- The Politics of Appalachian Rhetoric by Amanda E. Hayes
Why do schools make Appalachian students feel stupid? Amanda E. Hayes blends scholarship and memoir to answer this question while convincingly making her point that a distinct Appalachian rhetoric exists and "remains under-recognized" (5). In The Politics of Appalachian Rhetoric, Hayes seamlessly connects family stories, personal experiences, and academic scholarship while using regionalisms, such as you'uns, in a way that defies what she describes as the rigidly structured "academic writing" of Standard English (21). In her work, readers encounter a gently delivered, but no less damning, critique of academia's anti-Appalachian prejudice, which marginalizes instead of welcomes Appalachians as part of an inclusive, multicultural America. Along the way, readers learn about quilting, life in the Ohio hill country, and Hayes's family—immediate, extended, and ancestral. At times, this study feels more [End Page 102] like a patchwork of stories than a cohesive work. However, each patch comes together to make a thoughtful quilt, just as Hayes intended.
Patches in Hayes's carefully constructed quilt were a long time in the making. Shaped by formative experiences growing up in southeastern Ohio and teaching in postsecondary institutions, Hayes argues that rhetoric is more than language: "It is also the process and means by which identity and values are shaped and conveyed" (13). In her view, denigrating Appalachian rhetoric rejects Appalachian culture and people. Hayes uses the principle of "rhetorical sovereignty" first introduced by American Indian scholar Scott Richard Lyons in 2000 to consider the social value of nonstandard dialects as being different, not wrong. While those with political power once created residential schools to rob American Indians of formative rhetorical experiences, Hayes suggests that Appalachian students forced to communicate only in "mainstream discourse" continue to be robbed of cultural identity in classrooms that purportedly support multiculturalism.
Hayes makes significant use of vocabulary and research familiar to teachers and experts of multilingual learning and scholars of African American Vernacular English. She weaves concepts such as home literacies, academic literacies, and deficit ideology into her exploration of Appalachian rhetoric in an easily understandable way. Even though her book includes endnotes and a helpful index, it will disappoint readers who expect an explicit thesis and highly structured argumentation. Readers who seek this might find Todd Snyder's The Rhetoric of Appalachian Identity (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2014) slightly more appealing. Hayes and Snyder have much in common; both are Appalachians and first-generation college students, completed doctoral studies at Ohio University, and now work in academia. This nexus suggests Ohio University might be fostering a much-needed Appalachian rhetorical awakening.
Hayes expands on Snyder's discourse by fully embracing what she describes as Scotch-Irish Celtic influences in Appalachia, an overly simplistic explanation that supports her point that Appalachian rhetoric is underrecognized. In Hayes, readers encounter a thoughtful aunt whose storytelling and teacherlike "thinkalouds" are kind but persistent in undermining widely accepted prejudice. While this approach may feel strange to some, the style will feel like home to scholarly Appalachians who have sat listening to grandparents tell personal stories with subtle purpose and humility. Thus, Hayes models Appalachian rhetoric for anyone doubting its existence; in one example, she concludes [End Page 103] a story, "My sense is that few teachers and even perhaps few students see what happens in classrooms as the work of cultural assimilation and silencing" (149). This shows her calm approach in pushing educators to reevaluate the exclusion of Appalachian voices from celebrations of multiculturalism. She is most forceful when recalling her experiences teaching in a community college that adopted a list of banned terms, to root out Appalachian style in written work.
Hayes questions the banned terms project and rebukes its inspiration: educator Ruby Payne's A Framework for Understanding Poverty: A Cognitive Approach (Highlands, Texas: aha! Process, 1996). Payne's work and its accompanying deficit ideology has for too long dominated linguistic pedagogy in Appalachian classrooms, to an extent that it polices dialect in a way that makes students feel stupid...