As I mentioned in class last week, my research project will be focusing on asserting the importance of considering classrooms, schools, and universities themselves as commodified spaces and places (ambiences as Rickert might call them) when discussing postpedagogical theories (which Paul Lynch will discuss in our reading next week). In thinking along these lines, I was particularly struck by Elizabeth Ellsworth’s introduction to her aim in Places of Learning. As she claims in setting up her argument, “Bodies have affective somatic responses as they inhabit a pedagogy’s time and space… Because this experience arises out of an assemblage of mind/brain/body with the time and space of pedagogy, we must approach an investigation into the experience of learning self through that assemblage” (4-5). I agree emphatically with this claim. The assemblage in which the institutionalized experience of learning occurs, as a paid for privilege or commodity (whether via taxes or tuition), is a space that indeed is in need of deeper inquiry. However, she finds that “The pedagogical anomalies that form the impetus for this book are difficult to see as pedagogy only when we view them from the ‘center’ of dominant educational discourses and practices—a position that takes knowledge to be a thing already made and learning to be an experience already known” (5). I find, though, perhaps it is difficult to see her approach to learning as “pedagogy” in an institutional sense, but not in a philosophical one. As we have discussed in class, the institutionalized learning environment cannot hope to insight “enlightenment” or an awakened citizenry, due to its complexly hypocritical emplacement within the existing networks of power. Instead, as Rickert asserts in his Acts of Enjoyment, we can only hope to inspire an Act, or a gesture that seeks to change the very foundation for the existing discourses. Instead, I find it is easier to see Ellsworth’s notion of Learning as inspired by an autodidactic approach to learning. It strives to inspire the student who sees all places as a space for learning, regardless of the context or the presence of a grading eye. An awareness of this position re-acknowledges the cynicism-inducing impact of the ambiences of institutionalized-learning while also acknowledging the theoretical power that a place-oriented theory to learning, such as Ellsworth’s, can provide.
As a concluding question: can we, rather than seeking to enlighten in our pedagogies, strive to inspire autodidacticism from within our problematic position as educators?
I found Ellsworth’s comments on primary and secondary sources in the Introduction to Places of Learning to be quite interesting. The author states that the sources she uses in the chapters following the introduction would be considered secondary sources by most readers. She then problematizes secondary sources as having the potential to be biased or invalid interpretations of a primary source. However, she claims that with this “Western” thought, “the distinction and hierarchy between primary and secondary sources effectively relegate most women and most of Western thought’s non-Western others to the status of secondary sources” (Ellsworth 11). The author continues that in many ways, education mirrors secondary sources in that educators merely interpret and explain the primary sources, or works, of others. Also, Ellsworth states that pedagogy also takes a secondary status in relation to curriculum.
As an educator, I find these comments to be quite interesting. In a way, I was a little bit offended by the author’s claim that educators are mere secondary sources. However, I then started to wonder why I was initially upset by this. What makes secondary sources less effective or educational than primary sources? Depending on what is being taught, secondary sources may be the best or only option to use, but this does not make the teaching less important or effective. As I read on in the introduction, to where Ellsworth says that secondary sources are not inferior to primary sources and a simple explanation of primary sources, but instead an attempt to refine or “make something (else) of them” (12), I realized that the author seems to be right. I also realized that I had fallen into the exact canon of thought that she describes, thinking that secondary sources are subordinate to primary ones.
My final thought after this initial reaction and subsequent realization was that this is not the first time this has occurred this semester. There have been many instances of our readings expanding my ideas about writing, a fact that will undoubtedly be beneficial to me as an educator.
Part of Ellesworth’s goal is to move away from binary modes of thinking and “create concepts and languages that release and redirect the forces now locked up in such binaries by addressing them not as separate and in relations of opposition but rather as complex moving webs of interrelations” (3). In doing so, students can experience modes of learning and thought which embrace “the lived experience of our learning selves that make the thing we call knowledge” (1). Of course there is no single pedagogy that can be transplanted in each classroom in order to enact this type of learning, but I was most interested in Ellesworth’s use of architecture to provide examples of how this type of Learning (with a capital L) can be experienced. Although Ellesworth may only be using these examples to express how this type of knowledge creation functions, I think it could be beneficial to express the theories behind this pedagogy directly with students. Within a composition classroom, a main goal could not only be allowing students to experience this active knowledge making, but promoting an awareness of it that also disrupts the many binaries that often limit thought processes. This awareness could be promoted in a manner similar to Jody Shipka’s questions about the rhetorical choices made in multimodal compositions (114).
However, the questions could not only be applied to students’ choices in their compositions, but also their responses to previously composed pieces or environments, specifically with a focus on more corporeal experiences, such as that modeled in the “The Materiality of Pedagogy” chapter, which focused on responses to Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Center for Contemporary Art. More specifically, it may be important scaffolding to reflect on where most of their formal education occurs – within the traditional classroom. Students could examine the ways the material aspects of a classroom function to promote a specific type of learning or even a limited format of discourse. What classroom features work to influence this? What changes in classrooms influence modes of thought? Are changes still limited within the confines of a classroom setting? Exploring these ideas directly may help to disrupt the mind/body binary into something more fluid. However, these ideas would have to translate to student’s own compositions, which is where the theories and examples of Alexander and Rhodes would be useful.
How could we apply some of the activities of Alexander and Rhodes to Ellesworth’s discussion?
Think of the classroom specifically as a material environment, in what ways do you see it affecting students in a corporeal sense? How does this relate to the type of learning promoted?
Ellesworth mentions the thinking/feeling binary. In what ways do you see this binary affecting the ways students currently see their compositions and the compositions of others?
I really enjoyed reading this week’s piece titled “Places of Learning” by Elizabeth Ellsworth. Specifically in the introduction, I found myself engaged and listening as influences from Shipka and even Murray seemed to echo in my ears: Process over product, multi-modality, affect, the body as materiality…
Throughout this semester I have found myself aligning with scholars like Murray and Shipka who are pushing students (as well as teachers and even the university) to consider other means of composition in order to engage with the process. Ellsworth asks: “How does the fact of human embodiment affect activities of teaching and learning?” (2). This question makes me think of my own rhetorical strategies and teaching philosophies. Teaching a first year writing course, as well as being a graduate instructor, means a very restricted agenda to an extent. Throughout the readings this semester, I want to challenge myself as a teacher and as a student to see if I can engage students to experience this “affect” or embodiment of learning. One of the main threads I noticed throughout this reading was trying to teach for an experience. Often times, the experience is argued to only be achieved during the process of learning. The product has a stigma of unimportance—and I agree to this point. I want my students to engage in the process of their writing, the experience of revision, and attempt to achieve something inside rather than only write for external reward (the grade). Though this may be difficult to implement in a first year writing course, I certainly want to begin the challenge by focusing on the processes of my own writing. I hope that by doing so I can experience this “learning self” and affect and, in turn, expand my own practices and understanding of rhetorical vehicles. Writing has always been an experience for me as a student; however, I want this experience to transfer over to my teaching as well in order to achieve pedagogical anomaly. I truly believe that stepping away from restricted meanings for “composition” will lead to an experience within the body. I wonder how we could get students, in a first year comp course, to achieve affect.
This week’s text was Linda Adler-Kassler’s The Activist WPA which seeks to create a new narrative surrounding writing than the pragmatic progressive jeremiad narrative that has influenced historical and contemporary notions surrounding writing, student deficiency, and student under-preparedness for academic writing in a higher learning environment. Kassler proposes for WPAs and others involved in university writing programs to facilitate conversations with the public on both micro and macro levels in order to share stories, narratives, and experiences surrounding college composition as a way to reframe the dominant perspective of college writing.
While most classes involve mapping out the exigence, proposal, theories, and examples of each text, this week we first did some regrouping and rethinking about all that we have covered so far surrounding writing program issues and any questions we have been considering. Each of us shared what we thought about composition before the class and how class discussions and texts have expanded our ideas about composition. We considered our own principles and stakes within composition, our personal stories that perhaps influence those principles and stakes, and what we found most compelling (or problematic) about the text. Throughout the discussion, we also contemplated what stories we, as individuals, want to tell and change.
Lauren and Kasey posed select questions for the class to consider regarding Kassler’s “backward mapping” of long and short term goals, critical intelligence and alternatives, problematizing expectations for composition both within writing programs and for the public, as well as the importance and value of personal stories to do the messy work of facilitating conversations for all stakeholders involved.
Dr. Campbell also encouraged us to consider the repeating questions from the text excluding any sort of micro or macro level expectations as if we could facilitate our own composition course on our individual “islands”:
1. How should students’ literacies be defined when they come into composition classes?
2. What literacies should composition classes develop, how, and for what purpose?
3. How should the development of students’ literacies be assessed at the end of these classes?
APRIL 26TH: WRITING PROGRAMS + ACTIVISM
Linda Adler-Kassner’s The Activist WPA (pdf on myclasses)
Deep reader(s): Lauren + Kasey
DUE: Final project proposal due in class
Very excited to hear your thoughts on this one! +++ Can’t wait to see what topics and writing program issues you plan to explore.