A few weeks ago I read a blog post by Linda Martin Alcoff titled “The Problem of Speaking for Others.” She is a professor, a teacher, just like us. She can relate to our need and aspiration to better represent diversity in our classrooms. Below is my reaction to her piece, some quotes I found interesting, and a few concepts I struggled with.
“In particular, the practice of privileged persons speaking for or on behalf of less privileged persons has actually resulted (in many cases) in increasing or reinforcing the oppression of the group spoken for.”- Linda Martín Alcoff
This is important for everyone to understand, including myself and other teachers. People live their day-to-day lives without seeing the effect they have on others or how they many are perceived by those around them.
Why is this true? Why is it that if someone of more privilege wants to help those in need it is sometimes flipped and used for the opposite effect? Are people always looking out for their own self-interest? I am still curious about these questions, but I do not think all of it is true. Good things happen every day, and it is a reminder that many people will look out for others despite their own interests. Take teaching for example. It is our job to stand up for those who may be oppressed. It is our job to create a welcoming and diverse community for our students.
“Sometimes, as Loyce Stewart has argued, we do need a ‘messenger’ to advocate for our needs.” – Linda Martín Alcoff
Messengers are the people who seek to do good with their privilege. Teachers are messengers. As a future educator, I need to be more aware and allow myself to be a messenger. Yes, there are many instances when people use their privilege to hurt those less fortunate than them. I would not say speaking for others is always a bad thing, but speaking with others creates a more cohesive experience. It does not put one person above another, but instead, creates the feeling of equality. For example, as a teacher we must speak with our students. Take advice from Paulo Freire and his idea of critical pedagogy. We are all students, and no one is higher than another. Teachers must use authority to help students.
Martín Alcoff quotes, “how narrowly should we draw the categories?” Categories are important, but they should not be the deciding factor of who can and cannot speak. Men should be able to speak for women and their rights. Someone who is white should be able to speak for African-Americans and their rights. Teacher should be able to speak for and with students. It takes a coalition of people, all different kinds of people, to make a difference. These people are messengers for others, and their words are important.
This matters to me because I have privilege. I was born into privilege and have been living my life with it. I need to realize to speak with people and use my privilege to help others. I would be lying if I said it isn’t difficult at times. However, I need to remember it is not just about me. It needs to be about everyone and I should work to ease the distance between privilege and oppression.
“I agree, then, that we should strive to create wherever possible the conditions for dialogue and the practice of speaking with and to rather than speaking for others.” – Linda Martín Alcoff
Words to consider:
The second reading I analyzed was..
“What We Read: The Literary Canon and The Curriculum after the Culture Wars” by David H. Richter. This was found in a larger book, “Falling into Theory: Conflicting Views on Reading Literature.” In this chapter, he gives teachers some advice.
“Schools not only train the young in the specific information and skills they need to operate in a utilitarian society under capitalism; they also reproduce the structure of that society by creating young heirs to take their places within the social hierarchy”– David H. Richter
I am going to be a teacher. I am going to educate the future and have an impact on the next generation. Because I hold such an important part in this upbringing and value making it is important for me to understand everything Richter is trying to tell us. Don’t teach books just because they are classic or part of the status quo of lesson plans, but think outside the box.
“The more one learns about literary history, the clearer it becomes that however fundamental these judgments were, they were not permanent at all; they were very much the judgments of a particular age.”- David H. Richter
Find books that represent everyone, books that are mirrors into the readers’ lives and windows into others’ lives.
“Apart from relatively few white male Christian heterosexuals of Western European descent, most American readers belong to at least one of the special-interest groups engaged in ‘identity politics’.”- David H. Richter
Unless a person fits into all of these categories, they will likely not be well represented by old books and the canon. Because of this, changes need to be made, “but the canon has not altered as much as one would expect given the rapid changes in society over the past half-century” (Richter, p. 125). It is our responsibility to be brave and change the canon, change the curriculum. We must look for books that represent a variety of different students written by a variety of different authors. It may be time to throw away the old, not because they are bad examples of literature, but because the lessons no longer pertain to the current generation. We cannot continue to live in the past. Everyone, every student, and every person deserves to see himself or herself in literature.
Words to consider:
- Mirrors and windows