Since this week’s readings revolved around the topic of “Pedagogy”, I imagined, after reading the papers, how I would go about implementing some of their ideas – namely Wilson’s and Bosley’s – into my composition classroom. My fiancé, who is in the Geography department, is a teaching assistant for an introductory course in human geography, and the professor teaching the class had students look at maps from countries around the world. After having students look at the maps, the professor had the students discuss the differences between the maps, and try to determine what, or who, created those maps so that they were all so different. What the professor for that class did, then, was have students examine maps for “cultural assumptions” in much the same way that Johnson-Eilola did for his class (as explained in Wilson ). Since my fiancé had already seen this method used in a classroom, and she told me that it was used very effectively, I imagine I could do something similar in my class. I worry, though, how effective such a method would be for a writing classroom unless I had already covered important concepts like visual rhetoric with my students; they might revolt, as they’re so prone to do, against the activity if they didn’t find it important to them, students in a writing classroom.
I have tried having students discuss their own “sanctioned, cultural behavior[s]” (Bosley 473) in class. I was easily able to cover these kinds of issues in my class because a student of mine, on one random Tuesday afternoon, volunteered that one of the papers we read for a Feature Article assignment seemed like it was “written by a girl” (and they said this in a very, very condescending way). Unfortunately, the discussion that followed this unseemly comment went about with only a little bit of success. I did, just as Bosley warned, have to “deal with resistance to cultural integration” (473) with many of my male students, who found my modest objections to their anti-feminist commentary incorrect. I also had to “deal with” students who either didn’t want to even address the issue, or just didn’t think the problem was worth discussing in a Composition and Rhetoric class.
Just as a reminder to everyone: I don’t mean to write so overly negatively about teaching composition students. Some of my frustration stems from my own inexperience with teaching the subject, an inexperience that is all the more exasperating because I desperately – desperately – want to move some of my students. On the bright side, I do now have experience to learn from, and in the future, I might be better able to implement some of these teaching ideas in later semesters.
Another reason my post may seem negative is that I had some problems with the Wilson article in general. When Wilson first defines “agency”, he claims that it is “the ability to act in one’s own interest” (73). To me, this sure seems more like the definition for a word like autonomy; the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) definition for “agency” is, actually, “A person or organization acting on behalf of another, or providing a particular service” (here’s a link to a list that contains the OED link from the WVU Library website), and this definition seems little like Wilson’s. Later on in Wilson’s paper, he states that:
It also remains questionable whether writers who understand their place and know to whom they are writing are critical thinkers with agency or merely more efficient cogs in the corporate machine. 78
Wouldn’t a writer who is an agent generally be a “cog” for a machine since they act “on behalf of another”?
I guess the idea, though, is that there is not real “ability to act [completely] in one’s own interest” these days. We – instructors and students of writing – will have to “articulate [ourselves] as invaluable to the function of the company” (84) for which we work, and we will always be cogs to a machine – but we can always be cogs on a higher tier of the machine. And that’s the point of Wilson’s and Bosley’s activities: Since we live in a postmodern world, where our perceptions are shaped by “cognitive maps”, we need students to realize that they, whether they realize it or not, operate according to “sanctioned, cultural behavior[s]”. The fact that it’s tough for me to get some of these ideas across to my students is something I’ll just have to, for the time being, get used to. I myself forget that that an idealistic idea of autonomy may not exist – even for me, an American WASP – so it’s not worth getting frustrated with my students when they have trouble grasping the idea of a “cognitive map”, or that their behaviors might be “sanctioned” by the world around them.
Bosley, Deborah S. “Cross-Cultural Collaboration.” Central Works in Technical Communication. Eds. Johndan Johnson-Eilola and Stuart A. Selber. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. pp. 466–474. Print.