Sunday, February 17, 2008

Meta-interpretation, 3 examples

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.


David said...

Chris, I may have to ask you to read this in class. It's *very* elegantly composed, and therefore to my mind about as persuasive a case I have ever seen for the efficacy of "critical teaching" (Freire-inspired pedagogies that feature connections between expressive writing and social contexts.) NICE tie to Burke.

Jimmy Astacio said...


You make a very good argument; I also think that Haswell has more to offer than just a “myth” of deterioration in student writing. I think he asks us to question our own motives in evaluating students. It may seem obvious to suggest that holistic grading practices are not perfect, but many of us will read this, go on to teach classes and perform just as we’ve been schooled to by society at large, using those same grading practices and believing in the ideal student or ideal image of a teacher. And society at large expects—in fact demands—standards.

So, even though at first glance Haswell’s argument may appear obvious, it is still worth considering, since, as you say, there’s political implications here. And implications of power, and who sets the standard for whom. It will be interesting to see what else Haswell has to offer.