Democracy, Critical Pedagogy and Writing in the Humanities

By John Kerr.

Published by The Humanities Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Currently, there are three approaches that instructors use to teach a course in college composition. First, there are the traditionalists who have adopted a technocratic rationality which views writing as a skill driven operation where students need to be immersed in back-to-basics types of writing activities. Then there are the mimetics, who have adopted a cultural reproductive rationality. Advocates of this approach to writing instruction believe that students must abandon the discourse communities of their home cultures and appropriate the language, style and conventions of writing that reside in academic discourse community. Instruction in writing from this approach encourages students to appropriate the language of the academic community through an act of imitation. Writing instruction from this approach views the students as mimetics. Finally, there are the expressivists who have adopted a romantic rationality which values the aesthetic qualities of writing. These instructors encourage student writers to locate a personal voice in their writing that is genuinely their own. So that students may become connected to an “inner self” that will promote the authenticity of a personal voice students are encouraged to “think less and feel more.” To achieve this goal students are encouraged to draw upon personal feelings rather than from ideas. Although these approaches to teaching college composition have a shared history in the academy, they all have failed to consider what happens when students attempt to compose texts within the academy. This failure has also prevented consideration of any new approaches to teaching college composition. Historically, the composing process has been examined by drawing upon cognitive/behavioral theories that have neglected to consider the social/political/cultural dimension of the writing process. Under such circumstances, instruction in writing focuses its attention on the products that students produce, rather than on the social histories that compose the lives of the students who are producing the texts. If writing is to be perceived as thinking, then instruction in writing must direct its attention to the social/political/cultural histories that students bring with them to the classroom and where critical thinking will become an integral aspect of the composing process. In the hopes of presenting a post-process pedagogy in writing instruction, this paper argues for a writing pedagogy that encourages students to become critically active thinkers as they use writing to explore, discover and investigate what constitutes knowledge in the academy and what relationship this knowledge has to power and the social relationships that structure their learning environment. In such a course writing and critical thinking become intricately linked as students pursue their goals to become public intellectuals, where reading/writing activities become tools to be used for the preservation and protection of a radical democracy. This writing pedagogy will be informed by theories drawn from critical pedagogy, where writing will be an act of re-visioning and re-positioning the multiple “selves” of the writer. Writing in this instance becomes less an act of memorization, imitation or feeling, than a transformative act whose purpose is to expose and investigate inequities, inequalities and social injustices.

Keywords: Critical Pedagogy, Composition, Cultural Studies

The International Journal of the Humanities, Volume 5, Issue 8, pp.9-16. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 509.116KB).

Dr. John Kerr

Associate Professor in the Humanities Dept., Division of Liberal Arts and Sciences, State Universtity of New York, Cobleskill, USA

Kerr has taught courses in basic reading/writing, freshman composition and American literature at the State University of New York for 28 years. Previous to this experience he taught courses in language arts in the New York public school system. He has published several articles related to issues concerning critical literacy, cultural studies, educational theory and composition studies. As a practitioner he has used his classroom experiences as a resource to examine pedagogical practices that will lead to a better understanding of effective literacy practices in the public school system. A particular focus of his work has examined the teaching practices and educational policies that have been highly influential in the design of literacy curriculums used in educational institutions at all levels of learning. His work as a teacher/researcher has been especially concerned with those public sites of learning where there exist a diverse and rich mix of socially and culturally diverse populations of students.

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