Re: elite/elitism (fwd)

Steve Krause (krause@MIND.NET)
Fri, 11 Oct 1996 09:21:49 -0700

There was something that Mike wrote (in the message reposted by Nick) that
struck a nerve with me here:

>If English studuies were really serious about pomo theory, there would be a
>rush of literature professors to writing instructors and a chorus of "how
>do I stop lecturing?" So far, I don't see that rush. What I see, among the
>literary elite, is a fear of student writing, fear of writing courses,
>writing classrooms, and contamination by too much contact with the
>"untouchables" of English studies.

I kind of agree with this part of what you're saying, Mike, and I certainly
have seen this as a difference between my colleagues who actually kind of
like teaching fy writing and those who don't. My wife and I were out to
dinner one time with a bunch of our grad school friends, many of whom were
in culture studies and who fancied themselves the possessors of much
postmodern/poststructualist thought-- Lacan this, Derrida that, etc., etc.
In the course of our evening, they also talked about the first year writing
courses they were forced to teach as graduate students (despite the fact
that they clearly saw themselves as much better than _that_). They kept
talking about how what they really needed to do was train these freshmen to
listen to and do _exactly_ what they said. One of them was proud of the
fact that the way he taught a particular essay was to hand his students an
outline of the paper he wanted and to follow it exactly. In other words,
all of them described what I think we would all agree was a very
"teacher-centered" classroom.

At one point, I said "Look, don't you think the sort of critical theory
that comes out of postmodernism should effect your teaching? I mean, don't
you see how you're trying to impose a "master narrative" on your students,
that you are trying to maintain this strong teacher-centered and
modernistic environment? Don't you see that you are _being_ the very sorts
of modernistic/imperialistic folk you are critiquing with postmodernism?"
They looked at me as if I were speaking a foreign language, not seeing the
irony of all this for even a second, and the point dropped out of
conversation. In other words, they couldn't imagine what the connection
between their "high, noble, and intellectual" study of critical theory and
the "janitorial" work of teaching composition. As I think Jeff said, the
"decentered" philosophies exemplified/created by postmodernism have in
effect become the center of the academy, territory not appropriate to apply
or consider in classes on the outside edges of knowledge-building, like fy
comp. I don't personally think this is an inherent function of postmodern
critical theories-- that is, I don't think "postmodernism" is in and of
itself elitest, and we all know plenty of applications of pomo with
contemporary comp/rhet pedagogy and theory. But I think it is an all too
common for those people who profess, hold, and are trying gain this
"decentered/centered" knowledge to be a fairly elitest lot.

Steve Krause * Department of English * Southern Oregon State College
1250 Siskiyou Blvd. * Ashland, OR 97520 * Office Phone: 541-552-6630
School e-mail: * Personal e-mail: