Edited Inksheds on Session 3: Imposing values on oral cultures (Ali, Laura & Anthony)

If the spoken text has the power of law and history, is the intent and meaning really open to negotiation, modification, and clarification. -- Jane Milton

I feel mute - illiterate, cut off from my cultural roots - wondering at the lifelong colonization of self, body, spirit. I use my poetics to affirm my identity, but I have separated and banished this from my academic life/world. -- Kathryn

Around these tables we writing teachers share an almost magical faith in the importance and power of the written word. These stories of oral cultures remind me yet again of what we lose as well as win in our culture of print literacy.

Ali spoke to what I have been wrestling with since starting to teach writing courses and study skills to indigenous people. Who am I to impose my culture - the written word - upon an oral culture? I began to realize that the dominant aboriginal society was dominant and it was not going to go away. One of the only ways to deal with that society and to make changes in aboriginal societies was for these oral people to learn the culture of writing.

These two sessions remind me how incredibly much there is in the world that I do not know about. Because I don't know I map my own ignorant bits and pieces of assumptions onto other people's lives. I very rarely take the time to "check in" to any degree, let alone the degree Laura and Anthony described. The risk of being a real, vulnerable person in front of my students is certainly one factor in why I don't, but the enemy of time constraints is a bigger factor. -- Pat Sadowy.

It's interesting how the notion of "other" seems to run like a red thread throughout the fabric of the conference so far. Whether it's colonizer and "colonizee" or teacher and student or even conceptual as in written and oral--the notion of seeing the other as deficient is perhaps the basis of distribution of power. For there to be a power base to opposition there needs to be an other or others who are lacking.

Both these presentations were at the heart of what I'm struggling with now as an "educator." What a pretentious term that can be.

Both these sessions fill me with a sense of my own temerity in presuming to try to teach anything to anybody. But, as Laura concluded, education is not something we do to students, but the way we stand in relation to them. How to stand solidly grounded yet be aware that no ground is solid? -- Kenna

How alienating it must be not to be able to use one's mother tongue For me, it means that although I have dedicated my life to writing and the teaching of writing that this is but one mode of expression among many. There are so many languages and literacies coming in the forms of intricate drumming patterns, bodily gestures, dance steps, patternings of fabric, pottery, oral storying and on what a great loss when the West colonized Africa, Asia, North America to have devalued and wiped out so much of this intense expressiveness.

Laura and Anthony or, I would say, any sensitive, feeling teacher's tendencies to teach, to lead were arrested almost immediately by the recognition that the students had their agenda, and they were collectively able to maintain against the force of the institutional need to channelize and control. -- Patrick.

The women social workers entering the corridors of power and taking "voice" reminds me of the parens in our PLC. Once on the university site, they were 'going to university' -- as they often said -- We struggled over this -- yet they clearly enjoyed and thrived and taught in the environment.

Ali's presentation spoke tons about silencing voices, creating "othering" while embedding negative and condescending images to it. As I listened to him, I thought about how colonizers / invaders / dictators almost invariably always aim at eradicating these voices; sometimes physically exterminating poets and intellectuals.

A vignette: I lobbied my boss at Bama Secondary school, Borno State, Nigeria, who was the English department head, to put more West African literature on the syllabus for grades 10-13 (Forms 2-5). For the most part, he demurred. He told me that in particular, my fifth form students would be outraged if "Macbeth," one possibility on the syllabus, were sacrificed to a South African novel (Mine Boy, I think). I asked my students. They insisted that we do "Macbeth." They'd heard from their elder brother and sisters that "Macbeth" was very African - the witches, in particular reflected aspects of their own beliefs. What's "colonial"? Maybe it's not a text, but an attitude. -- Jamie

It would be nice to think that education can be used as a counterforce, or at least as a buffer. But, by design, education has to be on the side of the big battalions. A civilizing and integrating force.

A common theme seems to be emerging in all these presentations -- the fact that we separate life and school. It's almost as if you leave who you really are at the door of the institution when you step through.

I have wondered about the colonial implications of language instruction in the contemporary cross-cultural classroom. I have wondered whether colonial implications of language teaching could easily transfer from Africa to present-day Canada. Maybe yes.


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