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Pedagogy 6.2 (2006) 367-373
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Rhet-Comp Borderlands as Cure-All?
Necessary Questions and Clarifications
Frederick Luis Aldama
After a long struggle to wrest "rhet-comp" studies from its service-learning shackles, several scholars are breathing more freely the air of postcolonial and ethnic critical studies. Many such scholars are deconstructing knowledge systems (inside and outside the classroom) and destabilizing representational maps that smooth over racial and ethnic hierarchies of difference.1 Andrea A. Lunsford and Lahoucine Ouzgane's edited collection of essays in Crossing Borderlands: Composition and Postcolonial Studies (a book publication of their 1998 guest-edited issue of JAC: A Journal of Composition Theory) seeks to extend this dialogue between rhet-comp and postcolonial/ethnic critical theory.
In its embrace of postcolonial and borderland theory (Chicano/a), the fourteen essays that make up Crossing Borderlands aim to provide a theory and praxis of resistance and transformation inside and outside the classroom for students and teachers. They deploy postcolonial concepts ("hybridity," "third space resistance," and the like) and Chicano/a borderland theories of subjectivity (e.g., "new mestiza consciousness," "radical mestizaje").2 The fashioning of a "borderland pedagogy" thus retools the theories of Gloria [End Page 367] Anzaldúa, Sonía Saldívar-Hull, Homi Bhabha, Gayatri Spivak, and Edward Said, among others, to decode all variety of pedagogical practices, experiences, and debates, with the aim of liberating students and teachers from regulatory systems such as rules of grammar, Western canonical reading assignments, and more generally, society's discursive structures that contain and control othered subjectivity.
The essays basically fall into two categories: the abstract theoretical and the applied sociohistorical material. For example, C. Jan Swearingen studies Ebonics and its history of debate in Oakland's unified school district that professes multiculturalism and tolerance yet upholds an English-only law. The inclusion of Ebonics—but not to the exclusion of standard English—might provide a "middle way" (254) of literacy training that's more mindful of racial demographics; it might clear the way for a fashioning of a civic culture respectful of "differences and commonalties" (254). Martin Behr considers a like expansion of a pedagogical purview, seeking to expose students to "postcolonial realities" (142) in the teaching of Canadian Inuit testimonios and their writing strategies of resistance. Aneil Ralin soberly reminds us of the day-to-day experience teaching ESL among colleagues who act like border-patrol guards trying to regulate the movement of brown bodies and the free circulation of different expressive writings and ideas. The choice of writing and reading assignment for Jamie Armin Mejía can become a powerful tool for the empowerment of Chicano/a students as well as open nonbrown students' eyes to a bilingual and bicultural identity and experience otherwise "unimagined by rhetoric and composition studies" (172). And in the formulation of a "transcultural rhetoric" whereby Chicanas in the classroom can write their histories and cultures, Louise Rodríguez Connal likewise seeks to empower her students; Connal emphasizes the need for more bilingual hybrid subjects like herself to provide the mentoring and tools necessary for students to find their own voice and sense of empowerment in a world that otherwise oppresses "women and minorities" (216).
The more abstract theoretical approaches cover a wide range of issues. There's a sense of the classroom as a potential postcolonial/borderland space resistant to an otherwise panoptic university; there's Min-Zhan Lu's formulation of an imagined community free of power—the legislating of "what they can, want, or need to do" (27) where the students speak across "social, historical, and institutional divisions" (27). For others, capitalist-driven technologies like e-mail can liberate rather than oppress. For instance, Pamela Gay writes that e-mail Listservs can foster a dialogue between teacher and student that forces one "to look, really look, at an Other's point of view" [End Page 368] (237). Lazy attitudes toward writing and learning are interpreted as a form of...