A Brief Comment on Sirc’s “Box-Logic”

When Sirc admits that “for most of my career as a composition instructor, I was uncomfortable with my status as an academic gatekeeper” (126), I empathize with him.  Many of my students (both ESL and American-born) are non-standard English speakers, and insisting that they somehow demonstrate mastery of the mainstream academic discourse in order to pass my writing classes has always felt like a careful balancing act.  How do I value their home languages and still teach the standard that academia requires?

I often tell my students at the beginning of the semester something similar to what Hans Haacke says: “You have to be part of the system in order to participate in a public discourse” (126), even though I think it can sometimes be a bitter pill to swallow.  I try to put a positive spin on the whole academic essay writing process, insisting that by using this “school language”, students are simply adding to their linguistic repertoires, making themselves more “marketable”, able to communicate in a rich variety of contexts, more well-rounded…but now I wonder if it’s all just a bunch of disingenuous blather.   Typically, the students lacking the cultural capital that allows them to participate in the traditional definition of the dominant academic discourse do not pass.  Gatekeeping is an emotionally draining task.

But now I am wondering if there is a compromise.  Sirc asserts that “as curators of academic, then, we can exploit the possibilities of our status, exposing students to a range of culturally valid forms as well as non-mainstream content; in doing so, we provide our audience with a host of possibilities for worlds and form to inhabit”(126-7).  I’m interested in the possibilities that box-logic might offer to my writing students.

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