Anthony: Greetings. I'm not sure how to jump into this dialogue. I'm
new to lists and to CASLL. Here goes an initial attempt. Apologies in
advance if it's too...whatever....
This discussion of why Canadians (or Canadians who teach writing and
rhetoric) should be interested in the attempt to dismantle Affirmative
Action in the states provokes a number of issues. As an American living,
studying and working in Canada I am deeply concerned about the
implications of dismantling Affirmative Action for the US and for Canada.
Not because it was such a great system, but because it is one of the few
checks built into an educational and social system which most definitely
privileges on the basis of race, class, and gender. I'm constantly
learning how histories and debates here in Canada resonate with and
differ from similar debates in the states. In Ontario issues that would
be discussed in the states with Affirmative Action or related discourse
seem to be discussed through the discourse of equity.
Two issues related to US affirmative Action haven't been voiced yet in
this discussion. One is that affirmative action addresses present and
historical forms of systemic educational and material oppression.
The system of funding of US schools based on neighborhood property taxes
combined with recent cuts to federal funding and neighborhood de-facto
segregation sets a foundation for inequity of schooling in the primary and
secondary schools. This foundation combined with the large scale tracking of
minority students and, to a lesser degree women, into non-College
preparatory classes prevents groups of people from access to education that
would in some cases allow them to apply to certain Universities. Jonothan
Kozol and Mike Rose have written extensively on this issue. Another issue is
that popular notion that affirmative action somehow "hurts" a supposed
majority, i.e. white males. In fact, it simply taps at their privilege.
Affirmative action says that if two candidates of equal ability and
qualifications apply, rather than giving the job or educational space to the
white male, as is still customary, one should give it to a
"minority"(male or female) or a white woman. These candidates are not less
qualified; in fact, they have often surmounted intricate forms of oppression
prior to filling out an application, thus enhancing their qualifications.
So, what does this have to do with Canada? Well, history shows us that
some pernicious popular movements that begin their creep up here. Also, in
Ontario the Conservative Government is restructuring the funding of schools
to resemble a US system based in property taxes which might increase
present inequities, for one future example. Anthony, your comment about the
popular notion that racism is an American problem seems particularly
appropriate. From my humble observation, Racism, systemic and otherwise
lives in Canada; here, it's more covert, not less powerful or pervasive
necessarily, but sometimes less visible (depending on your social location,
What I find curious, though, is not so much how Canadians might not
know particulars about issues related to US battles over Affirmative Action.
After all, you are bombarded with US imperialism and are forced to know so much
about us that it must become annoying at the very least, after a while.
Instead, I find it fascinating that a group of conscientious teachers of
writing and rhetoric could see attacks on equity as unrelated to their work.
After all, don't we, through our practice, make overt the covert forms of
discourse disciplines use in the Academy? Aren't we daily involved in the
work of making plain to students the rhetorical conventions, forms and debates
that make up academic discourse? And, if we are engaged in these types of
activities, then surely issues of equity and access relate directly to our
work on both sides of the border.
Who gets into University, what kinds of investment students have in their
writing, how they relate to the discourses (multiple, contradictory and
fragmented) used within the academy, which audiences they will write for,
and what uses they will devise for their writing, all are questions that relate
to equity, access and our work. Aren't they? What do you think?
Anthony's example of a native Canadian woman's struggle for access to McGill
seems to address this very complex problem. Any body with me on this?
> Jack: I've thought somemore about your question and I'm reminded of a
> couple of things. First, we Canadians are pretty sure that racism is
> primarily a US concern, not much practiced here in the great white
> north, so we don't really need affirmative action. This brings to mind
> the case of an extraordinary young Inuit woman who was admitted to
> McGill this year only after a concerted effort by many people who
> explained to the University that their regular standards could hardly be
> expected to measure the worth or potential of this remarkable person who
> has worked as a social worker in the ravaged (but healing) villages in
> arctic Quebec. Reluctantly, she was admitted, and given almost no
> assistance at all and held to the same requirements as all the
> well-trained students who came into McGill from via the regular routes.
> We do not have national programs in affirmative action, and though the
> education system in the north is slowly but surely staffing schools with
> teachers who have Inuktitut as their first language (with similar gains
> being made where there are sufficient numbers of First Nations people),
> we have done an abysmal job of creating conditions under which a
> productive collaboration might occur between European and indigenous
> cultures. (Ann Beer might be able to speak to this, she's been in
> Iqualuit recently). And we have a growing population of very disaffected
> people from the Caribbean area who are given no equal treatment, much
> less an "edge" up through any sort of affirmative action. But I am not
> certain of our national standards here, or even our university
> standards. McGill makes no effort to bring anyone but the "best"
> students, although i believe some effort was made to increase the number
> of women in Engineering. Anyone else out there with any info on this?
> <<< Jack Selzer <[log in to unmask]> 5/15 9:05a >>>
> Right on, Anthony.
> Incidentally, some of us south of the border are pretty ignorant--i.e.,
> me. Could you answer a question for me? Is affirmative action the law
> of the land in Canada?
> Jack Selzer
> At 8:05 AM 5/15/98 -0500, Eric Crump wrote: >Right, Anthony. And that's
> pretty much why I forwarded the news about US >legislation to a Canadian
> forum. Didn't mean to offend anyone, but I did >mean to imply that the
> issues being dealt with by US politicians are >relevant for all and that
> what the US Congress does might have some >influence elsewhere (whether
> we like it or not, it does; and many US >citizens aren't any happier
> about that fact than you are ;) > >A head's up, was all it was. An
> attempt to let ya know what's afoot down >here, fwiw. > >--Eric Crump
> [log in to unmask] Jack Selzer, Professor of English Department of English
> Penn State University University Park, PA 16802 Phone: 814-865-0251
> fax: 814-863-7285