“This should be apparent that a way of teaching is never innocent. Every pedagogy is imbricated in ideology, in a set of tacit assumptions about what is real, what is good, what is possible, and how power ought to be distributed.”
This is the underlying premise not only for Berlin’s article but for his entire obra. Becoming conscious of the fact that whatever we do is linked to the social construction and distribution of power and disempowerment is the essential lesson, for me, from Berlin. When we talk of transfer, half the battle is becoming conscious of our and our students intentionality. Like transfer, Berlin’s key message of becoming conscious of the ideological imbrication of our pedagogies is also half the battle.
If we teach a course with a sense of managerial consciousness where students are being trained to become good servants of corporations so they can increase profit for the companies, move up the corporate latter, and ensure their own financial survival, that’s fine. I get that. Students have to get jobs. But I believe that we have a charge as instructors to attend to civic responsibility, and so if we are teaching students how to survive in a corporate environment without teaching them the role that corporations have in the imbalance of power and the exploitation of people, then we are not attending to the civic component. Whatever we teach carries an ideological implication with it. That should be basic, but it’s not always.
Fortunately, for our little group, we collectively seem to already understand that, but that may not be true for a lot of people who are teaching composition. This essay was published 31 years ago, and I think that as a group we have likely internalized much of what goes on here. Compositionists don’t have these discussions anymore (thank goodness, actually), but these types of cognitive mappings were being written when there was fierce competition for the professionalization of composition. It all started with Richard Fulkerson’s “The Four Philosophies of Composition.” It’s good that the field has moved past it, but there’s some historical relevance that’s good to be aware of. Unless you want to take a semiotic critical- pedagogy approach to composition, something that a lot of people have done, Berlin may be best read as a glance into the history of the professional formation of composition studies and less as a practical approach.
I would say that I find his description on 489 of subject formation is a pretty good precusor to what we understand today as intersectionality.
Last, I did want to mention one delightful reference Berlin made when he referenced William Lutz and “English Composition as a Happening.” I couldn’t say what Geoff Sirc, who championed Lutz, might say about our own curriculum development revolving around transfer, but if you get a chance and if you are of the artsy incilination, check out Sirc’s book as well as his other pieces. Sirc’s book has been made downloadable, so that’s a nice development of events.