Cedric Burrows

Jan 26, 2021

The Construction of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X in Composition Textbooks

Rereading Readers

2011

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This is part of our Special Series on Malcolm X and Black Nationalism. In this series, we delve into the background of Malcolm X's action and thought in the context of Black Nationalism, correcting the fundamentally mistaken notion that Malcolm X was a civil rights leader. He certainly did not see himself in that way, and explicitly argued otherwise. This helps us place the Afro-American struggle in its dimensions beyond the current American nation-state, including the Black Atlantic, and beyond.

Today, our guest is Cedric Burrows, author of The Construction of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X in Composition Textbooks: Rereading Readers, which was his Ph.D. Dissertation at the University of Kansas, available online.

While scholars have written about the use of textbooks in writing courses, little attention is paid to how textbooks anthologize writers, especially women and people of color. This study examines the portrayal of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X in composition textbook anthologies known as Readers, and sheds light on the ways Readers incorporate writers from African-American backgrounds.

Through qualitative methods, Burrows analyzes how King and Malcolm X are anthologized in five popular Readers: The Bedford Reader, Rereading America, Patterns for College Writing, The Conscious Reader, and A World of Ideas.

By intertwining the historical-critical method and narratives from my own experiences teaching Malcolm X and King from a Reader, Burrows analyzes the embedded cultural meanings in the biographical headnotes, the selection, and the discussion questions in the Readers.

The results show that Readers tend to: (1) narrate King's and Malcolm X's biographies according to popular narratives in society; (2) provide little or inaccurate historical context to ground the selections; (3) alter the original sources of King and Malcolm X's text; and (4) format King and Malcolm X's rhetoric according to the Western rhetorical tradition while ignoring the African-American dimensions in their rhetoric.

Burrows concludes by discussing how Readers are part of a larger issue within the educational system.

Kirk Meighoo is Public Relations Officer for the United National Congress, the Official Opposition in Trinidad and Tobago. His career has spanned media, academia, and politics for three decades.

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Kirk Meighoo

Kirk Meighoo is Public Relations Officer for the United National Congress, the Official Opposition in Trinidad and Tobago. His career has spanned media, academia, and politics for three decades.

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