Re: Re[4]: Re-examining our practice

Greg Ritter (gritter@FELIX.VCU.EDU)
Thu, 8 Feb 1996 15:55:47 EST

> Greg said:
> I encourage my freshman comp students to question "the
academy", not
> to attempt to emulate it. I usually have a unit of
readings on
> education that has ranged from Freire to Dinesh D'souza
(sp?). It's
> surprising how difficult it is to get them to question
> methods and pedagogical techniques--to do so destabilizes
the previous
> 12 years of their life. (This is much more a problem at
the small,
> private university I teach at than at the large, state
university I
> also teach at.)
> Ok, but will this serve them well as they progress through
> academy? Indoctrination or Orientation? Semantics?

It's a good question, and my response to you is similar to my
response to Eric--there has to be a balance between teaching them
how to function within the academy and teaching them how to be
critically aware of the demands and limits the academy places
upon them.

The discussion of the use of the essay has me thinking even more
about this. I wish I knew a way to make use of more "real world"
kind of forms in comp, but the necessity of (to paraphrase an
earlier post from someone) teaching them how to synthesize and
express comprehension of the material at hand is what drives most
of my assignments.

I do try to structure assignments (esp. research assignments) in
such a way that the topic they're researching has something to do
with their personal experience or with their chosen major, but
more often than not their assignments are requiring them to
demonstrate comprehension of the critical issues we investigate
through our readings and discussions. I like to think that the
essays encourage them to extend on those discussions and leave
leeway for them to state their own position instead of just spit
mine back at me. But, it's hard--hard for them because they don't
trust their own opinions, don't trust their own ability to be
persuasive or critica, and they feel--rightly so-- that the
purpose of an academic essay is to demonstrate comprehension, not
to explore or discover their *own* position. And it is hard for
us (or, at least, me) as teachers, because--though we often try
to pretend that it's not true--we do think that we "know better"
than our students. In many ways we do, but that belief comes
through in ways, I think, that our students pick up on, and then
they attempt to gain our approval by indicating that they
understand and recognize that we "know better," parroting our own
critical positions back at us rather than risk developing their

The students I love the most are the ones who argue with me.
They're also the ones who frustrate me the most. :)
> I think it IS "critical thinking" displayed through the
technology of
> writing. I think the problem is that people perceive it
as teaching
> "writing", which is not what I perceive it to be.

I agree that critical thinking is best learned through practical
application, such as discussion, debate, and writing that is
treated as a process. When we teach writing, we teach critical
thinking. When we teach critical thinking, we teach writing.
Substitute "reading" for writing or thinking, too, if you want.

My point is that I think the students benefit *more* if we're
teaching them more than "how to think within the academy." I
believe we should be teaching them how to question criteria and
standards (and, thereby, understand why those criteria and
standards are being used), and that includes teaching them to
recognize (and question) the criteria and standards used for
academic discourse. They should still understand what the "rules"
of that discourse are, but if they understand how to question or
break those rules (and *when* to question or break those rules),
they will, I think, be able to more effectively make use of those

> It is much like
> teaching grammar and mechanical correctness in isolation
from the
> student's own writing. Does spelling all the words right
matter if
> you have no words on the page?
> Mike Hamende

Greg Ritter