Language and Racism: Cross Talk in Composition Theory

Crossposted on Daily Kos

A teacher is always a Utopian - Victor Villanueva

In this video, Victor Villanueva discusses structural racism and its implications for language education. I love his work, ideas, and approach, and how they weave seamlessly into the third edition of Cross-Talk in Comp Theory.

I first met Victor while teaching and doing research at Washington State University in 1997. I became enamored of his classic, Bootstraps, a work which helped broaden my vision and eventually reshape my paradigm as an academic of color. The memorable conversations include his mention of the many scholars he knew who considered themselves experts in Marx -- but who'd never had a cup of coffee in a working-class home -- as well as other insights.

That is why I was delighted when he published the third edition of Cross-Talk. The book maintains the historical perspective of previous editions while continuing to provide insights on the relatively new discipline of composition studies. Villanueva recruited the expertise of Kristin L. Arola to flesh out the discussion on composition and technology. According to the scholars, "the quick movement of the paradigm--from the personal computer to local-area networks to the rise of social networking--suggests the need to recall the talk and the cross-talk concerning computers and their products for composition."

The challenges of dealing with basic writers can sometimes seem overwhelming. English faculty meetings can be mind-numbing, and departmental administrative toil can leave little time or energy for sharing a vibrant intellectual life with colleagues. So the concept and practice of Cross-Talk gives me access to an empowering social dialogue. There is strength in numbers, and with the book in hand and ideas in mind, I am no longer alone in front of that classroom, or when grading papers. Instead, I am part of a larger, dynamic conversation with the brightest minds in the field (past and present), as well as students and scores of other instructors.

The joy of continually returning to this text brings me close to colleagues from around the world in this discourse community. The landmark articles in the book, by major figures such as Donald Murray, Janet Emig, Walter Ong, Sondra Perl, Mike Rose, and Patricia Bizzell have been a great influence on my teaching, as well as on the field itself. They are joined by the works of other trailblazing scholars such as Peter Elbow and Richard Ohmann. Villanueva also incorporates texts by key names within comp's conversations on technology, including Adam Banks, Cynthia Selfe, and Kathleen Blake Yancey.

Villanueva, now chair of the English Department at Auburn University, writes.

In a very real sense, Cross-Talk is intended as a historical artifact, a way of tracking theoretical discussions in a field that continues to find itself forming its theoretical foundations. Even the givens of comp—writing as process—are contending with cross-talk, like post-process theory. It’s hard to track the history we’re in.

Finally, another trend speaks to my soul:

The other big change in composition studies—at least in our journals—has been the increased presence of writers of color and the greater acceptance of critical pedagogy. As I point out in the final essay to this volume, writers of color are still not present in this profession in the kinds of numbers that would affect our discussions on racism in truly meaningful ways, but something did happen in the second half of the 1990s: the beginnings of rich discussion on racism clearly centered on the concerns of this profession (a somewhat different set of discussions on racism from those which took place in journals like College English at the beginning of the second half of the twentieth century).

Cross-Talk is a collection that continues to provide new and experienced teachers and scholars with avenues for problem solving. It has been a core text in my library as I face the challenges, controversies, and ever-shifting currents within this rich and ever-evolving field: the teaching and learning of composition.