Thelin – Thelin’s Response to Russell Durst

Thelin, William. “William H Thelin’s Response to Russell Durst.” College Composition and Communication. 58.1 (2006): 114-118. Print.

In this response to Russell Durst’s critique of Thelin’s article “Understanding problems of Critical Pedagogy,” he acknowledges that he made himself vulnerable to sweeping generalizations by admitting that he had a disastrous section of composition. He asserts, however,  that the goal of the article was to scrutinize a problematic classroom in order to complicate the “this doesn’t work” response.

Thelin says Durst isn’t critiquing his findings, but is critiquing Thelin’s interpretation of critical pedagogy. He claims that Durst wants him to say that critical pedagogy is ineffective, but his data, he asserts does not support that. Thelin details the oversights, errors, and misunderstandings that he says Durst made in his critique.

Thelin also addresses Dursts depiction of critical pedagogy as confrontational: “Critical  pedagogy  is not confrontational. It is dialogic. Confrontation springs  from  authoritarianism  on  the part  of  the  teacher” (115).

Thelin says that while he did not appreciate the tenor of Durst’s critique, he can appreciate the concern and believes that the actual tenets and practices of critical pedagogy need to be discussed and that it needs to be discussed in more precise language. For example:

Critical  theory  is certainly  deployed  by critical  pedagogues,  but  in and  of  itself,  critical  theory  does  not  constitute  the enactment  of  critical pedagogy,  which  Russel  admits.  In  the  same  sense, students  can work  collaboratively,  as  they  often  do  in critical  classrooms,  but  collaboration  by  itself is not  critical  pedagogy.  Critical pedagogy  blends  these elements  together.  Some critical pedagogues do not  experiment  with  power sharing,  per  se, but  they still  adhere  to  Freire’s  belief  in  listening  to  the  students  and  asking  key  questions  about  whom the  classroom  serves  and whom it  acts  against.  The  students’  cultures  and  beliefs  are  accounted for  in  such courses,  as  critical  pedagogy  responds  to  local  conditions (118).

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Durst – Can We Be Critical of Critical Pedagogy

Durst, Russell. “Can we be Critical of Critical Pedagogy.” College Composition and Communication. 58.1 (2006): 110-114. Print.

This is a direct response to William Thelin’s CCC article, “Understanding Problems of Critical Pedagogy.” Durst distorts Thelin’s argument. Thelin says the students were too unfamiliar with the critical pedagogy approach – not content. Durst suggests that students adapt to a variety of differences in coursework and unfamiliar discipline when they transitioning from high school to college; however, the banking model is fairly consistent in K-16 education. Therefore, there is not much to adapt to in terms of pedagogical approach regardless of content.

Durst critiques the notion of “blundering for a change.” While Thelin uses the term blunder, I do not think “blundering for a change” is his phrase. Durst asserts that critical pedagogy cannot be a series of ongoing mistakes and suggests that the “blunders” move instructors to “dislodge from our ideological comfort zones” and have “our outlooks complicated by discordant ideas,” just as we try to get our students to do so (113).

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.

Gorzelsky – Working Boundaries: From Student Resistance to Student Agency

Gorzelsky, Gwen. “Working Boundaries: From Student Resistance to Student Agency.” College Composition and Communication. 61.1 (2009): 64-84. Print.

In this article Gwen Gorzelsky shares her ethnographic study of an intermediate composition class successfully engaging in critical pedagogy. Situating her study in the research of Durst, Trainor, and Wallace and Ewald, Gorzelsky explores the line between privileging Composition Studies’ goals of critical pedagogy and students’ pragmatic needs.

Gorzelsky studies the pedagogy of Justin Vidovic and his respect of students’ boundaries along with the use of traditional classroom techniques such as Initial Response Evaluation. She suggests that the combination of these traditional and critical teaching strategies creates a “classroom ethos that strongly supports their agency – their ownership of their developing ideas and texts” (66). Gorzelshy concludes that those in Composition Studies should not “sharply prioritize” either critical pedagogy and it’s goals or students’ pragmatic goals:

I suggest that our professional responsibility is to enhance the greater good of those systems and their potential readiness for change, rather than to pursue isolated goals, whether our own or students’. In taking this approach, we forego critical pedagogy’s emphasis on revolution, which is inevitably linear and focused on a single goal, in favor of the kind of change that ripples throughout systems while keeping them in the balance needed to support life and growth (82).