James Paul Gee a linguistics professor at Arizona state university wrote a paper on his theories of discourse. A discourse is the idea of language being more than just what a person is saying and using correct grammar. Instead it is a combination of saying, doing, valuing, believing, and being these five combinations is what makes up a discourse. Lisa Delpit is another Linguist who wrote about discourse after reading Gee’s paper and has different views on discourse than he does. Although both of them have many disagreements on the subject of discourse Delpit seems never to disagree with Gee and his ideas of non dominant discourses and their benefits. In Gee’s paper he explains a non dominant discourse to be a discourse that “brings solidarity with a particular social network”. What he is saying is that non dominant discourses allow a person to build relationships among their social groups. Gee also talks about dominant discourses and their benefits that they can bring in comparison to non dominant ones. In a dominant discourse Gee claims that they can be used to acquire “social goods” things such as money, prestige, and status.

In literature you can find many examples that show the benefits of non dominant discourse. One of the better examples is the film Dead Poets Society. Mr. Keating one of the main characters in the film struggles with the conflict of a non dominant and dominant discourse throughout the story. Using Gee’s definition of non dominant and dominant discourse it is easy to identify them in the film. The non dominant discourse Keating has is his relationship with his students because he is trying to build up a solidarity with a certain social group. And the dominant one is his career as a teacher at the school because it gives him the social goods that a dominant discourse does like his paycheck and the prestige of being a teacher at a good school. For Keating the two discourses conflict throughout the entire film. It is clear to see though through certain scenes that the non dominant discourse he has with his students is much more beneficial to him because of how it benefits his students than the money and prestige that comes with his career.

The first day of class that Keating has with his students he makes them take out their textbooks on poetry and begin to read the first chapter aloud, similar to what other teachers that the students have would make them do. To make a point though Keating has the students rip out the the pages of the first chapter to tell his students that there is no set formula for poetry. This is an important part of the scene where Keating introduces a new discourse towards writing, but more importantly begins to build a non dominant discourse with his students getting them to trust and value what he is teaching. The way that Keating teaches and his different classroom environment is more relatable to the students in a way they like. It is easy to see in the scene because they are enjoying ripping out the pages of the book. This is what Gee is talking about with non dominant discourse. Keating’s discourse of teaching and classroom environment is well liked by his students which gains him influence on the social group starting a new non dominant discourse between him and his students. Another interesting part to this scene is towards the end where Keating slips into the back of the classroom to fetch trash can for all the torn out pages and another teacher walks by seeing the students ripping out pages in their textbooks. Enraged the teacher burst into the room about to yell when he sees Keating with a trash can for the students. This interaction between the two teachers is when Keating first experiences conflict between the dominant and non dominant discourse.

In a later scene Keating sits next to the very same teacher that saw his class tearing out the pages of their textbooks at dinner and they have a disagreement about it. The teacher opposing Keating clearly in the scene does not understand his teaching methods and the importance of having a good relationship with his students or “solidarity with a social network” as Gee would put it. I would like to think Delpit would agree with Keating while watching this scene basing off what she writes in her paper. In one of her examples to disprove Gee’s thoughts on conflicting discourses she writes about a graduate student who does not know how to write to the academic standards of a graduate student, but is taught by Susan another graduate student who has already mastered the discourse. Although Delpit is not directly talking about non dominant discourses in her example the relationship or non dominant discourse is important between Susan and Marge in order for Marge to acquire the discourse of academic writing at that level. I think Delpit would agree that this is what Keating is trying to do with his students form a good relationship with them so he can connect and help his students better learn.

One of the most memorable and famous scenes in the film is at the end of the movie. It is when Keating has just been fired from his job. The students are in what should have been the class that Keating teaches when he walks in to get some things out of his office. The headmaster who fired him is temporally teaching the class and allows him to get his things. The class is obviously upset in the scene but no one says anything in fear of getting in trouble with the headmaster. It is not until Keating is about to walk out the door when one of his students, Todd stood up on the desk and said, “oh captain my captain.” Then the other students followed after Todd doing the same thing. Even though Keating was fired from his job he was able to accomplish his mission in teaching them a new discourse. He would not have been able to accomplish this goal without forming the non dominant discourse that he did with his students.

Throughout the film and examples in Delpit’s paper it is clear to see the benefits of non dominant discourses. The benefits of a non dominant discourse is the benefits of building relationships with people or groups of people. For Keating his relationship with his students taught them a life lesson that they will never forget and changed them forever.  

Works Cited

Gee, James Paul, and Judith L. Green. “Discourse Analysis, Learning, and Social Practice: A Methodological Study.” Review of Research in Education, vol. 23, 1998, pp. 119–169. www.jstor.org/stable/1167289.

Delpit, Lisa. “The politics of teaching literate discourse.” Freedom’s plough: Teaching in the multicultural classroom (1993): 285-295.https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=Optz7IO4o1MC&oi=fnd&pg=PA285&dq=Lsia+Delpit+The+Politics+of+Teaching+Literate+Discourse+&ots=lwBbai9O_z&sig=jU3JuMGJ4eL6ysy0JA9MqUSTmM4#v=onepage&q&f=false