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Going North Thinking West

Going North Thinking West: The Intersections of Social Class, Critical Thinking, and Politicized Writing Instruction

Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 176
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  • Book Info
    Going North Thinking West
    Book Description:

    A long-time writing program administrator and well-respected iconoclast, Irvin Peckham is strongly identified with progressive ideologies in education. However, in Going North Thinking West, Peckham mounts a serious critique of what is called critical pedagogy-primarily a project of the academic left-in spite of his own sympathies there. College composition is fundamentally a middle-class enterprise, and is conducted by middle-class professionals, while student demographics show increasing presence of the working class. In spite of best intentions to ameliorate inequitable social class relationships, says Peckham, critical pedagogies can actually contribute to reproducing those relationships in traditional forms-not only perpetuating social inequities, but pushing working class students toward self-alienation, as well. Peckham argues for more clarity on the history of critical thinking, social class structures and teacher identity (especially as these are theorized by Pierre Bourdieu), while he undertakes a critical inquiry of the teaching practices with which even he identifies. Going North Thinking West focuses especially on writing teachers who claim a necessary linkage between critical thinking and writing skills; these would include both teachers who promote the fairly a-political position that argumentation is the obvious and necessary form of academic discourse, and more controversial teachers who advocate turning a classroom into a productive site of social transformation. Ultimately, Peckham argues for a rereading of Freire (an icon of transformational pedagogy), and for a collaborative investigation of students' worlds as the first step in a successful writing pedagogy. It is an argument for a pedagogy based on service to students rather than on transforming them.

    eISBN: 978-0-87421-805-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Education

Table of Contents

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    (pp. 1-15)

    This book is about teaching, which is far more than a simple act of transmitting knowledge from those who know into those who are learning—or even of initiating the young into our matrix of discourse communities. The classroom is where community happens, the site of cultural reproduction and revolution, of parroting and creating, of being and not-being. It is the site of power struggles between social classes through the agency of language, where we sort students and distribute privileges, where we train students to accept the kind of life they will most likely have as adults. It is also...

    (pp. 16-27)

    Before taking up the question of the intersections among social class, critical thinking, and writing instruction, I will analyze some of the problems of referring to social class in the Unites States. The major issues are the un-naming of class, its empirical status, what markers we use to distinguish the different classes, and what we call them.

    In rhetoric and composition, we have the additional problem of abstracting class from the larger field of marginalizing status markers, the most common ones being race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation. To imagine that any of these status markers operate independent of the...

    (pp. 28-48)

    Language is a particularly effective mechanism for maintaining distinctions among social classes because it functions both to communicate and signal identity, with one function frequently disguised as the other. Teachers, for example, may correct working-class students’ deviations from the conventions of middle-class English, telling the students that the errors make their writing difficult to understand when in fact the teachers are correcting social class behavior manifested through language codes. Behind this masking lies the clear message that the social groups speaking through these “incorrect” language codes are incorrect social groups.

    Although working-class English is one of the more insistently devalued...

    (pp. 49-65)

    Writing teachers have been trained to believe in a necessary dialectic between language and thought—more particularly, in the dialectic between written language and thought. The line of thinking runs roughly from Vygotsky ([1962] 1975), through Havelock (1963) and Ong ([1982] 2000) to Berlin (1987). The gist of this literacy trope is that as you speak, so you think—and even more so, as you write. The pull of this trope is so strong that it has usually gone unquestioned among writing teachers—with the notable exception of Stuckey’s (1991) virulent attack in The Violence of Literacy.

    The dialectic between...

  5. 5 ARGUING
    (pp. 66-85)

    Although I hesitate to adopt all features of critical thinking as goals in my required writing classes, I want my students to know that their knowledge is situated, which is a precondition of being able to see from multiple perspectives, allowing writers to read their texts (and themselves) with other readers’ eyes. If I were asked to focus on one writing skill that marks the transition from high school to college writing, it would be this ability to see one’s own text/self with others’ eyes.

    Linked to the ability of seeing from multiple perspectives is the ability to recognize the...

    (pp. 86-111)

    Teachers in the social strand of the critical thinking and writing have attempted to fill the putatively empty rhetorical situation of required writing classes by making culture the object of study. The trajectory of this strand moved from the early writing-about-literature phase through writing-about-self to writing-about culture.¹ The first phase was a natural outgrowth of the field’s origin within literature departments—the graduate students teaching the course assumed that “writing” meant writing about literature, as they had been trained to do. “Real” writing was the writing they were writing about—and the people who wrote “real” writing were literary figures....

    (pp. 112-142)

    In chapters five and six, I have analyzed the ways in which pedagogies based on the two strands of critical thinking can lead to counterproductive teaching in required writing classes—if one assumes that the primary purpose of these classes is to help students improve their writing abilities within a family of genres. I take this purpose one step further in the writing program I direct. I ask teachers to focus on writing strategies that will help students cope with writing tasks they are likely to meet in other undergraduate courses—strategies we have determined by analyzing specific writing assignments...

    (pp. 143-158)

    The reader who complained about my dismissal of the importance of argument in the working-class ethos also thought I had stacked the deck in my critique of politicized writing instruction by focusing on graduate students and community college teachers instead of rhetoric and composition professors, claiming that members of the professoriate are better versed in the literature and consequently less likely to blunder than teachers like Cale, Stanforth, and Hendrix. Although I partially ascribe to my reader’s logic, I don’t entirely accept the positioned implication that more theory leads to better practice.

    Nevertheless, in this chapter, I will focus on...

    (pp. 159-165)

    I write with irony about instruction in required writing classes because I rarely teach them. What few courses writing program administrators in doctoral intensive universities teach are mostly graduate courses—or in my case, courses to teach new writing teachers how to teach writing. Given my subject of social class relationships in writing instruction, the irony doubles because I am a theorist and administrator writing about how elites maintain social privileges through distancing themselves from the real work in culture. In our subculture of rhetoric and composition, the real work is teaching English 101. I view this work from the...