Herndl – “Teaching Discourse and Reproducing Culture: A Critique of Research and Pedagogy in Professional and Non-Academic Writing

Herndl, Carl G. “Teaching Discourse and Reproducing Culture:A Critique of Research and Pedagogy in Professional and Non-Academic Writing.” Central Works in Technical Communication. Eds. J. Johnson-Eilola and S. Selber. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. 220-231. Print.

In this chapter, Carl Herndl argued for the need to have a more grounded theory of pedagogy in technical writing instruction based in his experience as a technical writing instructor and theories from Composition and Rhetorical Studies, Marxism, Feminist Studies, and critical pedagogy. Because education is not neutral, Herndl asserted that if we are uncritical in our research and teaching “our pedagogical practice will produce students who are ignorant of the ideological development of discourse and who cannot perceive the cultural consequences of a dominant discourse or the alternate understandings it excludes” (222).

Herndl cited Paulo Freire as the most familiar voice of radical pedagogy for writing theory. Several of Freire’s assumptions regarding critical pedagogy, including:

  • to be human is to develop a conscious recognition of your relationship to the social world and that educations can transform this relationship
  • to be oppressed is not only having your economic and political rights violated, but also to be submerged in what he calls a “culture of silence” by the misrecognition of your relation to the social and ideological
  • misrecognition is when you accept the practices and rationalities of your social position as natural and necessary rather than seeing them as ideologically constructed and politically interested; misrecognition leads people to accept and cooperate with an ideological system which oppresses them (223).

The goal of radical pedagogy, according to Herndl and Freire, is to bring students to consciousness where they neither accommodate nor merely oppose the social order, but can actively reposition themselves within it: “From this perspective, teaching a non-academic discourse without a careful cultural analysis reinforces the culture’s dominant ideological structures and makes cultural self-consciousness difficult if not impossible” (223).

Herndl theorized that individuals could use rhetorical and discursive action in order to come to a greater consciousness:

“That is, by recognizing and articulating the medium of their actions, they can affect the outcome of those actions. Thus education becomes a key process for either cultural self-recognition (Freire’s conscientizacao) or the reification of the structural properties as simply ‘the way things are’ (Freire’s ‘culture of silence’).” (224)

In his outline for a pedagogy for professional writing courses, Herndl suggested that instead of taking a theoretical approach, teachers need to begin working with a discourse and institution which is “palpable” to students. In accordance with this grounded approach, Herndl argued that students would more readily “recognize the connections between ideology, power, and discourse, and the value of resistance, if teachers started with a discourse that directly affected student’s lives” (229).

Within this model, difference is only accepted, but encouraged. Herndl drew on John Trimbur’s rhetoric of dissensus which argued that “collaborative learning can develop a ‘rhetoric of dissensus’ which leads students not to a conformity which reifies the existing social and institutional relations, but rather to ‘collective explanations of how people differ, where the differences come from, and whether they can live and work together with these differences’ (610)” (229).

Herndly asserted that a rhetoric of dissensus applied to technical writing pedagogy would benefit students:

“Once students see how these issues apply to their academic discourse, they can begin to apply the same understanding to the professional discourses they are entering. This rhetoric of dissensus does not condemn professional or technical discourse as ideologically incorrect, but it does allow students to recognize the ideological conditions and consequences of these discourses, and it provides a practical model of resistance.” (229)

More research is necessary, however, in professional and technical discourse in order to aid students in making the shift from discussing the
discourse of the university to analyzing professional discourses.

“Working from such reinterpreted and reconceived research, students and teachers can begin to explore the sources pf power and authority which condition their disciplinary and professional discourse. When it is successful, this pedagogy will allow students to participate in these professional discourses with a degree of self-reflexivity and ideological awareness necessary to resistance and cultural criticism.” (229)

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Banks – Taking Black Technology Use Seriously: African American Discursive Traditions in the Digital Underground

Banks, Adam. “Taking Black Technology Use Seriously: African American Discursive Traditions in the Digital Underground.” Race, Rhetoric, and Technology:Searching for Higher Ground. Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc, 2006. 68-85. Print.

In this chapter Adam Banks  brings the scholarship on Cyberspace, the Digital Divide, and African American Discourse within Composition Studies up-to-date by exploring how African Americans access and transform “underground” online spaces to the specificity of their interests and needs. He asserts that the most important element of technological access is use; people using and developing the skills that make the technology relevant to their lives (68). His data comes from interactions on the online site Black Planet. In his analysis, he shows how interlocutors use two modes of discourse found in the African American oral tradition – tonal semantics and sermonic tone (Smitherman, 2000). According to Banks, these two “oral tradition” features in a written form online is highly significant because it is contrary to other cyberspace scholarship that negates the role of race and cultural identity online:

To do this in an online space given the conditions of technology access and the ways technology and cyberspace are constructed as White, is a critical disruption of those constructions, and, again, reminders that both race and culture carry definite meaning online (81).

Banks asserts that online spaces can be “underground” and operate outside of the power and surveillance of White society and the restrictions that can come along with it. These spaces/ interactions can provide much  insight as it relates to Composition Studies and new writers”

…there is much to learn from the underground sites where people new to any discursive situation have a chance to “get their game tight:” to learn the conventions, to experiment with voice, and tone, and craft; to get feedback that they actually want from people they will listen to; while in an environment where simplistic judgments about grammatical features do not lead to their discursive and intellectual complexity being entirely dismissed and/ or their continued segregation from others whoses voices are often just as raw (83).

Banks concludes that there is more study needed on this topic, and that there are steps that compositionists can take based on his findings. He suggests that we provide “rich, discursive spaces” for students to compose, give, and receive feedback with their peers so that they might help each other along (84). He also suggests that these spaces be places that students control instead of being policed by faculty for the benefit of the university (85). Lastly, Banks asks that faculty pay attention to our own course design and make so that we make it easier for students to navigate them, understand how they work, and find their ways back “home” from whatever point they may be at (85).