March 8th: Rickert + Hawk || Reimagining the field

Looking forward to your posts, as always.

dr. c


4 thoughts on “March 8th: Rickert + Hawk || Reimagining the field”

  1. How did the promise of social-epistemic pedagogy, seeking to “persuade students that change is possible,” (Hawk 78) become so negatively viewed? One critique of both critical and cultural studies we have discussed as a class is the issue of lack of focus in content on writing. Rickert writes, “. . . many classrooms offer a pedagogy of slackening in which the strict rules pertaining to organization, grammar, and format are relaxed in favor of critical thought” (180). This argument is valid. With more focus on content than teaching writing strategies and tools the actual mechanics of grammar and structure fall to the wayside. The question then becomes: what should students write about to prevent lack of focus on writing as an act itself? Writing about writing seems to answer this question. But, let me tell you, these papers are usually excruciatingly boring. I had a student write a reflection of their writing solely based on their improvement of their use of semi-colons before. This is when I shifted Unit 3 of ENGL 103 to Writing Across the Curriculum. I do not think these are easy fixes, though. A quotation that struck me as a cultural/critical and feminist pedagogue was “[R]adical pedagogies that seek to empower students by obtaining from them critical understandings of the discourses and practices that disempower them. . . thereby perpetrate a particular kind of authoritarian violence on the student” (Rickert 182). Maybe students do not want a sociocultural awakening. Maybe some do not want to create change. As also mentioned in the reading, maybe a true critical approach to the writing classroom should be to allow students to create the syllabus with the instructor. This way, the subject positions of both student and teacher become more collaborative and less dichotomous. The issue of indoctrination becomes apparent once again. Therefore, my questions about these readings are:

    What is the most ethical content of a writing classroom for a writing instructor to employ? Why?

    (not related to my blog post): Hawk discusses the harmful split of Rhetoric and the Poetic. What did the marriage of the two actually consist of since we often hear solely of rhetoric vs. poetic?


  2. Rickert seems to put a lot of the blame of an unsuccessful cultural studies composition curriculum on postmodern trends in thought. Modernist goals, or goals based on enlightenment thinking are pushed in a postmodern environment, adding to the cynicism of the students. Rickert writes, “for one of the primary contentions of this book is that ‘empowerment’ (and, by association, what passes fir critical thinking), for all its potential seductiveness, is a keenly problematic goal, one tied precisely to enlightenment goals Sloterdijk so eloquently diagnoses as generating cynicism” (14). The assumption that knowledge is power is taken for granted by most educators, but is an idea that has roots in thinking that has sense been either dismissed or now greeted with the great skepticism of postmodernism. This is further complicated by the postmodern loss of faith in any sort of stable signifiers. Few Truths (if any at all for the most cynical students) exist that can be a driving force for a curriculum that is meant to raise consciousness. The teaching of critical theory now contributes to the jouissance of the instructor, where it only adds cynicism for the students.

    Rickert complicates this further with his discussion of current power distributions, which Rickert uses Deleuzean ideas to describe as more dispersed as opposed to more traditional power relations, which were once focused in various forms of institutional and disciplinary forces. These is no longer the same “big Other,” which creates a different form of subjectivity in our students. This is contradictory to most student-teacher power dynamics in composition course, as “compositionists are doubly implicated in the problem of resistance in that they provide the forum and impetus for the actions and thoughts of students while simultaneously providing the very criteria by which those thoughts and actions will be evaluated as critical, or resistant, or some other category” (171).

    To demonstrate the futility of “empowerment” through critical cultural studies in the composition classroom, Rickert occasionally uses the example of an advertising unit. This is a large focus of the English 103 curriculum here at Salisbury, and as our unit also has roots in cultural studies, it could be questioned in what ways we are actually empowering our students, or are we simply teaching them to point out issues in our consumer culture in order that they know these issues, but have no real idea of change. With an ambiguous big Other that holds no discernable focus of power in the consumer culture we are critiquing, it is almost impossible for students not to simply develop a deep cynicism for the culture they are critiquing that seems unable to change even if they did want it to.

    All teaching is at least slightly self-indulgent. As instructors, how do you see jouissance affecting your pedagogical choices?

    Have you ever encountered what Rickert considers an “Act” in your teaching experience?


  3. I took particular interest in a suggestion that Rickert makes in his “Hands Up! You’re Free” chapter. He remarks “I urge us to take the following position: teaching writing is fully complicit with dominant social practices, and inducing students to write with institutional precepts can be as disabling as it is enabling” (Rickert 164). I think that this statement has a lot of power to it. It seems to me that there are undeniable benefits as well as drawbacks to dictating how or what a student must write. I agree with Rickert’s sentiments that by doing this, we may be disabling students by not thinking about what students are not learning. We might, as the author says, be ignoring other forms of writing, “forms that have their own different powers and inventive allure” (164). I think that it is also true that we cannot completely abandon grammar, organization, and other basics of writing and let students write whatever they choose like Matthew the EMT in Rickert’s example. Instead, I think that a teacher’s pedagogy must blend to allow students to have the best opportunity to become successful writers. We must, as Rickert says, “inflect our own particular pedagogies with insight into education’s general culpability, to the extent that we grant students possibilities for a writing that would be their own act” (165). Rickert states that giving students the possibility to write on their own would allow the students to take more control of their learning. He continues that this does not mean we should stop teaching writing. I agree with this. It seems anyway that it would be impossible to completely do away with writing as we know it, especially with the importance of things like thesis statements, grades, and grammar. Although Rickert’s statement was one small part of a much larger reading, it seemed to me that this statement carries a lot of weight as an important issue in writing programs.


  4. Both cultural studies and critical pedagogy in the composition classroom intrigue me as an English instructor. Rather than provide solutions, my research has led to an abundance of questions stemming from the actual theories and the classroom practice. What does critical pedagogy look like in a classroom? How should teachers approach resistance in the classroom? Is there a “better” way to approach these subjects? Many theorists have differing opinions on the ways to approach such pedagogy in the classroom with positive and negative results. Thomas Rickert looks back on a particular composition class where he taught a unit on advertising. He questions how his lessons actually relate to the student’s lives and if this “enable[s] a critically enlightened citizenry” (2). This reminded me of James Berlin in Rhetoric and Reality arguing for teachers to prepare students to participate in democracy. Can teachers prepare students for participation in democracy in first-year composition? This question continues to spark conversation in terms of the role of a teacher in the composition classroom. Some would argue that the teacher should not focus on these ideas in the classroom.

    Later, in the chapter titled “Hands Up! You’re Free, “ Rickert again discusses the unit on advertising saying, “asking students to take a critical attitude toward, say, advertising, does little to dissolve advertising’s persuasive power, but it does provide yet another forum in which they will be evaluated and ranked, a procedure that is most useful for their future employment opportunities” (191). Rickert’s example relates to the Unit 2 we have at Salisbury where students relate branding and advertising to a controversial issue in society. I feel as though our advertising unit helps students think critically about society in ways they probably had not before the class. How can we as teachers make connections beyond the composition course that actually help students participate in democracy? We are working on a WAC centered final unit for the course that pushes towards relating the English 103 course to their particular major; however, as freshman, many students do not have a desired major. How can we still reach these students in a WAC unit to think beyond the English 103 course? How can we as teachers make connections beyond the composition course that actually help students participate in democracy?


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