Brodkey’s “Writing on the Bias”

I’ve got a new found admiration for this essay, which really impressed me back in 1994 but still seems fresh and relevant, especially when trying to teach future teachers how to teach writing.  They, like I, will probably feel compelled to teach introductions, conclusions, how to make a transition, but Brodkey says “To write is to find words that explain what can be seen from an angle of vision, the limitations of which determine a wide or narrow bias, but not the lack of one.”  Wow.  And she follows that up with “Writing is about following a bias that cuts against the grain because, like sewing, writing recognizes the third dimension of seemingly two-dimensional material.”

If I take this advice / wisdom, and if my students take this advice/wisdom, we won’t take an “objective” historical view on our literacy development (or the literacy development of others). We will look at that development through a bias of race, class, gender (a theory), or an experience, where all of literacy development is looked at through a particular experience–the transformational one, the central book or sponsor, the damaging or constraining event.  And taking on this bias is what adds the third dimension, so that as I tell my story of helping a Somali family resettle, and trying to help them “get connected” with a computer, my bias is my own “illiteracy,” my own inability to unravel the complexity of 21st century literacies looked at through the eyes of recent refugees who have little or no experience with computers.  I was shocked when I learned they threw the computer out, after all the time and energy I spent trying to acquire it, update it, get it working for them, collect peripherals, and show them around.  I was stymied by how they locked themselves and me out of the operating system; I was frustrated by my inability to get them back in, triumphant when I installed Ubuntu, but defeated by the eventual junking of the machine.

But when I stopped by on Friday, and their living room was in perfect minimalist order, no computer, no peripherals, no furniture of any kind except a tiny little stand with a tiny little TV on top, I felt a calmness restored and the chaos I introduced swept away.


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