Before I delve into the texts at hand this week, I want to share two personal experiences/examples that in no small way shape my response to these readings.
First, I suppose my college experience had one of those disseminating, perhaps unintended, effects on me. I, like many privileged, White, young, impressionable, suburban liberal arts students, became a martyr, at least temporarily. I came to abhor the unignorable links between racial and class difference. I thought the only way to “make up for” the privileges I had been born into was to make a career in increasing the “chances” of “success” of those who didn’t have the same privileges. I eschewed my parents pleas that the expenditure of a Harvard education was in part an investment in their retirement, that I had practically promised them, though a long youth of debating and attempted legislating, that I would become a lawyer and bring home riches. I joined Teach for America and taught for two years in the Bronx, pursuing the belief that I could take action against injustice.
Second, as a rather experimental poet whose work is rather open to many difference experiences/interpretations, I struggle with the idea that my creative work, scholarship, or teaching should be based on truth-seeking. I see all three as possibility-increasing projects, not ones delineated by traditional lines of classical argumentation or rationalization. My models for scholarship, though steeped in Ancient philosophy and the history of rhetoric, would likely scoff at the notion of disciplinal boundaries as fixed entities or Fishean truth producers. See Joan Retallack, Susan Howe, Anne Carson, Edouard Gliassant, and Eve Sedgwick.
I start with these personal examples as a way of inquiring into how I am, either intentionally or unintentionally, a morality professor when teaching academic writing. I agree with Berube, especially in this regard, that “…the things you say and do in such classrooms will be disseminated, in the Derridean sense, in ways you cannot predict or control” (14) (my sophomore tutorial professor has no idea how much his comments helped me come out of the closet), but I do believe that to the extent that teaching is both a performance and a creative project, our delivery, our language, our pedagogy, lesson activities and goals are all intentionally produced by us, complete with our politics, morals and values.
To be more specific, I am interested in the way in which both Fish and Lazare’s response to Fish draw attention to the question of teaching democratic values through rhetorical strategies of argumentation, be it the lone logic of a sentence or the way in which an essay presents evidence in support of a claim. As Fish says, “A sentence is an organization of items in the world” and “A sentence is a structure of logical relationships” (p. 3 from 9/07/2009). I think it is important to question whether argumentation is indeed the root of the democratic process, and if so, is this a moral process? If we teach logic, do we arrive at morality? If only teaching content, and thereby truth-teaching through that content, are we not always professing morality? As Lazare makes clear, even the approach of saying empirical data is the way to truth is a partisan stance (534), but I bock at the idea that empiricism is the heft of leftist politics, or that empiricism gets us democracy or justice—history certain proves otherwise.
Similarly, I question Bizzell’s argument that a diverse student body “brought resources that could address academic problems in ways not available to traditional academic discourse” (178)—implicit here seems to be the commodification of diversity, or the use of diversity to solve the problems of a white institution that continues to serve a capitalist economy that continues to oppress people on the basis of race, class, gender, sexuality, ability, and legal status. What exactly are the resources she means? If I put them to work for me in the classroom, is my teaching project moral? What am I teaching my student to do in this case? Lastly, I am scared to think that writing teachers are out to prove what we do is ultimately profess morality, so that we can secure our future jobs (Bizzell: “If liberal arts education often can affect students’ moral and political development positively, then I see no reason not to say so when asked to justify expenditures on higher education” (186).) This seems far too Machiavellian an equation to satisfy me.