Academic journal article Composition Studies

Composing Critical Pedagogies: Teaching Writing as Revision

Academic journal article Composition Studies

Composing Critical Pedagogies: Teaching Writing as Revision

Article excerpt

Composing Critical Pedagogies: Teaching Writing as Revision, by Amy Lee. Urbana, IL: NCTE, 2000.

I wanted to read Amy Lee's book less because of the "critical pedagogies" in the title and more because of the subtitle, "Teaching Writing as Revision." My desire may imply a bias that I hope to touch upon later in this review. But for now, I'll start by saying that the terms critical and expressive have come to represent a binary opposition that, for a long time, I have found disturbing, mainly because the terms are often assumed to be neutral, not the product of an interested perspective, a particular "gaze." Few who are labeled expressivist would claim that title for themselves these days, especially given the criticisms now attached to it. Nonetheless, I refer to these terms in this review not because I regard them as unproblematic, but because Amy Lee's book, while defining the differences along some of the now-familiar binaries, also raises questions with the agonistic relations into which they are generally cast. In her book, such oppositions provide useful guideposts rather than strictly polarized positions. Her discussions about writing pedagogy ultimately point beyond these differences even while insisting upon clear distinctions in how each "reads" the classroom.

To engage both the discourses and the classroom practices that these discourses inform and that inform them is a much-welcomed, even needed contribution not only to the history, traditions, and literature on critical pedagogy, but also to rethinking theory-practice relations. Lee insists upon reimagining critical pedagogy as "not a linear process of thinking and then doing, but rather a recursive one .... also constituted by reflection and action" (9). While such a reimagining is not new within the contexts of the teacher-researcher movement (see Cathy Fleischer, Dixie Goswami, and Ruth Ray), it is valuable insofar as critical pedagogy still casts theory as the hero that, if not saves, then at least empowers, teachers and students.

Lee also argues for reconsidering the role of reading in writing pedagogies, not only in the classroom but in classroom narratives represented in scholarly work: "[T]urning the text of our teaching into something more complicated than the familiar genres of classroom narrative-heroic quest story or confessional narrative-requires not only new forms for representing our work in the classroom but also new ways of reading" (10). She takes a decidedly feminist stance, eschewing strictly agonistic relations between one school of thought and its practices and another towards greater reciprocity in reading "between and among" pedagogies. Here Lee echoes feminist theorist Luce Irigaray's call to complicate the binary oppositions of categorical thought by inquiring into what is "among and between" them, thus complicating the subject-object dichtomy that characterizes so much intellectual debate as it attempts to "overpower" pre-existing ideas in favor of new ones:

Rather than continuing to argue for one specific pedagogy over another, we might begin, as this text has attempted to do, to consider the conversations that take place between and among pedagogies .... Seemingly, then, there is some common ground where we can work to synthesize these theories in practice as a means of utilizing their respective strengths and trying to be aware of and responsive to their potential limitations for individual students and situations. (273)

However, before continuing to summarize what this book is about, it might be helpful to say what it is not about, since its focus on finding common ground between expressivist and critical pedagogies may imply, for instance, a revisiting of the expressivist-social constructivist debates of the 1990s a la Elbow and Bartholomae. (Elbow is mentioned as an expressivist, mainly because Lee's classroom narrative is situated at UMass Amherst where, she says, expressivist discourse dominated the freshman writing curriculum; Bartholomae isn't even cited). …

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