Monday, November 16, 2009

Synthesizing the Pedagogical Gap and the Literary Inventor

David Bartholomae, in his article, “Inventing the University,” seems to address his voice toward teachers, and/or researchers concerned with the methods in which one acquires language and writing in university-level discourses; he also, inadvertently, gives insight to students interested in producing a more academic stance in their authorship. In the article, his focus centers around the delineation between writer-based and reader-based approaches, and their standings in the university. While rooting out what he believes to be the pitfalls of many remedial writers¾ as they relate to the two forms of writing¾ he offers teachers and writers ways to view revision, which he purports will help the writer conform to a discourse. In her article, “Bridging the Pedagogical Gap: Intersections between Literary and Reading Theories in Secondary and Postsecondary Literacy Instruction,” Lisa Eckert¾ like Bartholomae¾ is concerned with the level of production in the postsecondary setting; however, she approaches this concern from a completely separate stance. Whereas Bartholomae keeps his scope on writing, Eckert extends this scope to reading and literary theory, and pedagogical inconsistencies and miscommunications between secondary and postsecondary institutions; and, because of such, her audience becomes limited to teachers. Both articles offer solid support for their arguments, and make arguments well worth contemplation and assimilation; however, both fail to attend to avenues of import: what each other’s article discourses. Reading and writing cannot extricate from the larger body of cognizance, without losing something in the process. This reason creates a basis for my argument: that there needs to be a synthesis between bridging the pedagogical gap (which creates a greater understanding of theoretical processes) and pragmatic application of writing.

Bartholomae refers to basic writers as writers placed in remedial level writing classes (62). This view does not discredit the basic writer¾ in fact, he applauds the writer for “try[ing] on the peculiar ways of knowing, selecting, evaluating, reporting, concluding, and arguing as if the writer were in the discourse” (60). Bartholomae acknowledges that there is a level of apprenticeship in the process, but he attends to the idea that there is only one way to accurately approach analytical writing at the university level. To him, a writer must “appropriate (or be appropriated by) a specialized discourse” before the writer is able to find “some compromise between idiosyncrasy [sic], a personal history” and the precepts of the discourse (61). Difficulty arises here, as most apprentices are not instructed as to the ways in which academia runs¾ they must acquire the theories of a discourse by finding the commonplaces. Bartholomae defines a commonplace as a concept which will “dictate its own set of phrases, examples, and conclusions” (63). Rightfully, a commonplace will not achieve commonality until one has visited such place. Ergo one cannot suppose to assume an air of authority until one has learned a discourse. This approach seems post facto, in the sense that one must enter a world of expectations without being taught first the expectations. Even Bartholomae, in his argument, acknowledges that “it is very hard for them to take on the role - the voice, the persona - of an authority whose authority is rooted in scholarship, analysis, or research” (62). He goes on to express that a writer’s slips into an authoritative literary first-person come from lack of understanding: the discourse, and the audience.

His remedy, as he agrees with Flowers, is that “teaching students to revise for readers, then, will better prepare them to write initially with the reader in mind” (Bartholomae 64). The problem with structuring revision around reader-based writing lies in the fact that ultimately the writer must find his own voice; which means that he must take another step¾ away from the reader. This concept couches in the ideas Flower and Hayes state on page 66: that a writer’s thinking and writing progresses through the process of revision for the reader, so that the writer becomes the “writer” uninvolved from the burden of the reader; and, that the writer’s own writing assumes a power of authority, and a new voice. The anomalous problem with this occurs when the discourse dictates the writer; so, is there such a thing as writer-based writing? This, as Bartholomae states, “is Barthes’s famous paradox” (67). The fact is that the reader must be taught to understand both methods, and be aware of both when he writes. Because, separate from one another, they are both ineffective and remedial.

Teaching to differentiate between effective and ineffective methods, as Lisa Eckert explains, before the time when it is necessary to have a mastery of these skills, is not being done. She notes that, as students progress, teachers expect them to have an understanding of the discourse “without explicitly teaching them how to do so” (111). Her approach decidedly offers that the problem originates long before the writer ever reaches the university. And, she notes that this lack of instruction leads to the student’s lack of “assuming an interpretive stance on their own, students come to class expecting¾ even requiring¾ teachers to explicate the nuances of the text for them” (111). Like Bartholomae, Eckert believes that the students are more than capable of performing the tasks required; where they agree is the fact that the students are not being given the tools of understanding and making cognizant the concepts behind the reasons why a particular discourse operates the way it does.

So it seems that, in both cases, there needs to be a precedent set for pedagogy. Eckert provides a succinct proposition for this:

Transfer can be mediated by introducing students to critical theory as scaffolding for metacognitively constructing meaning from text; in other words, by explicitly teaching theoretical approaches to literature, English teachers better enable students to transfer reading strategy skills to literary analysis and interpretation. (112)

The basis of this method for teaching the theories of a given discourse prior to expectation affronts the problems that archaic approaches produce. Additionally, it advocates awareness¾ just as Bartholomae advocates awareness of the reader.

Having an awareness of a discourse and its methods, theories, and audience thus becomes the goal; so, in that, it seems that the pedagogical model has been working upside down. Instead of allowing the student to acculturate to the discourse, while teaching fragments of it, the university should be teaching the discourse as a whole: allowing the student to interpret the fragments. In doing so, the teacher, student, and discourse itself must be taught (and gain) an awareness of the inextricability of each element making up that discourse.

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