The Intersections of Social Class, Critical Thinking, and Politicized Writing Instruction
Going North helps me become a better and more effective WPA because it helps me understand and appreciate the many-sided controversies about what a first-year writing course should be and do. My writing program is fortunate to have over 80 GTAs and adjuncts, and like the teachers in most programs, our well-qualified and sincerely motivated teachers hold a wide variety of positions about the courses' goals and processes. As WPA, I need to find the right balance between, on the one hand, program coherence and control and, on the other, freedom and discovery.
And I admire Irv Peckham's argumentative demeanor—humble but unambiguous, respectful but convincing. Many WPAs will find, as I did, that they already agree with the book's overall recommendations, but what's new and interesting and important is the way that Irv makes his arguments, drawing on ideas from rhet-comp histories and scholarship, from social and cognitive theorists, and from contemporary FYW textbooks, to name just a few. It's a model for academic argument generally and a model I want to follow as a WPA. Here's to hoping it gains a wide readership in the field and beyond. —Chuck Paine, University of New Mexico
College composition is fundamentally a middle-class enterprise and is conducted by middle-class professionals, while student demographics show increasing presence of the working class. In spite of best intentions to relieve social class inequities, says Irvin Peckham, many critical pedagogies merely reproduce them.
In Going North Thinking West, Peckham argues for more clarity on the history of critical thinking, social class structures, and teacher identity, while he undertakes a skeptical look at teaching practices with which even he identifies. Critical thinking itself, Peckham suggests, is a middle-class projection, and the belief that it is linked with effective writing skills may in fact cause writing teachers to misread their students. Both the idea that argumentation is the obvious and necessary form of academic discourse and the conviction that social transformation is a purpose of the classroom need to be examined.
Ultimately, Going North Thinking West advocates a collaborative investigation of students’ worlds as the first step in a successful writing pedagogy. It is an argument for re-orienting pedagogy toward service to students rather than transforming them.
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