by any other name

Ah, the new semester is upon us. New students whose names it will take me far too long to learn, hours spent walking tech-timid students through using the wiki, the first tentative steps toward the first assignment.

So my own classes have begun–both promise to be demanding without being overwhelming, which will be a welcome relief after last semester’s demanding and wearying schedule. Since I’ll be writing the M.A. this semester, it is an especially welcome fact that neither Dr. Ray’s seminar nor the Pruchnic directed study will be calling for a final seminar essay. . .well, more accurately, my M.A. project is being informed by the DS, so JP has agreed to let that stand as my project for the course.

Dr. Ray’s course is going to be much different than I had originally expected based on the early course description she sent around. That draft mentioned doing case studies and writing teaching philosophies–while the teaching philosophy would have been welcome, I have a deathly fear of empirical work, so I’m glad the case study part of the course has fallen by the wayside.

In its new incarnation, the course is focused on making the professional teaching of writing a practice that is satisfying both professionally and personally—which will be a welcome course as I don’t want to burn out on this work early (or at all); it will be valuable to see this work early in my studies and career so that (I hope) they aren’t needed as an intervention years down the line.

Our first text is Mike Rose’s Lives on the Boundary. I’ll spare readers a summary/synopsis and assume a familiarity with the text.

I’m about a third of the way in, and I’m not yet sure what to make of the text.  It seems to dwell at the intersection of some familiar tropes: local boy makes good; from rags to–well, maybe not riches, but success of some measure; reading is good/knowledge is power; overcoming adversity; inspirational teacher; what’s wrong with schools today.  This is not to say that Rose is a bad writer or that his book has nothing to teach me, but just to point to ways that I’m trying not to understand it; that is, I think there’s more to be gained from it by avoiding these tropes as an easy way to understand it.

But I’m finding that sort of difficult, if only because many of the points Rose has made in the text so far have become commonplaces: teachers are overworked and don’t have the time and energy to help every student the way he or she needs; the System depends on easy classifications of problem students that become self-perpetuating truths and limit student achievement; the System uses standardized tests that fail to provide the personal involvement and interaction many students need.  While I can see the value of Rose’s work when situated against the lietracy crises of the 70s and 80s, I’ve not yet found a way to make this text work for me or my own research and pedagogical interests.

One trope in Rose’s work that might be of value is at least alluded to in the last “commonplace” above.  Rose reiterates, implicitly, the need for identification in pedagogy; in particularly, Rose stresses, an identification btw student and instructor that is formed through the shared medium of literate practice.  Okay.  What’s the next step?  On one hand, this is not that different from some of the things that Barthes writes about (or Ulmer or Rice); what these other writers do, though, is make identification equivalent to invention–that spark of recognition, of connection, becomes generative, a reason to write, to engage, to commit to the text and respond.  That is what I’m not seeing, so far, in Rose–how to make identification work for both instructor and student, how to make it be generative.  I’m not saying it’s not there–I just haven’t found it yet.

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