Monday, April 3, 2006

Diversity Writing

Marzluf, Phillip P. "Diversity Writing: Natural Languages, Authentic Voices." CCC 57.3 (2006): 503-522.

Later today our grad group (CCRGC) is engaging Marzluf's recent CCC essay in conversation for an hour. We developed the grad group at the beginning of the semester as a supplement to what's already a solid lineup of colloquia. Why? Primarily so we could invite faculty for focused discussions and devise our own brief sessions around common concerns (CV workshops, conference proposal collaboration, practicing talking about our work, reading stuff outside of coursework, etc.).

I'm short on time and really should be writing toward the three (better conceived as 1+1+1 or .1+.1+.1+.1...tiny installments) seminar papers whose terminal buzzers go off at the end of the month or thereabouts, but I wanted to get down a few notes about issues I'd like us to take up during today's session. First, Marzluf's article works like this:

After opening with a brief account of what he means by diversity writing, Marzluf sketches a brief history of Natural Language Theory (oral language is purer than written; generally favors rationalism). In the third section of the essay he critiques expressivist commitments to the authentic voices of students, commitments Marzluf contends too easily lead to a salvationist ethic, embracing a student's "natural" vernacular at the expense of more self-detached models of rational (i.e. serious) academic discourse. Failed writing, Marzluf argues, paraphrasing Elbow, results "when writers falsify their voices" (513), and diversity writing can lead to such falsifications if teachers over-correlate student identity and demonstrations of authenticity through writing in the vernacular. Marzluf levels a strong critique of the salvationist proclivities that too easily align with diversity writing, including uneven valuations of authenticity in voice (505). He writes,

My goal in this article has been to reject a salvationist tendency in diversity-writing scholarship, one that attempts to save, affirm or legitimate students. Though diversity writing should provide students a comfortable space for interrogating difference, it need not force students to perform their commitment to language and their communities. This is not to imply that diversity writing should be apolitical or impersonal, only that it is a clumsy apparatus indeed for students to use to reveal and perform themselves. (517)

Early in the essay he defines "diversity writing" as "a pedagogical approach that invites students to apply critical reading and writing strategies to situate themselves within, analyze, and research the political and cultural assumptions, consequences, and issues that constitute human difference" (503). Diversity writing becomes synonymous with diversity studies, or, as I read it, a label consistent with "studies of difference."

Here are a few of questions/concerns I want to get at later today:
1. On the basis of his description, how does our FYC curriculum at Syracuse match with the curriculum at Kansas State--particular to their "diversity writing" orientations? Does his definition work for us? Does it adequately name the thing we're trying to do or enact when we teach in a "diversity writing" curriculum?
2. With his overt emphasis on race in "diversity writing," how is his curricular model problematic for this narrowed focus? How might his arguments about Natural Language Theory, salvationist motives, and authenticity generalize to broader identifications?
3. What do you make of his use of content as a rhetorical strategy for answering "an audience of skeptical students, parents, and administrators, who may react strongly to the political connotations of 'diversity' or fear that evaluation will be based on the ideological whims of individual writing instructors" (519)?

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