A New Teacher to the Writing Class




If I were to describe my teaching style after reading Rhetoric and Ideology in the Writing Class by James Berlin, it would be incongruent with itself. That is not to say that I am a bad teacher or writer, but more so to acknowledge the limitations caused by my own inexperience in the profession. I do not know how to teach, most days the art and craft of writing is also lost to me. This lack of confidence in my own ability often has me trying to explore multiple lenses of how to view the relationship between rhetoric and ideology and creating lessons that have profound impact on some students while leaving others lost, desperately searching for another explanation, a different phrasing of a perspective that I do not always have.

James Berlin dissects the relationship between rhetoric and ideology in writing classes into three categories: cognitive psychology, expressionism, and social epistemic. With cognitive psychology attempting to remove the ideological question, expressionism acknowledges that the ideology cannot be removed, and social epistemic, which makes the ideology the focus. Now that these ideologies have been expressed to me in this manner, I’m forced to ask myself which one I truly believe I should focus on to benefit my students, and help them to become more explorative with their works.

Cognitive psychology recognizes the stage of writing as planning, translating, and reviewing, and each stage is recursive. This form of writing study recognizes that writing is goal oriented. We go into writing with purpose. Flowers and Hayes, two researchers who endorse the idea of cognitive psychology, recognize the use of writing from a scientific perspective, but do little in evaluating their stance from a creative perspective. While almost all writing is purposeful, many of us do intend to become creative writers and I wonder if studying our works without analyzing some of the creative elements of those texts would be reductionary when looking at the significance of those pieces.

The goal of Expressionism is to have students push back on societal norms. Extremists in this area want the classroom to “work explicitly towards liberating students from the shackles of a corrupt society.” This view was prominent in the sixties and seventies, but most likely still holds true for individuals that subscribe to this belief today. This ideology is explorative, and with that does have its own limitations as well. Critiquing work in this classroom may be difficult, determining what successful writing is when looking at writing through this lens comes down to individual interpretation (as most writing does) but can limit students in regards to form and structure. Still, the expressionistic lens allows for new ideas, changes, and progress that may not be available to the cognitive psychology perspective. Critiques of society are implicit in this model.

social epistemic makes the ideology focus on a student’s place within the context of society by having students examine where control over their lives has been denied to them. Critical thought is interfered with by society in this model, and with that students are examined within the confines of society. This is the study and examination of the student’s ability to participate in a form of social order. This area is perhaps the one I am most fascinated by, as I see the limitations placed on my students not only by greater society, but as a direct result of the faults of an inexperienced teacher such as myself using them as forms of unfortunate lab rats while attempting to accumulate skills in an area that I am certainly struggling with.

Is there a way to balance all three ideologies, and have one fill gaps that the others left behind, perhaps…but, I’ve yet to get there, and am forced to hope that my students are developing in my class in some way, even if not visible to me.


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