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January 26, 2006

Summary of James A. Berlin's "Contemporary Composition: The Major Pedagogical Theories"

Berlin believes, in contrast to many critics, that the pedagogical analysis of composition should examine the way the writing process is constructed by the interaction between the student (writer) and the instructor. He identifies four dominant approaches to teaching composition: 1) Neo-Aristotelians or Classicists, 2) Positivists or Current-Traditionalists, 3) Neo-Platonists or Expressionists, and 4) New Rhetoricians. He analyses each of these schools, presenting their philosophical underpinnings, practical implications for teaching, and historical precedents. We also see that each of these approaches has adherents, but the Current-Traditionalists are dominant. Berlin concludes that, even in the face of this dominance, it is not necessarily the best. His criticism is that Current-Traditionalists focus on the empirical aspects of human experience to the detriment of reflecting the vast complexity our reality holds. He concludes that the existence of such a plethora of other approaches reflects this disenchantment with the limitations of the dominant paradigm.