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Why I Teach: A Half-Drunk Adjunct Lecturer’s Introduction to Masculine Western Rhetoric for Beginners First Year Composition: Approach[es] to College Writing

by | Apr 15, 2015 | Archives

Lorie Hamalian is a professor in the English department at California State University - Northridge

Welcome, students. Let me start by saying first that I read all of your diagnostic essays in response to the question, “Why is college important?” and I was really inspired and impressed with how driven you all are. I am now also aware of all of the different positions and backgrounds that you’re coming from. It inspired me to tell you a little bit about myself as well.

Many of you wrote that college is important to you because you want your intelligence and skills to be taken “seriously,” and for that, you need a degree. We all think that we need a degree to be taken “seriously,” but what does that really mean? What are the real implications of that? I myself am an American-born Armenian, and my parents emigrated from Lebanon during the civil war. They were not able to go to college. All of my life I have seen them be dismissed, their intelligence, skills, and talents overlooked because of their appearance, background, class status, accent, age, gender, and the list goes on.

I, on the other hand, had the privilege (and this word will come up a lot in our lessons) of being raised here, attending an American University, and becoming a Master of standard American English, literature, and rhetoric. So my parents taught me things that you can never learn in college, and I teach them things you can only learn in college. A mastery of the English language, western rhetoric and argumentation, grammar, sentence structure, I teach them all of these things so that they can navigate, have a voice, and succeed in a country that has proven itself to be racist, sexist, classist, ageist, homophobic, superficial, the list goes on. Basically, if you are not a light-complected, wealthy, American-born Christian male in this country, the odds are already stacked against you.

When people ask me what I do for a living, the typical response is, “Oh, that’s amazing, that you can write and speak properly! I just HATE it when people don’t use correct grammar and speak properly.” Oh, and my other favorite line: “But you’re really making a difference, and that has its rewards.” And my response may surprise you. I am not a single, quirky, white, female super-teacher whose unique and “unconventional” pedagogy “saves” the ne’er do wells from the wrong side of the tracks. I am sleep-deprived, hung over, and just as bored as you are. I am essentially teaching you the first, shitty, boring thirty pages of a good book because you have to know them.

We are in a transitioning paradigm, where the “dominant discourse” now only serves as the necessary capital for effecting real change. This, and this alone is my reward. Maybe, I could possibly be a miniscule part of a rapidly changing America. You might be wondering: am I passionate about the material I’m teaching? Am I invested in Standard American English, Western rhetoric, and grammar? The answer is no. These things have no intrinsic value to me. I am invested in people, I am invested in students, and I choose to teach these concepts that have no value to me because they are the tools that will ultimately empower the people who do. I will teach you what we call the “dominant discourse” so that you can navigate, have a voice, and succeed in a country where the odds are (for now) stacked against you. Once you learn that, go forth and fuck shit up. Now, please put your cellphones away and get ready the underwhelming of a lifetime.

Lorie Hamalian
Lorie Hamalian is a professor in the English department at California State University - Northridge