Interesting education posts.

Discriminations has a post called Change= Dumber Graduates. It is commentary on the social responsibility of higher education.

Aggregating Content is a 21st Century Skill links around the net on the question of what exactly we should be teaching our students now.

Socioeconomics matter. The article is on how privileged children excel, even in low performing schools. I think a lot of that is vocabulary, access to the formal register, and a support system for doing well in school.

Friendship and academics

This is related, again, to generational poverty and what that means to our students.

Generational poverty effects the students’ likelihood of getting good grades.  Getting good grades within generational poverty means that you lose your friends.

A Constrained Vision has a series of quotes from Roland Fryer on “acting white”, meaning getting good grades and how that effects the number of friends you have.

low grades = no effect on friendship
higher grades (for whites) = more popularity
higher grades (for blacks) = same number of friends at 2.9
higher grades (for Hispanics) = least number of friends

Found somewhere on the net.  (Sorry, I didn’t mark where.)

Our students may have a different culture from us.

african-women-samburu_tribeOur students may have a different culture than we do, but it may not be as visible as the differences as the picture of these women of the Samburu tribe show. It may not be visible at all. But it could still be there.

Most college professors came from the middle class or the upper class. There are very few college professors who came from generational poverty. But many students, especially in the community colleges but even in large universities, come from generational poverty and are attempting to escape from it. They recognize that education is essential, even when they don’t know how education “works.”

As teachers, we can also be the facilitators for their entry into the academic community, by making clear what the mores and customs are. Why do we need to do that? Because they aren’t from our America. They didn’t grow up learning these things.

Dr. Ruby K. Payne grew up middle class and married someone from generational poverty. In an attempt to better understand her husband she did her graduate research on the differences between the classes. As a result of that, she is the leading expert in the US on the mindsets of generational poverty, middle class, and wealth.

Some notes from Ruby Payne:

“Hidden rules are unspoken cues and habits of a group. Distinct cueing systems exist between and among groups and economic classes. Generally in America this notion is clearly recognized for racial and ethnic groups but not for economic class” (58).

“When there are limited material things, and life is about survival, then virtually the only possession one has is people. And when people become possessions, the rules change. That’s why the physical fights over people are so intense- the person is a possession. That’s why being educated is often feared in generational poverty because when people get educated they usually leave [emphasis mine-ed.]. That’s why the put-downs for getting training or getting educated are so intense from those who come out of generational poverty” (60).

She means here that it the put-downs are intense toward the people who are getting educated or getting the training from the people who are not doing those things, if the two sets of people are in generational poverty. I would argue that it is the main reason students from low SES groups drop out of college. First generation immigrants from Asian countries do not, for example, because their culture is different, not because their families are richer.

“Six aspects of language affect the ability of a person to ‘listen’ in the workplace: verbal/non-verbal, concrete to abstract, language registers, discourse patterns, story structure, and ability to formulate questions” (90).

If our students have different verbal and non-verbal cues and ways of listening, if they do not understand our examples because of the ways we tell stories, and they can’t formulate questions as we do, they are in trouble. We can help them. We just have to know what their issues are.

“In poverty, the most important information tends to be conveyed non-verbally” (91).

“.. the structure of a story is different, depending on the use of casual or formal register. In formal register, a story is told from the beginning ot the end with cause, effect, and sequence by time. The story revolves around a plot- what happened. In casual register (this is what is used in gossip), one starts at the end first. Then episodes or vignettes are shared, along with spontaneous comments from the listeners” (95).

Our students may write a narrative in the casual register, especially if they are from generational poverty, because that is how stories are told in their experience. If we want them to tell them a different way, we need to be explicit about the rules.

Payne, Ruby K. and Don L. Krabill. Hidden Rules of Class at Work. Highlands, TX: aha! Process, Inc., 2002.

Some notes not from Payne:
It is not common for class-disadvantaged students to take advantage of the learning tool that the internet can be (Rothbaum, Martland, and Jannsen).     

Rothbaum, Fred, Nancy Martland, and Joanne Beswick Jannsen. “Parents’ Reliance on the Web to Find Information about Children and Families: Socio-economic Differences in Use, Skills and Satisfaction.” Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology 29.2 (March 2008): 118-28.


The key to effective cross-cultural communication is knowledge. First, it is essential that people understand the potential problems of cross-cultural communication, and make a conscious effort to overcome these problems. Second, it is important to assume that one’s efforts will not always be successful, and adjust one’s behavior appropriately.

For example, one should always assume that there is a significant possibility that cultural differences are causing communication problems, and be willing to be patient and forgiving, rather than hostile and aggressive, if problems develop. One should respond slowly and carefully in cross-cultural exchanges, not jumping to the conclusion that you know what is being thought and said

from the University of Colorado

What is the culture of poverty?

According to one of Ruby Payne’s books, a simplistic description of the three socioeconomic classes can be made regarding food.

food-bowlPoor people ask if you had enough, because often there is not enough. So portions are the big thing in poverty.



bread-pilesMiddle class people ask if you like it, because there is always enough. So the subjective response to it is the big thing in the middle class.



plated-foodRich people expect their food to be beautifully plated, because there is always enough and if you don’t like it you can have something else. So presentation is the main focus in the upper class.



This particularly resonates with me because I did grow up poor, even though I don’t feel like I grew up in a culture of poverty. And that situation has effected my family’s life ever since.

When I was growing up poor…

We often did not have enough food to eat to feel full. When we would sit down together to eat (usually at night), my father would save his food. If we finished and wanted more, he would give us his dinner. Since we were young, we did not know he was hungry too. Instead we assumed he didn’t want his food. And we gladly raced through our meal to get his or part of his, too.

eating-sandwichI do remember that we sometimes had odd foods in the house. I remember eating spoonfuls of brown sugar because that was all that was in the house and I was hungry. I was ten or eleven at the time. We often had ketchup sandwiches for lunch. Back then condiments and luncheon meats were very cheap. For Thanksgiving and Christmas we would have mac & cheese with fried baloney.

Long term impact

Long term that has meant that my family tends to make too much. Two days ago I fixed my husband a plate of food and he said, “Hey, that’s a normal sized meal.” We’ve been married twenty years and it is the first time (or at least one of the few) that I have recognized a regular portion size.

My family often didn’t have enough food, so we usually make far more than necessary when we eat. Even my baby sister who was four does this to some extent, even though she is now in the upper class and was at least upper middle class from age eight to eighteen.

Poor versus Poverty: Two Different Cultures

When I wrote about the cultural aspects of teaching in my Computers and Writing proposal, I was not talking about poverty per se. People can be poor without being part of the culture of poverty. But when I talk about low SES students and their culture, I am talking about those who are part of that culture.

What is the difference?

I grew up poor.

My parents married when my mother was a sophomore in high school and my father was a junior in college. He was also homeless and living in his car.

When I was little my father was a college student and went to school 21 hours a semester and worked 50 hours a week at minimum wage jobs. My mother worked on the weekends when my father was home to take care of the children.

My mother got pregnant with me because the doctor insisted that a girl as young as she was could not get pregnant and refused to give her birth control. But since my three siblings, all born before my mother turned 25, were all born on birth control of various types, it is doubtful that birth control would have helped.

Our family had five people in it and lived in a one bedroom apartment. My brother and I slept on couches in the living room. I was going through the trash in our apartment complex and found a pair of shoes that would fit my father, brand new in a box. He wore them to work for the next few years. I was five or six at the time.

We often did not have enough food to eat to feel full. My mother always said we weren’t poor because we always had something to eat. But I remember many times being hungry. And I remember the rare times when I was full after a meal, usually at my grandmother’s house on the farm. She used to worry because I didn’t eat much meat when she fixed it. Dad never told her it was because I wasn’t used to eating meat; he just said it was okay because I ate some of it.

When I was 12, my father got a significant pay raise and I never remember going hungry after that. My sisters, who were four and eight at the time, do not remember much of the poor years at all.

Despite the fact that I grew up poor, I did not grow up in the culture of poverty.

First of all, education was valued.

My father was a college student when I was born and attended law school after that. While neither of his parents had even completed high school, they had six children five of whom got college degrees because education was worth getting. It would get you off the farm and out of back-breaking labor that came without a guarantee of profit.

While my father’s parents had a third and eighth grade education, my mother’s parents both had college degrees. My grandmother, in fact, earned her master’s at Berkeley in the 30s. While my mother never got her college degree, she did attend several colleges while we moved around the country following my father’s career.

There was value seen in going to college, in making something better of yourself.

My parents did not teach me to read at home, but we always had books in the house and reading was valued. My father would come home from work and take my brother and me to the library. We would leave carrying as many books as our arms would hold. If we finished them all, he would take a break from work to take us to the library again to return them and get more. For several years my brother and I read eight to ten books a day.

In our house, the teacher was always right (even when she was wrong) and our job was to learn as much as we could. My father even stated it that way. “I go to work. You go to school. I do my job. You do yours.”

My parents encouraged us to do well in school, to go to college, to get a degree. One of their mantras when I was growing up was, “Don’t get married until you finish college.” It was assumed that I (that we) would go to college.

Second, the individual was valued over the group.

My extended family valued the individual. My father’s parents told their children to “make something” of themselves. My mother’s parents firmly believed that a person could improve their lot in life.

My mom was the first stay-at-home mother in her family in four generations, maybe more. She was countercultural to her family and chose to (mostly) stay home at a time when women were leaving the homes in droves to find fulfillment in their work. While she made odd choices (to them), the family valued her for her choices.

There are other differences between being poor and having a culture of poverty. But these two serve to illustrate the values and experience that I grew up with.

While I grew up poor, I did not grow up a child of poverty. I had mentors in my parents who had been there before me.

My parents went to college. They expected us to go, too.

My father worked hard to improve his lot in life. By the time they retired, my father was an executive in a multinational corporation. He had overcome his own background to succeed. And he showed us how to do that as well.

This is a departure from my normal topics of discussion on this blog. I hope regular readers will not be turned away by this soul baring information on my family. It was an attempt to discuss my background in relation to the online conference topic.

Computers and Writing: Blog posts already noted

This is how I am looking at/writing about/thinking of my topic for my Computers and Writing presentation. I am blogging a process here.

Since the topic is one which has been of interest to me for a while, I have multiple articles already noted or written on this blog (identified with a TCE: at the beginning). These are articles which are pertinent to where I am going/want to go with the paper.

technical_writingArticles which are relevant to my Computers and Writing topic:

College for the Underclass
This is a blog post written by a member of the underclass about how she went to college, what she expected from it, and how she veered significantly off the expected path and became a college professor. It is well worth reading, especially if you have no personal experience with being an early person in your family to go to college.

TCE: Rethinking the Value of a College Degree is a post worth looking at, especially in light of the above article, which emphasizes that low SES and underclass students are coming to college to get better jobs.

TCE: An informal discussion of how computer use can be made accessible, particularly for students who are from a low socioeconomic background.

TCE: Class-Based Value Differences

TCE: Notes on student retention
Student retention is an important concept for all college students, but it is especially important when talking about low socioeconomic status students.

TCE: 7 Specific Strategies for Student Retention in the English Classroom

TCE: Why is Student Retention Important to Teachers?

TCE: Bad News for Community Colleges and the students that attend them.

This is especially important to look at since many low SES students go to community colleges, because they are near home and are less expensive than other colleges.

Study into relationship between physical environment and pupils’ attainment and behavioroffers something to think about.

The report’s chief author, Katy Owen, says she found that urban decay could “easily impact upon pupils and their teachers”. She says: “They may demonstrate poor behaviour in the classroom, have low self-esteem, little appetite for educational attainment and have little cultural or social capital to draw on. Their teachers may become disillusioned and frustrated with their limited ability to teach in a community where crime and incivility is rife.”

TCE: The Ugly Stepsister- Rhetoric

TCE: Good links on low SES status students

TCE: Community Colleges

Are Community Colleges Losing Touch with their Communities?

Bad News for CCs

90% of students who start at a community college don’t finish college.

Is this because of community colleges? Or is it because the students starting at a community college aren’t actually able to finish?

 Most students who do well in high school don’t go on to a community college. The students who typically go to a community college are either

  1. those who struggled in high school, who goofed off, who skipped school, who didn’t do their work. If they have not had a major attitude change, they’re going to do the same thing in a CC and they aren’t going to graduate.
  2. those who struggled in high school because they did not have sufficient skills. Their skill levels are not going to automatically improve just because they are going to college. They need remediation and they need tutoring. These are available, but they will have to avail themselves of it.

A study in a Boston Globe article, as reported on The College Puzzle, said

2-students-big1Students attending two-year community colleges-the least-expensive option-fared the worst in the survey by the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University, with an abysmal 12 percent graduation rate.

Seven out of 10 public school graduates may get into college, but many lack the preparation to succeed. At Bunker Hill, for example, more than 80 percent of the Boston students from the class of 2000 required a remedial math course.

In this study, a student merely needed to earn a diploma or certificate from any institution of higher education, not just the original college. And by providing at least a six-year window, the study made allowances for students who often juggle college with work or family obligations. Rationalizations are now off the table.

A couple of thoughts: First, is it the college’s fault if the students need remediation when they arrive? Or maybe, to what extent is the college responsible for remediation?

If 80% of the students need remediation, then they are trying to go to college without adequate skills. Perhaps we should quit encouraging everyone to go to college.

My brother-in-law did not go to college. He has a good job in management because he learned how to manage people and he is a conscientious worker. (And he got a job with a company that rewards those things.)

If he had gone to college, he would have been one of those students needing remediation and not passing. My husband, from the same family, actually did better in college than he did in high school.

The more I read studies like these, the more I wonder why we as Americans feel it is important to send our kids to school. In the old days people apprenticed. That was like school, only different. As an apprentice you would learn your job and do it. (Or at least it was to be hoped you would.) Were there a lot of failures in those days that we just don’t hear about because they died young? got run over by a horse? or something equally removing-them-from-the-gene-pool?

The [most successful community] college also offers so-called “nested semesters” that allow students to take accelerated courses over 10- or even 5-week periods in addition to the traditional 15-week schedule. The faster pace creates a sense of urgency missing on many campuses. Minority students, who make up 42 percent of the student body, appear to fare especially well at Quincy College. Black and Hispanic graduation rates for a recent class, says Harris, outstripped that of Asian students.

This is an interesting idea and I am going to pass it on to my dean and president.

I wonder why the Asian students were outstripped. What about the shorter, more intense courses, courted Hispanic and black culture, while putting aside Asian culture? That’s an interesting question. I wonder if it would hold up through a second study or a similar program somewhere else.

No one believes that ill-prepared urban students will suddenly cruise through college. But any college that can’t help at least half to the finish line needs to reexamine what value it is adding to the educational experience.

Again, I may be negative, but why is it the college’s job to get the students through?

I guess I have a different view of the responsibility of students and colleges.

What is the role of the college?

I think the college should provide remediation. It should provide qualified teachers. It should provide technology so that the students can learn that aspect of American culture. It should encourage students. It should make sure students are not trying to swim out of their depth, by taking too many classes or classes for which they are not yet prepared.

It has NO responsibility for students graduating.

Now, if the short terms are good for students, they will also be good for colleges. The colleges will retain more students if the students are doing well. Student retention, though not the job of the college, is a goal of the college. They want to retain as many students as they can reasonably do.

But I know that many schools have watered down their programs. The classes are light. And they are doing this in an attempt to get the students to pass. What’s the use of passing if there was nothing rigorous?

bw-hand-writingDoes it do a student any good to get out of freshman composition and be unable to write an essay exam? No, it does not. They will have essay exams and they will need to do well on them to continue on in their education.

But we water our courses down at the CC in order to “help” more of our students through.

Students rise to a challenge and sink to the lowest common denominator thinking.

The Ugly Stepsister: Rhetoric

 Joseph Kugelmass wrote an insightful article for Inside Higher Ed entitled “Stop Using Rhetoric to Teach Writing.”

He says that after five years of teaching composition, he feels it is a mistake to make Aristotelian rhetoric the foundation of writing instruction.

My first thought, sophist that I am, was: Perhaps Quintillian rhetoric would be better?

Then I thought of the minimal rhetoric I have seen taught in composition courses. I would expect since he argues against it that he has seen quite a bit of it. I have not.

Kugelmass makes some interesting points about audience; logos, ethos, and pathos; and advertising. But for me, the pivotal quote was:

The field of rhetoric ought to remain a discipline in its own right, instead of becoming simply another word for using language, and as a discipline it is not broad enough to cover all the moments of aesthetic discovery and delight that initiate students into the writer’s world.

Obviously as a PhD with a first field in Rhetoric and Composition, I have a horse in the race.

I agree with him that rhetoric ought to remain a discipline in its own right. It did not for quite some time in American educational history and I hope rhetoric never again disappears from our universities.

In addition, I agree that rhetoric should not become another word for using language. Nor should it, as it has to some extent, be used to identify specific types of constructions. (Rhetorical questions?)

And I agree with him as well that rhetoric is not wide enough to cover all the beauty in writing.

cinderellaBUT to me the implication is that rhetoric and its study does not add enough to writing instruction to warrant its inclusion. This, I feel, is a serious error.

While it is true that students speak to their parents differently than they speak to their friends, many students do not yet understand the different audiences of work and academia when they come to our classes.

Yes, probably the students Kugelmass teaches at prep school do. That is part of their home life.

But many students who are struggling in college are struggling because their home life did not prepare them for the different culture, the different expectations, and the different rhetorics used outside their home. This is where English teachers, rhetoricians in particular, can offer a significant value-add.

Looking at logos, pathos, and ethos and how it operates across different cultures could be very helpful for many of our students. Discussing when and where to use them specifically could make a difference to them as well. And identifying what establishes credibility for different audiences would also be helpful.

For instance, in some cultures relationship is the main point of credibility. Students from those cultures attempt to develop a relationship within the writing that moves them away from the typically logical and external writing that academia prefers. They don’t understand why they have lost points, why “you” and “I” are unacceptable, and how they are not meeting the expectations for the composition.