Tuesday, November 3, 2009

In the article “Reading Texts, Literacy, and Textual Authority”, Henry Giroux stands stalwartly against the tide of the prescriptive usage of textual authority. He contends that the usage of “textual authority as forms of social and political discourse bear significantly on the ways in which knowledge and classroom social practices are constructed in the relations of domination and oppression”(87). In other words, Giroux believes that the current system of instruction uses text as a medium from which students acquire “cultural capital”(87) which comes from the “Great Books”. It is his opinion that schools then become centers of cultural oppression, where the ideals of western culture are imprinted in the minds of the students. Schools tend to teach students to decipher the original meaning of the text rather than interpret it for themselves. This leads to the attempt to reproduce the same “legitimate cultural capital”(87) which “authorizes the voice of the masters”(87). This discourse serves to perpetuate one particular version of Western Civilization, and leads to an “Elitist notion of the canon”(88). However it is not just which texts that are chosen which is the real issue, but how they are allowed to be interpreted.

Another point Giroux makes is that the curriculum is a political construction. The selection of the texts is never objective, there is always some aim that the curriculum is set to teach via some opinion. Giroux says “Curriculum, by its very nature, is a social and historical construction which links knowledge and power in very specific ways”(88). The way in which curriculum is set up maintains a “hierarchy of forms of knowledge to which access is socially distributed”(88) and from this reasoning the idea of the “great books” comes to be. Curriculum can be seen as a strategy which offers skills, but the cost of it is the continuation of privileging particular histories, experiences and interpretations. By this method, the histories and experiences of the other is effectively silenced or marginalized by the curriculum set forth by the dominant group.

Giroux also contends the issue of the separation between literature and writing classes. Whereas literature is seen as legitimate in acquiring the skill of reading, Writing is marginalized as a “pedagogy of skill acquisition”(88). In other words, writing is simply a method used to acquire the skill of reading rather than as a ““creative and genuine” form of cultural production”(88). This seems to continue with the theme that new views are effectively silenced by this system.

What I think Giroux intends to convey is that the idea of textual authority legitimizes certain views of the world through the perspective of the authors of the “great books” while marginalizing the interpretations of the reader through usage of power driven curricula. Even the choice of the “great books” in the curriculum is based on representing certain views more than others. There is a preference for the writings of white males, while other minority groups may be represented but disproportionately so. Thus, the opinion of the other is marginalized by the dominance of the representation of those in power, and textual authority becomes a vehicle for oppression.

The idea of textual authority gets me thinking that while it has good intentions, as Giroux points out, it is definitely pushing some angle of world view on the students. I have always been against the idea of textual authority in my life, but I do see the need for it in some situations. It can be argued that a common interpretation is needed to share a mutual experience with someone else, especially in an academic setting. However I believe that texts are a highly personal experience. Therefore, to me, the idea of textual authority can never be accepted. I suspect that the reasoning for so many failures to acquire these views is due to the cultural, socio-economical, regional, and dialectic differences between every person. The attempt to push the views of some writer with which the student disagrees will only result in reluctance at best, and a total shut down to any literature at the worst.

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