Wednesday, November 17, 2004

resisting resistance

Henry Giroux has been critiqued by Marxists (as well, I am sure, by many other theorists/scholars). He has been accused of being complicit in the capitalist system because of his focus on race, gender, sexuality, ageism, etc. But in "Reading Texts, Literacy, and Textual Authority" he readily admits that meanings and experiences deemed legitimate "and what forms of reading and writing matter are largely determined by those groups who control the economic and cultural apparatuses of a given society." Is it because he uses the word "largely" controlled by..., rather than exclusively controlled by...that there is a problem? Later, Giroux makes the argument that "textual authority is about the struggle over culture fought out at the level of ideological representations and the exercise of institutional power." Is it a problem that he sees the struggle for culture fought out somewhere other than between the classes? Is it because Giroux's approach is not to change the "groups who control," but rather to "empower students" that there is a problem here?

He has been held accountable for using loaded words like "student empowerment." And yet again and again I am seduced by Giroux. I am called to action and passion through his words. And here I am almost ashamed to admit to this. What kind of trouble(s) can we get ourselves into when we start talking about empowering students, which in a rhetorical way always sounds so positive? I know the problems exist, but whenever I read Giroux I find myself forgetting what they are.

So I want to think about resistance. I want to resist and challenge resistance. Giroux is big on resistance--encouraging teachers to challenge ideology, commonsense, epitsteme, whatever you want to call it, through "adding new categories of analysis." I'm not sure what those categories would be per se, as analysis can be argued as the one of the most hegemonic concepts in the English department. Can we construct analysis specifically to be counterhegemonic?

Last week I went to an interesting lecture given by Michael Warner on the idea of "uncritical reading/thinking," and I would assume this could lead to "uncritical" writing. In his lecture, Warner addressed our obssession with critical thinking (i.e. thinking like us, thinking in a certain way as deemed appropriate/acceptable within the walls of higher education)--in this way critical reading/thinking has become the "norm"--it has, in fact, become ideological, invisible, commonsense. Uncritical reading/thinking is seen as unsystematic and naive (amateur). And Warner comes to question why we need to rule out and shut down these other kinds of reading/thinking. I know that there is a connection here somewhere....

Many students resist our need, desire, prompts to have them resist their culture--the one they know, the one that has comprised their experiences. And yet, we think we know better--we want to give them a consciousness so that they can rise up and revolt. This is an exaggeration, of course, and goals vary from classroom to classroom, but the first thing I need to do is question analysis. Ironically, Writing Analytically, is the title of the text I use in the class I'm currently teaching. Because writing analytically is somehow valuable, but what if it is not the only "best" way?

Giroux describes his approach as a "project of possibility," and that possibility is for constructing a student experience leading to critical (there is that word again) citizenship and democracy. These are admirable goals. The problem I'm having with all of this is getting bogged down in theorizing and defining. What is a citizen? Who is a citizen? How do we define citizenship?

Although the essay to which I'm referring ("Reading Texts, Literacy, and Textual Authority) was written in 1990, I get the feeling that Giroux still believes that the dominant view of English departments is that of a site for the dissemination of Western culture. Is this still a dominant view? And is it the view inside or outside of the department? Inside of outside of the institution?


Corey said...

Hi VTmtngrrl,
I'm beginning to study in critical pedagogy, although I'm now in my last grad semester at The College of Saint Rose. Kim Middleton linked me to you (she's painstakingly sponsoring my hatching).

I'm also just beginning with blogs (again thanks to Kim).

Just wanted to say that your blog is very exciting. Some questions:
-- Did you feel underqualified, swamped with ideas, and needing to revise your ENTIRE internalized schema once you got into C.P.? I know your blog is evidence of this process, but thinking back, how much a 'rookie' did you feel? Do you still feel it? Is your awareness of how high stakes this is -- is it daunting? Has studying this field actually helped you to internalize so that your practice has been satifying to your frame and 'belief' in Crit Ped. practices --- does it remain to be outside yourself?

One of the most difficult things I see is how I need to force this or else slip back into the ed practices I witnessed growing up (positivist, not engaging, rarely critical).

Thanks, Corey

VTmtngrrl said...

Thanks Corey for stopping by and checking out my blog. It seems to me that you're further along than "just beginning" with blogs based on the quick perusal I gave your blog.

In terms of how I felt when I started working with critical pedagogy -- well, it's interesting because Kim actually just posted a comment making a connection between critical pedagogy and the educational philosophies of Steiner and Montessori. As I tell her there, I hadn't much thought about the connection(s) but it makes sense given that as an undergrad I was intensely interested in Waldorf education. During my student teaching I worked in an alternative education program. So all-in-all since my first experiences with ed. classes and pedagogy I have almost instinctively been drawn to alternative/nontraditional approaches to education. My work in/with critical pedagogy seems to follow almost naturally out of those earlier experiences.

In terms of meshing theory with practice -- I remember having this professor (graduate level course in rhet/comp theory) who always used to say Elbow (Peter) is not as much Elbow in the classroom as he is on paper...or Bartholomae isn't as much Bartholomae in the classroom as he is on paper. Sometimes this makes me feel better when I feel myself falling short of my radical pedagogical goals in the classroom. But most of the time I'm quite uncomfortable with any disconnect. If I'm espousing a theory, a pedagogical approach on paper, I shoud also be practicing it in my classroom (as should Elbow and Bartholomae).