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Writing/Teaching: Essays Toward a Rhetoric of Pedagogy

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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    2001 CCCC Outstanding Book Award

    The vast majority of academic books are written from the scholar's position, even those that primarily concern teaching.Writing/Teaching, on the other hand, is a book about teaching written from the position of the teacher. As the title suggests, Kameen's book is split into two halves-yet both, in different ways and through different discourses, are derived from his work in the classroom, and his own struggle with issues and problems all teachers of writing must face.

    The first half is a series of essays originating from a graduate seminar Kameen team-taught with professor and poet Toi Derricotte in 1994. Included are essays Kameen wrote, a selection of pieces written by other members of the group, and a reflective "postscript." These essays combine personal narrative, reflective meditation, and critical inquiry-all used as discourse to depict and examine the process of teaching.

    The second half of the book contains essays on Plato's dialogues-primarily Phaedrus and Protagoras-as a means to interrogate the position of teacher through the lens of the most famous of Western pedagogues-Socrates. Here, Socrates is used as a tool to examine and critique both Kameen's own teacherly identity and, in a wider sense, the set of cultural forces that pre-figure the available positions for both "teacher" and "student" in contemporary education.

    What unites both halves is the way Kameen approaches each-the "personal" and the "scholarly"-from his position as teacher. The texts presented provide the occasion for a complex and nuanced meditation on the classroom as a legitimate arena for the production of knowledge and research. Sure to be timely and controversial,Writing/Teachingwill enter into the debate on whether to reconfigure the relationship between research and teaching currently taking place among teachers of composition, cultural studies, and rhetoric. Compelling reading for teachers or those contemplating a career in the profession.

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-7210-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Education

Table of Contents

  1. Part 1: Race, Gender, and (Teaching a) Class

      (pp. 3-12)

      To teach is to change. Or at least to try to. Most of us who do this kind of work for a living would assent to that generalization. We want to make a difference. But what kind of difference, what kind of change? And, more specifically, who is supposed to be changed, in what ways, and how much, through our work in the classroom? Oddly enough, we can avoid addressing these questions in any express and systematic way most of the time, content to adapt ourselves to the prerogatives of the various theories and approaches and curricula and course plans...

      (pp. 13-32)

      I spoke in class last week about my hope that we could find ways of approaching race and gender that would allow for accounts, and examinations, of our own personal, even private, attitudes and opinions—especially as they are embedded, often almost invisibly, in the stories we tell to and about ourselves to explain the fact that we have ended up together here to study and talk about this literature. As I was imagining it, these stories would be subject then to various kinds of critique—as they collide or mesh with the stories others here among us are telling,...

    • SEPTEMBER 14
      (pp. 33-44)

      I was surprised last class when I heard myself say that the generally negative buzz about white/hetero/male-ness didn’t bother me much. While I was sitting here tonight trying to think of something to write about, that kept coming back to me. Mostly because I had no immediate way of accounting for it. So, I decided to do what I did last time: remember some stories about myself. The first one that came to mind happened in 1970 or 1971. I didn’t live in Pittsburgh then, but I was dating a Pitt student. On my way to the bus station for...

    • SEPTEMBER 21
      (pp. 45-56)

      I’ve never been much excited about acquiring knowledge in its mode as information, as a transferable commodity to be either given or gotten through classroom display. The kind of knowledge that I’ve always been motivated—sometimes driven—to gain I think of as almost physiological, akin to perception, comparable in many ways to the sort we accumulate simply by living our lives attentively in the physical universe. Knowledge in this sense becomes for me more a mode of apprehension than of comprehension. An example of this would be how and why I typically read a poet. What I like to...

    • SEPTEMBER 28
      (pp. 57-70)

      Last week’s discussion got me thinking again about fatherhood, a theme that has been oddly and vaguely distant during this course when it seems like it shouldn’t be. After I left class I spent a few funny and puzzling minutes trying to imagine myself as “patriarchal.” Not so much in its current pejorative sense, as it applies broadly and structurally to cultural or social systems. All of that is pretty easy to hold onto from (and off at) a distance, as if it applies, say, to averages or percentages of which I may or may not be a part, or...

    • OCTOBER 5
      (pp. 71-84)

      About halfway through reading my piece in class last week I found myself thinking: What am I doing this for? Why would anyone want to know this much about me? Even I don’t want to know this much about me. Part of my aversion to this kind of writing is purely temperamental: a discomfort at being in the center of attention, even if it’s only my attention. But part of it is rooted in a much broader set of attitudes about what the past is and is for. Whether it’s on the level of my personal history or in terms...

    • OCTOBER 19
      (pp. 85-101)

      Despair is a common theme for poets, as it’s a common human experience. The Emily Dickinson poem that these lines open is one of my favorites on this theme, a depiction of the sort of sudden, seemingly unwarranted, anguish that afflicts us, almost predictably, under certain arbitrary circumstances. Thomas Hardy’s “Neutral Tones” is another, using a similar winter scene to render the equally disturbing, and oddly blank, moment of resignation that accompanies the realization that an intimate relationship is, in fact, not simply lifeless now, but has been, unawares to us, lifeless for years.

      We stood by a pond that...

    • NOVEMBER 2
      (pp. 102-113)

      Toi and I were talking before class last week about the state of contemporary literary criticism, particularly the metaphor of “opening up a space” to look for alternatives to the dominant critical systems, to look for what’s coming next. It’s clear I think that the general cluster of critical approaches and theories that fall under the rubric of poststructuralism are now, and have been for a while, the orthodoxy of cultural studies in the academy. I have no idea of exactly when poststructuralism moved from the outside (as a radical critique of, and powerful alternative for, everything from the New...

    • NOVEMBER 16
      (pp. 114-122)

      That’s a basic law of Newtonian mechanics. A similar law applies to teaching; though, since it is difficult to accurately predict the precise effects of any of our pedagogical actions—at least not as accurately as, say, the effect of a cue ball striking another ball with a specific force at a specific angle—it is equally difficult to accurately predict the reactions they will generate. Anyone who has taught multiple sections of the same course, especially when they are scheduled back-to-back, knows the dangers inherent in trying to translate what seems to work in one class directly into another....

    • DECEMBER 7
      (pp. 123-136)

      This is an excerpt from a poem, by the Greek poet Simonides, that Socrates discusses with Protagoras and Prodicus in Plato’sProtagoras, one of my favorite dialogues, in part at least because it is in much of its give and take, including this long bit of philological hairsplitting about poetry, both profound and funny. The argument turns on the question of whether the first and last lines of the quoted passage are consistent or contradictory, specifically, whether “to become” and “to be” are the same or different. The discussion during the last class led me back to what has been,...

    • An Interchapter for Two Parts
      (pp. 137-146)

      When I first put the two halves of this book together, there was a gap right here. You would be turning the page over it now to begin the essays that compose, from my point of view, the inevitable second half of the argument—which is what this book is about to become, as a function of its two parts being so violently yoked here, across this gap. Every reader of this manuscript in its early drafts turned that page either with great anticipation, eager to keep reading, or with great irritation, wanting to turn back. There have been no...

  2. Part 2: In Dialogue with Plato

      (pp. 149-157)

      The following essays originate from texts that are quite a bit different from the ones I began with in “Race, Gender, and (Teaching a) Class,” those relatively immediate, and clearly uncanonical, personal stories. Here I consider the much more historically remote and culturally valorized dialogues of Plato (particularlyProtagorasandPhaedrus). We tend, though, to meet comparable difficulties when we try to use either of these two kinds of sources to get at matters of pedagogy. The former tend to be so enmeshed in the emotional contexts that constitute their significanceto usthat the inertia of the “personal” can...

      (pp. 158-178)

      Beautiful, indeed. The choreography of this procession, as Plato renders it through the eyes of Socrates, is both balletic and burlesque, deftly depicting in one sweeping turn the range of contradictions that riddle teacher-student relationships, especially those geared toward “studying professionally.”² This image of the professor as the solar figure—around whom many satellites carefully circulate—is strongly entrenched in the contemporary academy, reinforced by a wide array of both disciplinary and institutional forces, not to mention the broader cultural forces that serve to regulate the roles and relationships available to professors and “their” students. Protagoras is a living emblem...

      (pp. 179-214)

      What promises early on here to be a helpful consultation to aid Hippocrates in making a responsible decision about his education turns out, of course, to be both much more and much less than that. On the one hand, Socrates and Protagoras end up arguing at length about a very large question, the teachability of virtue, enacting in the process two quite different pedagogical methods. On the other, it doesn’t take long for Hippocrates, and with him the problem that Socrates claims to want to help him with, to be cut off from the explicit agenda of the argument. While...

      (pp. 215-244)

      As a set of power relations, the typical pedagogical transaction in a university classroom is much more complex than it might at first appear. From a cultural and institutional standpoint, the dominant figure seems obviously to be the professor, whose authority—in its commonplace sense as a combination of credibility and control— is sanctioned by prior processes of certification and reinforced by the ongoing privilege to assess performance. When the classroom is construed along these lines—as a scene, say, for the brokerage of valued commodities (credentials)—the professor clearly controls both the inventory (knowledge) and one of the main...

      (pp. 245-258)

      “. . . the demise of our kind.” There’s an ominous phrase to end a book with. Or maybe just melodramatic. I’m of both minds about this, as I am about most things concerning change. It seems inevitable that the figure of the professor as we know “him” will ultimately become anachronistic unless we dramatically recon figure the manner in which “his” work is constituted. I foreground these masculine pronouns intentionally here to indicate that despite the various and laudable ways in which our profession has been diversified over the last generation or so, the manner in which we measure...