Honoring "Students’ Right to Their Own Language" in a New Era: PWR and the Power of Cultural Rhetorics
The most enduring policy document of our leading intellectual and professional organization, the Conference on College Composition and Communication was ratified nearly 50 years ago, in April 1974. That document, “Students’ Right to Their Own Language,” identifies students’ “patterns and varieties of language” as a fundamental right that writing instructors must honor—and must have the “experiences and training” that will enable them to do so.
In PWR, we believe deeply in the mandate that the Students’ Right document places on those of us who teach writing and speaking, and in interrogating what it means to honor its spirit in this moment well into the 21st century. As an academic program, we invest deeply in our own ongoing intellectual development—in gaining the experiences and training that will enable us to respect the language gifts students bring to us, and we have been working diligently to offer students greater opportunities to study and appreciate multiple language and rhetorical traditions.
To act on these aims, we have launched an exciting new curricular initiative, a Notation in Cultural Rhetorics. You have likely heard about this Notation in other spaces, including the PWR Newsletter: it is a series of courses that students can select to help them gain experience and skills in communicating with diverse audiences, and opportunities to study how all communicative efforts are shaped by cultural contexts. These “cultures” may be those of the workplace, or advocacy efforts, or of educational institutions; and they may be those of particular groups of people whose collective identities have led to distinct language practices and traditions. You can learn more about the Notation and the courses students can take as a part of it here.
I share this update with you about PWR’s work on this new Notation and why we are using the Students’ Right to Their Own Language as a guide to our work in teaching students to be strategic, thoughtful and ethical communicators in their coursework at Stanford and in their lives after they graduate to invite you into this long-term inquiry with us. How can we build approaches to teaching academic writing and scholarly discourse that move beyond monocultural framings of “Standard English”? How can we build approaches to higher education that are worthy of all of our students, that invite them to be partners in knowledge-making and knowledge sharing, embracing multiple rhetorical traditions as sources of strength? How can we create and improve conditions for civic dialogue in our increasingly multicultural society where we can reason through difficult conversations in the pursuit of greater good? How can we all help to improve possibilities for healthy, deliberative democracy domestically and prepare students (and each other) for lives as global citizens?
Honoring the wide range of language use, of the discursive and rhetorical traditions that we all bring to any communicative effort is a start toward those lofty aims, and our Notation in Cultural Rhetorics is part of PWR’s commitment to the long-term work. I ask you to join us in exploring the power and possibility that broadening our understandings of rhetoric holds for us as students and citizens.
Adam J. Banks