Dialogue on Writing: Rethinking ESL, Basic Writing, and First-Year Composition

By Geraldine Deluca; Len Fox et al. | Go to book overview

Chapter 6
Pedagogy of the Distressed
Jane Tompkins

Jane Tompkins was, until recently, Professor of English at Duke University and is now Professor of Curriculum and Instruction in the College of Education at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She edited Reader-Response Criticism: From Formalism to Poststructuralism (1980) and is the author of Sensational Designs: The Cultural Work of American Fiction, 1790–1870 (1985); West of Everything: The Inner Life of Westerns (1992); and her memoir of teaching and learning, A Life in School: What the Teacher Learned (1996). A Life in School won the 1998 Frederick W. Ness Award for a book on liberal education, granted by the American Association of Colleges and Universities. She currently gives lectures and workshops around the country on making the classroom a more humane environment. The following article is from College English, 52, October 1990.

Fear is what prevents the flowering of the mind.
—J. Krishnamurti, On Education


I

As professors of English we are always one way or another talking about what we think is wrong with the world and to a lesser extent about what we'd like to see changed. Whether we seek gender equality, or economic justice, or simply believe in the power and beauty of great literature, we preach some gospel or other. We do this indirectly, but always. What I have to say is very simple and comes directly off this point: our practice in the classroom doesn't often come very close to instantiating the values we preach.

I was led to think about the distance between what we do as teachers and what we say we believe in by Paulo Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed, whose great theme is that you cannot have a revolution unless education becomes a practice of freedom. That is, to the extent that the teaching situation reflects the power relations currently in force, which are assumed to be oppressive and authoritarian, to that extent will the students themselves,

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