James A. Berlin wrote
It is the role of English teachers to serve as the bankers, the keepers and dispensers, of certain portions of this cultural capital, their value to society being defined in terms of its investment and reproduction. Since this capital has been located almost exclusively in literary texts, it is small wonder that attempts to challenge the rhetoric/poetic binary on which the value of these texts resides is resisted. 17
While Berlin correctly sees this problem as institutional, it is also pedagogical. However, by viewing the study of texts—both academic and lit-erary—as the study of ideology, we can begin to deconstruct this dichotomy and reconceive what we study when we study writing and literature. What we study, in the end, are the ideologies, as Althusser would say, which “interpellate” us as subjects; that is, we are individuals who are constructed by those material forms in which our cultural beliefs, ideas, and values reside. To investigate those ideologies which we come to know and understand through literature is to investigate our knowledge of what we perceive as our societal and human bonds. This investigation and analysis of specific ideologies can only increase our students' mastery over writing (whether their own, literature or other kinds of texts) and the content and form of their discussion of that writing. In addition, all other disciplines, psychology, history, even the hard sciences, have their own forms of discourse, and thus their own disciplinary assumptions as well as general ideologies “concealed” within them. These discourses construct “truth, ” using rhetorical forms appropriate to each specific discipline. To analyze the construction of disciplinary truth—ideologies—in writing enhances our students' ability to ask stimulating and rigorous questions and gives them the ability to answer those questions.
So, to answer my students' questions, “Am I doing this right?” and “Is this what you want?” all I can say is, “I don't know, ” with enthusiasm.
I wish to thank the participants in a year-long “Radical Pedagogy” reading group at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania. I am grateful to S. Michael McCully, in particular, for his careful reading of this essay.