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)

Thelin – Understanding Problems in Critical Classrooms

Thelin, William. “Understanding Problems in Critical Classrooms.” College Composition and Communication. 57.1 (2005): 114-141. Print.

In this article, William Thelin critiques critics of critical pedagogy in the composition classroom, Richard Miller and Russel Durst. In short, Thelin asks that baby, critical pedagogy, not be thrown out with the bathwater, challenges, mishaps, and uncertainties that may occur in the classroom. The critique, however, is not the focus of his essay; Thelin provides additional classroom research to show how imperfect critical pedagogy practices/ results can provide valuable insight into achieving the goals of critical pedagogy.

Thelin collected data in the form of student essays that critiqued the “failed” writing course they had participated in with him that semester and offered specific reasons as to why they did not meet their mutual expectations. The 21 students were a mix of white and African American  students across social class lines and genders.

He cites himself in an article with John Paul Tassoni to say, “Students empowerment and challenges to the status quo obviously could not run as seemlessly and still be what they claimed” (2). He continues:

If everything in a critical classroom worked as well as some accounts of critical pedagogy make it seem (see Rosenthal as one example), we would not have a transformation of a classroom. We would have a recasting of the typical hero model of teaching where the instructor rescues students in need of saving (127).

One of the main reasons (signified by five student responses) students gave for things not going well in the classroom was that students were “not used to freedom/ contradicted previous classroom experience” (128). No students argued that students should no co-develop curricula with the instructor (130).

Thelin interprets his classess’ “blunders” as learning opportunities for intructors and students. As an instructor, he sees opportunity to improve his pedagogy by listening to students’ voices more and understanding their understanding of democracy and education. For his students, he holds out hope that they will be better equipped to handle a critical pedagogy class in the future; more and not less critical pedagogy is necessary to have successful democratic classrooms.

Shor – Why Teach About Social Class?

Shor, Ira. “Why Teach About Social Class?” Teaching English in the Two Year College. 33.2 (2005): 161-170. Print.

In this article, Ira Shor gives a brief overview of his critical teaching method and then focuses on why he emphasizes social class in his course at the City University of New York college he teachers at. He contextualizes the Two Year College within the political and economic climate of the 1970s to the present. Pointing to the increased Harvardization/corporatization of education he asserts that most students at Two Year Colleges are trying to complete degrees under difficult circumstances at underfunded institutions and depending on shrinking promises of financial reward upon completion. These are the students that Shor says most need to understand issues of social class if they are to be equipped to advocate for themselves out in the world. This understanding, however, does not come from traditional banking educational methods, but by developing critical thinking skills.

What teachers can do, if they believe learning for democracy is our professional responsibility, is to develop students as critical citizens whose thinking and acting include tools for class analysis of their lives, their reading lists, their majors, and their society (168).

Mohanty – On Race and Voice: Challenges for liberal Education in the 1990s

Mohanty, Chandra. “On Race and Voice: Challenges for Liberal Education in the 1990s.” Cultural Critique. 14 (1989-1990): 208. Print.

In this article, Mohanty studies two classroom sites – a Women’s Studies class and workshops of “diversity” for upper level mostly white administrators. She looks at discourses of difference and argues that educational practices are shaped and reshaped in these sites and cannot be seen as static and “transmitting already codified ideas of difference” (184).

Mohanty mainly questions what is necessary to enact an effective  liberatory pedagogy within the restrictions of the liberal academy with pressures such as,  “professionalization, normalization, and standardization, the very
pressures or expectations that implicitly aim to manage and discipline pedagogies so that teachers behaviors are predictable (and perhaps controllable) across the board” (193). She concludes that such a pedagogy requires that people of color and progressive  white people use their individual and collective voices to challenge the commodification and domestication of Third World people.

Cultures  of dissent are also about  seeing the academy  as part of a larger  sociopolitical  arena which  itself domesticates  and manages Third World  people in the name of liberal  capitalist  democracy.  The  struggle to transform  our institutional  practices  fundamentally  also  involves  the grounding of the analysis  of exploitation and oppression in accurate  history  and theory,  seeing ourselves  as activists  in  the academy-drawing  links between movements for social  justice and our  pedagogical and  scholarly endeavors and expecting and demanding action  from ourselves, our colleagues, and our students at numerous levels (207).

McGee – Climbing Walls: Attempting Critical Pedagogy as a 21st Century Preservice Teaching

McGee, A. Robin. “Climbing Walls: Attempting Critical Pedagogy as a 21st Century Preservice Teacher.” Language Arts. 88.4 (2011): 270-277. Print.

A. Robin McGee documents her preservice teaching experience with a sixth grade class where she enacted critical pedagogy. Led by student inquiry, McGee uses Freirian theory of critical pedagogy to help her students learn about issues they were concerned about, immigrants and immigration, through problem-posing. She also reflects on lessons she has learned:

Does it make sense to state that as a 21st-century preservice teacher, I was teaching for social justice? I was able to do some work in the spirit of a just and democratic society. However, if I had opened up my cycle of critical praxis more fully, rather than being so caught up in the mechanics of figuring out “teaching,” my class could have accomplished so much more. If I had been willing to turn over more of the direction and autonomy to the students and the stories they had found, I am sure that the results would have been different—more dramatic and more meaningful.

Kalamaras – Confessions of a Socio-Epistemic Rhetorician: Negotiating the Seemingly Nonnegotiable inthe Development of Part-Time Faculty

Kalamaras, George. “Confessions of a Socio-Epistemic Rhetorician: Negotiaating the Seemingly Nonnegotiable in the Development of Part-Time Faculty.” English Education. 24.4 (1992): 229-236. Print.

In this article, George Kalamaras describes his experience as a newly hired assistant professor and associate director of a writing program. Kalamaras highlights the dissonance in his department between his view as a Socio-epistemic rhetorician and more Classical Rhetoricians in the department. The differences, however, extend into other areas of the department such as, coherence of the department. These differences are more of an issue for Kalamaras who has to work with overworked, underpaid part-time faculty.

In the end, Kalamaras finds that the differences is not all bad, and can in fact through dialogue produce a similar liberatory effect as that desired for students:

The socio-epistemic  rhetorician,  then, in her attempt  to reshape  a writing  program,  must be open to having her own ideology  reshaped  as well. Thus, rather  than abandoning  her ideological  commitments,  she deepens  them, redefining  the parameters of her  own position  in ways  which  are more  inclusive,  that  is, dialogical rather  than dichotomous. She must, paradoxically,  be willing  to  “let go”  of  her  commitments  in  order to  come  to  know  them  more complexly (235-236).

Ellsworth – Why Doesn’t This Feel Empowering?

Ellsworth, Elizabeth. “Why Doesn’t this Feel Empowering? Working through the Repressive Myth of Critical Pedagogy.” Harvard Educational Review. 59.3 (1989):297-324. Print.

In this article Elizabeth Ellsworth offers an interpretation of an anti-racism course she offered and uses that  interpretation to support her critique of then current (1980s) discourses of critical pedagogy. She argues that key critical pedagogy terms such as “empowerment,” “student voice,” “dialogue,” and even “critical” are repressive myths that sustain relations of domination and exacerbated “banking education” (298).

One major premise asserted by Ellsworth is that a critical pedagogue is one who enforces rules of reason in the class and that rationalism can also be used to dominate. Drawing on feminist studies, Ellsworth suggests that while post-structuralism can also be used to dominate, it also offers critique against the violence of rationalism that excludes women, people of color, and other marginalized groups (303). Post-structuralist thought is not bound to “reason, but to discourse, literally narratives about the world that are admittedly partial” (303).

Ellsworth asks the question, “what diversity do we silence in the name of ‘liberatory’ pedagogy?” (299) and interrogates the unnamed agendas of courses enacting critical pedagogy and professors teaching them. She concludes with a quote from Trinh T. Minh-ha: “there are no social positions exempt from becoming oppressive to other… any group – any position – can move into the oppressor role” (322).