Well, if anyone read my last post and my concerns with being both a part and perpetuator of our society’s ideology, then it would be easy to guess which one of these readings I enjoyed most. James Berlin’s essay on the ideology in rhetoric class is important because I believe the ideological position I take will inform the way I teach a class, what I emphasize in that class, and the way I respond to students’ writing.

I side with Berlin’s social-epistemic approach to teaching composition. In teaching rhetoric I keep in mind Marx’s conception of ideology:

I tell my students that rhetoric is important because it is all around them influencing them whether they realize it or not. I believe it is my goal to help students realize just how pervasive rhetoric is all around them, and by realizing this, learning the language of rhetoric, then they can begin to manipulate that language to their (hopefully) good ends. Every time we buy food, clothes, a car, or vote, we are doing making a choice based in some rhetorical influence over us, which is fine because these things are needed, but I want the students to realize this is happening. Once they realize this, then I can start trying to make them into better writers.

I believe that critical thinking should be the privileged here because how many people in the “real world” do I know that can’t write—my own brother and his wife, both P.E. teachers, are horrible “writers.” I have very intelligent friends who are brilliant lawyers whose writing is wordy and sloppy; genius mathematicians whose writing is void of personality; even high school English literature teachers whose writing is sloppy and grammar questionable, but they are successful because they are brilliant thinkers.

Looking at the other two ideological models that Berlin outlines, I believe I can summarize in just a few sentences. The “expressionistic rhetoric” sounds like for writers of new age novels and “self-help” books. This touchy-feel-y, “hippie” (in a pejorative Cartmen from South Park connotation of “hippie”) leaves out vast numbers of non-humanities majors. While the cognitive approach vastly denies the effects of the material world on rhetoric, and by so doing, it is creating its own ideology. By saying there is no ideology, this approach is creating an ideology. I think Berlin says it best, “It should now be apparent that a way of teaching is never innocent” (135). This is why I agree with Berlin that these ideological perspectives should be discussed in class, “Social-epistemic rhetoric attempt to place the question of ideology at the center of writing” (135), by doing this, we can let our students decide which ideology to follow.

Once this ideology is established, it makes it easier to find a Rhetorical Stance to take, which I think is the underlying theme of Wayne Booth’s essay. There Booth outlines the importance of a writer’s rhetorical awareness, which he sees as: “the available arguments about the subject itself, the interest and peculiarities of the audience, and the voice, the implied character, of the speaker” (166), which, in my opinion, are at least partially dictated by the ideology of the speaker engaging in his/her material world.

This all leads to how we, as teachers, will respond to students’ writings. I appreciate Dr. Moxely’s advice, which is immediately tempered by a touch of real world cynicism. I think that after thirty or so essays, it is easy to fall back to those abbreviated copy editing marks, and Dr. Moxely’s article reminds us that this is not helpful to students. But sometimes nothing is helpful to students because no matter how brilliant and thoughtful those comments are, if the student doesn’t read them, then they will be of no use.

I have gotten into the habit of extensively marking students’s first essays. I point out one or two grammar errors and direct the student to the section of the Everyday Writer where he/she can look up the mistake. I try to ask questions that get students thinking about the more global issues of a paper—organization, critical thinking, transitions. I then tell students my jaded, cynical stance on commenting on student writing, and how I commented extensively on the first essay, but that for future essays, I will only make small suggestions in terms of better writing, and that if they truly care to find out how to improve their writings, that they should come see me during office hours so that we can discuss ways to improve.

Too often students only care about that final grade on the paper (a great point that Dr. Moxely brings up), so why, with my own work load, should I spend so much time and effort into commenting and grading something when a student is only going to glance at it for the grade and put it aside. Usually the only time someone actually comes to see me about discussing an essay is when he/she is about to re-write the one revision I allow.

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