The classroom is always a political space and to claim, as Fish does, that it is possible to “to academicize a topic” by detaching “it from the context of its real world urgency” seems to me utterly mistaken (qtd. in Lazare 529). Fish puts forth a notion of the political that boils down to whether or not he voted for Kerry while ignoring the systems of power that are inherently present in the classroom and the university at large. An understanding of the way in which the political is always present in and around the classroom makes impossible the realization of Fish’s conception of the writing instructor’s role as simply responsible for depoliticizing texts used in the classroom and allowing students to establish whether an “argument makes sense” (qtd. in Lazare 529).
Instead of dwelling on the many points in Fish’s articles that completely enraged me, I’d like to offer a bit of a generous read. Despite the logic around it, I think it’s quite interesting to take up the notion of developing a curriculum based entirely on the sentence. What could we do with the sentence in so much time? I’ve seen students take up whatever grammatical lesson most recently learned and use it as frequently as possible so that their writing can’t move beyond the confines they’ve most recently built around it. What if a semester could offer the opportunity to practice the sentence out of those very confines? What would students gain through a use of language whose mode might be more consciously chosen as a result? It’s intriguing, too, to consider how an emphasis on the sentence might also teach the thesis, transitions, structure, etc… along the way without ever focusing on the subject of the academic essay.
I envision this classroom to be far different than what I imagine Fish has taught. I imagine reading sentences that cannot be stripped of political connotation because the fact that they are accessible to us on the page is understood to be already part of the political. This is getting heated again and I find myself simply wanting to quote Audre Lorde on the master’s tools when instead I’d like to consider how I might learn from people like Fish who scoff at young professors such as myself.
In that spirit, I’d like to ask if anyone has ideas about a classroom based on the sentence? Is there anything generative that we can learn from this idea? Is there space within such a framework to dismantle the power given to “standard English” (why are we still using that term?) at the same time that we prepare students for their futures?