Tuesday, May 4, 2010

"I'm Not Racist At All ...."

In both of the ENG 101 classes this week, we have been peer workshopping drafts by students and the conversations have been ... well, interesting! The assignment asked students to respond to a comment from someone in the other section (so the MWF students have to respond to a Monday evening student, and the Monday evening students have to respond to someone in the MWF class). During the previous week, students left comments on our shared Wiki about specific "texts" such as Jane Elliott's Blue Eye/ Brown Eye experiment and the Harvard Implicit Test (which asks people questions to figure out if we "walk the walk" after saying that we "talk the talk" in terms of racial comments).

I was hoping, as we came into the workshops, that students would be able to identify the major problems with any essay -- is there a specific purpose/ argument? Is there proof/ evidence to back that idea up? Is there a sense of audience? Any stigmatizing errors in terms of sentence-structure or word choice? Instead of leading the discussion, I asked students to lead themselves. I sat on the side of the room and kept my mouth shut for 15 minutes.

And it worked. In both classes, the students engaged in a useful conversation about all the things we have talked about this semester. There were times where the conversation got a little sidetracked by differences in racial opinions (and with the Arizona thing going on, there is certainly a difference in opinions on this one). But the conversation was pretty rhetorically flocused and that made me pretty happy!

Side Note: I was struck by how often students, when responding to their colleagues' papers, would say "I'm not racist at all but ...."


  1. Everyone's a little bit racist.

  2. Totally agree. How could you grow up in our American society and not be?! The problem is that I don't want to ram my ideas down their throats -- I was sort of hoping that with the readings we did that they would recignize that institutional racism is a larger part of their lives than they might think. Many of them have sort of figured this out somewhat -- but there are still students who refuse to think outside their comfort zones.