Revolution Lullabye

October 23, 2006

Consensus, Knowledge, and Reality (a reading of this week’s readings)

Filed under: Uncategorized — by revolutionlullabye @ 2:19 am

Both my “assigned” reading for this week and our conversations this weekend have made me think over anew some ideas I have been churning in my mind lately, and so I offer up my post.

Some formalities to begin:

Myers, Greg. “Reality, Consensus, and Reform in the Rhetoric of Composition Teaching.” In Cross-Talk in Comp Theory. Ed. Victor Villanueva. Urbana, Illinois: National Council of Teachers of English, 2003.

This grouping of readings, especially the one by Bizzell (“‘Contact Zones’ and English Studies”), made me think about how we are teaching composition, specifically what we are presenting in our classrooms as important texts and viewpoints to understand. Bizzell, reflecting on Mary Louise Pratt’s idea of the contact zone, says we need a model of teaching that “treats difference as an asset, not a liability” and that this model in our pedagogy and scholarship should be “not only possible, but normative” (483).

Pratt’s contact zones are the normatives (the mark of good scholarship) in a variety of disciplines. I’ll use history as an example. It is impossible to understand the complexity and therefore the reality of the Cold War without understanding all the competing political and social forces at play. You must give democracy its due. You also must give communism its say. Capitalism, Catholicism, agnosticism, anarchism, nationalism – they all must speak and be represented in the academic Cold War debate so that scholars might understand that historical moment. We must read “all the texts as brought to the contact zone, for the purpose of communicating across cultural boundaries” (484). She makes clear that it is our duty to let all voices be heard, to reach outside the canon into the corpus to resurrect lost and ignored arguments. Failing to do so is not only being intellectually dishonest, but also denying reality.

So it concerns me that when it comes to today – modern issues and modern times – we do not hold to the same standard. Particularly this weekend, during conversation surrounding the Feminism and War Conference, I listened as people throughout the university belittled and simplified the other side of the argument. They cast it aside instead of giving it the same thought, care, and time that we’ve learned to give every other “alternate” perspective. Why should we wait fifty years until these ideas are, quite literally, history in order to consider them in their proper perspective in the academic debate.

Few could deny that there is an ideological consensus pervading at the university. As Myers (a Marxist) warns us, we must be wary of that consensus, because consensus can be created by “eliminating or at least concealing diversity and conflict.” As academics, that very idea should shock us, for it is anti-intellectual, not to mention unjust, to try to eliminate or conceal diversity. But don’t we? Don’t we consider some perspectives worthy of academic study and others not just unworthy but dumb, uninformed, and wrong? When will people in academia realize “it is the reformers who are the establishment, and the opponents they label traditionalists [who] are the outsiders”? (Myers 448) And when will the new outsiders be welcomed back into the conversation? For without true conversation – without a mutual respect for viewpoints, values, and ideologies other than your own – truthful knowledge cannot be made. When the conversation becomes a monologue and the consensus praises conformity, reality is skewed and knowledge cannot thrive.

It strikes me as ironic that I am the lone voice calling for such tolerance in the very place that champions tolerance, that has the word plastered on bulletins and posters and in every major university diversity initiative. Academics need to take it upon themselves to have a true open mind – to respect and try to understand the underlying ideologies that inform all the perspectives in a debate – because you need to consider all the arguments to construct knowledge, and academics are in the business of building knowledge.

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