to write effectively in various genres, etc. -- is this really the rote production of people? I don't even really believe people can be 'produced.' Regardless of your educational experiences, you have agency to do stuff. You make choices. Some of my friends from my private Catholic high school went to Ivies and med school, some dropped out of college.

So in conclusion I really have no idea what I'm talking about here, and I still need to find a chapter on genre theory for a class I'm teaching. So this didn't help a ton. But I had fun thinking about it.

Those last two sentences are the story of my life, and maybe because I grew up in a house full of books.

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