The Tie that Binds
Toward an Understanding of Ideology in the Composition and Literature Classrooms (and Beyond)
Am I doing this right?
Is this what you want?
The precarious position my freshman composition students occupy produces questions like the ones above. Teetering on the academic ledge, they are trying to create a concreteness, a certainty, to discourse, as if it can be defined, explained, and performed in one fell swoop. I am certain that most teachers of composition and literature (and other disciplines as well) have heard these questions or similar ones. And, though we know better than to play into their hands, the lure often proves too seductive. Our “natural” reaction is to say yes or no and give advice; or perhaps we stop to ask the student, “Well, what do you want to say?” and then proceed to help them say it. After all, that is our job.
But, the questions reveal their, and our, assumptions about writing and reading well: The students assume that the instructor is the authority vested with knowledge to determine “correct” from “incorrect” writing, and this is the most important lesson to be learned in the writing classroom. They assume that knowledge always lies beyond their grasp in the forms of discourse they are studying, and, therefore, they need an intermediary between themselves and their texts. And, students assume that discourse is something someone else produces; it is distinct from their “thoughts, ” and thus they must conform those thoughts to “artificial”