In the second chapter of Gaining Ground in College Writing, Haswell provides three examples of “interpretive tales” that have historically guided practices in the teaching of writing in recent times and at various institutions. In reading this chapter, I was impressed by Haswell’s keen observation and clear portrayal of an issue that I see at work in the academy and particularly in the writing classroom: the inexorable link between politics and pedagogy. Haswell expertly demonstrates the role of the political in the writing classroom through 3 concrete examples of different interpretations of student work. He further develops his discussion through an analysis of the ideological assumptions underlying these interpretations.
While the three “interpretive tales” that Haswell discusses, “the ungrounded English teacher assessment”,” the legend of deterioration”, and “the tale of growth” are clearly common within the academy, I think that Haswell’s discussion goes beyond the particular concerns of these three specific tales. In other words, I think he makes a larger point in this chapter than mere criticism of some prevalent assumptions in the college writing classroom. Ultimately, I think the most useful thing I will take away from Haswell’s discussion of “interpretive tales” may be stated as a warning: be aware of the politics that shape your practice, and do not doubt that your practice is indeed shaped by the political. The practice that claims to be “ungrounded” (that is free from political concerns) is in fact guided by unexamined political assumptions. As Burke suggests, it is vital that we interpret our interpretations, lest we mistake abstractions for reality. It is only fair, for those of us who seek to become teachers as well as for our future students, that we approach teaching with our eyes wide open to the biases that undoubtedly underlie our practice.