Academic journal article Composition Studies

Speaking the Fool's Rhetoric: A Woman's Critical Praxis for Power-Sharing in a Gendered Writing Classroom

Academic journal article Composition Studies

Speaking the Fool's Rhetoric: A Woman's Critical Praxis for Power-Sharing in a Gendered Writing Classroom

Article excerpt

THKORIZING A REVISED CRITICAL PRAXIS: A juGGLER'S ACT

I count myself among the many women and people of eolor who struggle to achieve the goals of a critical pedagogy in their writing classrooms but who meet with enough student resistance that they may question the effectiveness of their praxis. Student resistance is a reminder that power is not always derived in hierarchical fashion (from university president to dean to teacher), but is instead derived from the broader culture and is unevenly inscribed in the classroom. While teachers do possess a degree of authority by virtue of their official status within the institution, the power they possess relative to their students is mediated by other factors, such as gender, race, class, and the subjects they teach. Much of the scholarship on critical pedagogy, however, assumes a more linear power dynamic, where teachers possess greater power relative to their students (Giroux, Graff, and Shor). In listing the "basic tenets in the literature of the sociology of education," Lisa Delpit describes how "[ijssues of power are enacted in the classroom." They include "the power of the teacher over the students; the power of the publishers of textbooks . . .; the power of the state in enforcing compulsory schooling," and the power of corporations to shape the laborforce (568). No mention is made of the forms of power students exercise. This type of top-down depiction of power tends to obscure at least as much as it reveals about the nature of our interactions with students in the composition classroom. My concerns with power and pedagogy arise out of my own struggles in writing classes, especially in advanced, discipline-specific writing classes, where student resistance is most acute and where my status as a middle-class, white female seems to undermine my status as a university professor.

A more complex portrait of power in the writing classroom is needed to enable the development of critical pedagogies that will be more responsive to multi-linear power relations among teachers and students. This article is an attempt to develop such a portrait and then to use that rendering to theorize a new pedagogy that may be better able to assist women and people of color in addressing the power dynamic that emerges in their writing classrooms.

Especially relevant to my argument, then, are the challenges women face as critical pedagogues but also relevant are issues of race as they impact the effectiveness of critical praxis for writing teachers. Race and gender complicate issues of power in the classroom for educators, who find that their physical presence is overwritten with difference in ways that undermine their authority as teachers. This is not only the case when the teacher is different from her students. Even white teachers teaching classes of all or mostly white students are involved in race-based power relations since in "a culturally pluralistic society like America, whiteness does not exist in isolation from non-white cultural constructions such as 'blackness'" (Comfort 549). Instead, the danger in such a context is that the power and privilege whiteness confers will be effaced. The larger point here is that students interpret their teachers, classmates, and themselves based on specific institutional and social markers that communicate information about power that transcends the context of the classroom. Institutional authority, then, may not be the greatest determiner of power in the classroom as much scholarship assumes; instead, these "readings" and the forms of power they articulate can place teachers who are women, black, Latina, gay, lesbian, disabled or who are marked by other signs of diminished status in society at a distinct disadvantage when they engage in a critical literacy praxis based on power sharing.

Keeping these complexities in mind, in this article 1 focus on developing a multi-linear portrait of power, using a section of "Business and Organizational Writing" (ENG368) as an emblematic example of how power develops and circulates in writing classrooms. …

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.