Revolution Lullabye

June 23, 2009

Knoblauch and Brannon, Critical Teaching and the Idea of Literacy

Knoblauch, C.H. and Lil Brannon. Critical Teaching and the Idea of Literacy. Portsmouth: Boynton/Cook, 1993.

Knoblauch and Brannon use stories of critical literacy debates and teaching to illustrate what critical teaching of literacy at the high school and college level entails. The aim of critical teaching is transformation, of teaching students to be self-reflexive about the relationship between language and power, and of foregrounding the politics of representation: how things are named; who names them; the ignored alternatives; and the consequences of the naming act. Critical literacy draws on the theories of postmodernism, feminism, and Marxism and is interested in conscious rasing, in seeing education as part of the larger sociopolitcal world. They argue for critical teachers to unite together and to expand knowledge about the teaching of critical literarcy through a validation of teacher knowledge, inquiry, and research.

Quotable Quotes

“Critical teaching is about the willingness of people to inquire and change and make changes, to accomodate themselves to difference, to read the social world, in its complexity” (49)

Critical teaching “recongizes the political nature of education” (49).

Notable Notes

four different ways literacy is valued over time:

  1. functional literacy
  2. cultural literacy
  3. literacy for personal growth (expressivism)
  4. critical literacy (empowerment and social change)

critical education legitimizes differences in a community, is tolerant of cultural pluralism, rejects the melting pot, characterized by dialogue and negotiation, puts students as critics, not passive consumers

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June 9, 2009

Ellsworth, Why Doesn’t This Feel Empowering

Ellsworth, Elizabeth. “Why Doesn’t This Feel Empowering? Working through the Repressive Myths of Critical Pedagogy.” Harvard Educational Review 59:3 (Aug 1989) 297-324.

Ellsworth argues that teachers that believe in critical pedagogy must confront and accept unknowability, that knowledges and voices in the classroom are partial, contradictorary, and irreducable. This complexity does not negate the purpose of a critical education. Rather, accepting that complex cultural and historical issues cannot be solved in the classroom refuses to allow for oversimplification, which in itself continues to perpetuate cycles of domination and repression. The teacher must acknowledge that they have a historical, political, and cultural perspective and stake in the dialogue and discussion and allow students to name what they want to be empowered to do. Their social subjectivity makes it impossible to completely understand students’ experiences and experiences and to steer them towards discovering their “true” inner voice.

Quotable Quotes

argument: “Key assumptions, goals, and pedagogical practices fundamental to the literature on critical pedagogy – namely, ’empowerment,’ ‘student voice,’ ‘dialogue,’ and even the term ‘critical’ – are repressive myths that perpetuate relations of domination.” (298).

“What diversity do we silence in the name of ‘liberatory’ pedagogy?” (299)

“All knowings are partial, that there are fundamental things each of us cannot know.” (310)

problem with the “generic critical teacher” (310)

Notable Notes

goal of empowerment is too abstract (good of society?) – no clear, identifiable purpose

May 5, 2009

Miller, Textual Carnivals

Miller, Susan. Textual Carnivals: The Politics of Composition. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1991.

Miller argues that the future of composition lies in a new “student tradition,” a serious uptake of the student in both pedagogy and research, recasting students not as passive, error-ridden children to be corrected and sanctioned but rather as people capable of authorship and of participating in public, empowering, real discourse (200). Rearticulating who students are will result in a rearticulation in who compositionists are. She traces the history of composition from its English and American origins, questioning the field’s move to place classical rhetoric or scientific process pedagogy at its foundation because neither encompasses the whole of what composition could be and both reinforce the hegemonic privileges of the elitist university structure. She looks at how the field – and those outside of it – have constructed students, instructors, and the institutional position of writing programs and their directors. Her history takes up theories of marginality, isolation, and institutional critique/critical theory (Foucault, Bourdieu, Althusser) in psychology, sociology, anthropology, and philosophy, and for her evidence, she draws on course catalogue descriptions of English departments over the 20th century, published histories of composition (Kitzhaber, Berlin), and the 129 responses from a survey sent to current compositionists. Throughout the book, she uses the metaphor of a carnival to describe composition: a sanctioned place where unrecognized, usually invisible, “low” discourse operates inside a “high” discourse, elite institution. She wants composition to become a place where this carnival can be subverted, where revolutionary, counterhegemonic work can take place, and in order to do that, composition must break away from the given, current structure of the university to begin questioning the social, cultural, and political forces that keep it in power.

Quotable Quotes

Why did composition choose to take up freshman composition as its center? – “We cage ourselves by identifying with the freshman enterprise” (76)

Process pedagogy “stabilized a field that originally was a loosely connected set of untheorized practices claiming origins in rhetorical theory, religious reading instruction, and the study of classical languages” (115). The research of process allowed for tenured positions, freedom from the huge teaching loads of comp.

need to see students as “actual people in actual writing situations” (199).

“‘Composition’ contains diverse, in fact disparate, activities. Its participants, its students, and most of its teachers are uncredentialed or ‘illegitimate’ denizens of the best-established and most legitimate institution. Composition appears to be cacophonous, anarchic, and trivial, but it nonetheless produces predictable and sustaining economic and social benefits. In a strong sense, it is like the Old Testament God and the Lacanian woman – always in a state of becoming, of reinventing itself to compensate for its perceived lack of fixed goals and methods. But it is nonetheless in many ways a ritualistic performance that does not change expect by substituting new rituals and codes for old ones” (12).

need to “take student writers to be active rather than passively defined citizens of discourse communities” (200).

Notable Notes

composition is a major national industry in which large amounts of money, labor, and time are invested. Huge amounts of students, teachers

process is not a reform of product. Both ignore the social, cultural, institutional consequences of text production, look at texts in isolation. Process became the new content of composition.

uses metaphors of prostitution, gypsies, extrafamilial, surplus, maids, unnamed to talk about the labor of the teaching of composition

uses metaphors of unwashed masses, labs, clinics, the body, stripping of voices, cleanliness, infants, history of 19th century immigration and English-only  to talk about how the first-year course labels and treats students

a lot more variety of writing courses taught in 1920s than later in the century, when comp was made all about freshman comp

rhetoric is an ill fit as the foundation of modern composition

section on “Bread” draws a connection between university funding and status of composition

conclusion – Chapter 6 – explains the contradiction in the current system between how composition is talked about (important, intellectual growth of students, importance of mastering academic discourse) and what happens in the classroom and university (low status of students & teachers, no real evidence of effectiveness of 1st year comp, little use of academic writing outside university.)

freshman comp stripped students of their individual voices and their access to public discourse (silly personalized themes) – “a national course in silence” (59)

difference between English and American cultural ideals in the development of literature and composition as university initiatives. American focus on individual, enterprise, citizenship, popular literacy, democracy, responsibility.

February 7, 2009

George, Critical Pedagogy

George, Ann. “Critical Pedagogy: Dreaming of Democracy.” 92-112.

Critical pedagogy acknowledges that teaching is a political act, that education is one of the primary ways that thought and knowledge are socially constructed into the ideologies that strucure society. Based in the writings of Freire, critical pedagogy centers around the struggle against dominant, oppressive institutional forces, seeking to liberate students by encouraging a critical stance towards society and encouraging them to develop a class consciousness. The ultimate goal is to transform society. Critical pedagogy in composition drew out of the work of Jonathan Kozol and as a reaction to 1980s conservatism (A Nation at Risk), often coupling with cultural studies to form a decidedly political and social agenda in the writing classroom. Critics of critical pedagogy argue that the often white middle-class students who are taught in this method are hardly the oppressed that Freire was writing about, and that critical pedagogy takes the focus off of writing, positions the teacher as “hero,” and is not answering to student needs (the outcome of the course is pre-determined and students aren’t given instructions on how to write and succeed in the hegemonic, dominant society.)

Quotable Quotes

Critical pedagogy “enables students to envision alternatives” (97) – schools need to be critical, dialogic democracies, public spheres of knowledge.

Simon Roger: “To propose a pedagogy is to propose a political vision,” a “dream for ourselves, our children, and our communities” (371).

Notable Notes

Important Sources: Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed and Pedagogy of Hope; Giroux, Theory and Resistance in Education, Education Under Siege, Schooling and the Struggle for Public Life; Jonathan Kozol; Ira Shor, Empowering Education, When Students Have Power; Aronowitz; Macedo; McLaren; A Nation at Risk; Action for Excellence; Dewey, Democracy and Education; George Counts, John Childs, William Kirkpatrick

Critical Pedagogy and Composition: Alex McLeod, Critical Literacy; Hurlbert/Blitz, Composition and Resistance; Jay/Graff, A Critique of Critical Pedagogy; Hairston, Diversity, Ideology, and Teaching Writing; Jeff Smith, Students’ Goals; Knoblauch/Brannon, Critical Teaching and the Idea of Literacy; Finlay/Faith; Stephen North, Rhetoric, Responsibility, and the ‘Language of the Left’; Villanueva, Considerations of American Freireistas

hidden curriculum, false consciousness, cultural production, education, schooling, literacy

tension between freedom and authority must be negotiated in the classroom

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