Sunday, April 1, 2007

Lu on Shaughnessy

In Min-Zhan Lu’s essay Redefining the Legacy of Mina Shaughnessy: A Critique of the Politcs of Liguistic Innocence, Lu analyzes the essentialist view of language. What one must consider is whether or not meaning can be present without a solid grasp of language. Furthermore, one may also contend that the writing process changes the meaning intended by the writer, given different styles and discourses.

Lu states that “the image of someone using words to coax meaning ‘to the surface’ suggests that meaning exists separately from and ‘at some subterranean level of language’” (107). For unskilled writers, I believe that the meaning, or “essence,” can be at a much lower level than the teacher-desired academic level. Basic writers must struggle with meaning, as well as how to convey the meaning in a manner that will do it justice. Lu challenges Shaughnessy’s dismissal of writing being a process in which meaning is created. While meaning can be created in the process, it can also be lost. I agree with Lu that as teachers, we should consider grammar as well as the meaning when assessing student writing. This is the very reason I often conduct teacher-student conferences for writing assignments. It allows me the opportunity to understand the student’s position, rather than simply making grammatical corrections that could change the “essence” of the paper.

I tend to agree with Lu’s assessment of Shaughnessy’s pedagogy, in particular that “her [Shaughnessy’s] pedagogy enacts a systematic denial of the political context of students’ linguistic decisions” (115). While some conventions should be upheld, it should not be done so at the expense of the writer’s life experience. A balance struck between the two entities can only benefit student writers, and provide a better connection between home and academic discourse.