January 25, 2005
Critical Summary: Berlin
James A. Berlin’s “Contemporary Composition: The Major Pedagogical Theories” explains how different approaches to teaching writing result from the way the key elements of the writing process such as writer, reality, audience, and language are viewed. Pedagogical approaches, thus, can be divided into four main groups: 1) Neo-Aristotelians or Classicists 2) Positivists or Current-Traditionalists 3) Neo-Platonists or Expressionists 4) New Rhetoricians. Berlin claims that choosing a pedagogical approach has more ramifications than what is generally conceived; it means “teaching a version of reality.” Berlin convincingly links teaching approaches to different epistemological
theories. The four approaches parallel the development of the Western episteme from the classical period, the Enlightenment, the Romantic period, to the poststructuralist era.
Most of the writing courses I took seem to be a combination of the Positivist and Neo-Platonist approaches. This would prove Berlin’s proposition that how we teach writing mostly results from the way we view the world. Before the advent of poststructuralism, the Positivist and Neo-Platonist views of the world prevailed; language was subservient to the other elements of the writing process. As the poststructuralist approach started to gain ground and the power of language in shaping reality started to be realized, it is interesting to see what kind of change we are going to see in writing textbooks and pedagogy.
Like Berlin, I quite sympathize with the last approach. However, I also question the practicality of the approach. As constructionist approach is complex in itself, how much can it be understood by students who have always been taught to believe in the old notions of truth and reality?
Posted by pitug001 at January 25, 2005 9:18 AM
Ann -- I like the way you tie the four theoretical camps to their relative time periods, and I was interested to read that your own experience in studying writing mixed expressivist and positivist approaches. Do you see those two schools as complimentary or oppositional?
I also agree that it would be possible to overwhelm students if we position ourselves, our assignments, and all texts in a constructivist swirl. Our challange may be to figure one of balance.
I think you did a great job of simplifying and synthesizing this material. I had a hard time clarifying it in my blog, and I was really impressed by your summary. It would be interesting to have a conversation with students about the notions of truth and reality that you refer to in your last question. I wonder if students are willing to consider new ways of looking at the world, or even acknowledging that the way they are used to looking at it is just one of a number of ways to view reality?