Academic journal article Reader

Story as Civic Engagement: Public Discourse about Literacy and Narratives of Teaching and Learning

Academic journal article Reader

Story as Civic Engagement: Public Discourse about Literacy and Narratives of Teaching and Learning

Article excerpt

This piece developed out of a seminar paper in which I considered how Wayne Booth's "A Teacher's Journal," part of his collection The Vocation of a Teacher, engages with public discourse about education. In that paper, I used Elizabeth Ellsworth's post-humanist critique of educational discourse in Teaching Positions: Difference, Pedagogy, and the Power of Address to show how Booth's narrative of the classroom employs various strategies to resist simplistic ideas of "success" in teaching, in part to challenge the narrowness of public debate about effective teaching - even as Booth also offers a kind of embodied assertion of teaching's value, through the powerful depiction of his teacher persona. I argued that Booth's account thus foreshadows the kind of critique Ellsworth offers, while displacing for political ends her focus on teaching's "paradoxical" nature. The internal conflicts of a text like Booth's intrigued me: Booth's narrative plays self-consciously with some of the problematic motifs of many accounts of teaching and learning - intense moments of collective transformation, the learning of self-knowledge, and connection with others - so as to both resist such simplifications and retain some of their power. To my mind, this is a key strategy for narratives of the classroom aimed at broader publics. In the piece that follows, I was interested in taking up these concerns with more recent narratives of teaching and learning - scholarship that engages with more recent public imperatives than Booth or Ellsworth, as perennial as some of their concerns are - in order to raise questions about the usefulness of narrative in representing the classroom to the public. Crucially, the texts I discuss here, Kathleen Blake Yancey's Writing in the 21st Century: A Report from the National Council of Teachers of English and Suresh Canagarajah's A Geopolitics of Academic Writing, acknowledge the degree to which the classroom is only one of many contexts for literacy: this reflects some of the concerns of current public discourse about literacy, but it also poses particular problems for narratives of teaching and learning that aim to value the work of teachers. In future work, I would like to build on the ideas and questions I have raised in this piece, by pursuing a more extensive survey of scholarly narratives of teaching and learning that have resonated in broader public forums, along with a more nuanced analysis of the different publics involved.

In her 2008 Chair's address to the Conference on College Composition and Communication, "Representing Ourselves," Cheryl Glenn emphasizes the need for CCCC to "conceive of new ways of working together across differences in order to represent our professional selves strategically" (421) - in part, to better respond to forces outside the discipline that attempt to circumscribe the meaning and conditions of our work. Representing literacy teaching and learning to a broad public is a recurring concern in composition studies, and one I take up here in relation to scholarly narratives of teaching and learning. As these narratives play an important part in how we represent our work to ourselves, we should consider how narrative can intervene in public debate, and what possibilities it offers for the strategic representation Glenn recommends.

Regardless of the scope of the audience, scholarly narratives of teaching and learning present particular challenges for writers - perhaps most significantly, the challenge of accounting for students' thinking, investments, and achievements, when one's access to those effects, as a teacher, is always partial and mediated. Some scholars have responded to this challenge by constructing narratives that foreground teaching's complexity, indeterminacy, its uncertain "success." However, while such complexity might usefully respond to simplifications in public discourse about education and literacy, it can be difficult to achieve in some public forums - and may not always serve writers' attempts to value the work of teachers and students in the face of public criticism, reports of declining standards, and so on. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.