Berthoff, Ann E. “What Works? How do we Know?” Journal of Basic Writing 12.2 (1993) 3–17.
“This discourse draws on experience-whether for reader or writer, whether actual, personal involvement, or by way of the accounts and records and representations of violence which have become part of our lives. Everybody knows that it’s important to begin with experience, but it’s not because the personal is more important (or because it’s a source of “more detail”); not because it’s more real or more natural, but because its representative character can be identified. These resonant sentences mean something; they make meanings to which we must attend: that is what it means to say that this discourse is “compelling'” (9).
“Let me return to the trap I think Amy should set for the dean: “begin with where they are” should mean, as well, “begin with where they are as citizens, as members of the public.” I believe that every composition course should include examples of contemporary public discourse. We should offer our students assisted invitations to participate in this discourse as attentive listeners/ readers and as attentive participants. We will need to provide opportunities for our students to see themselves as dialogue partners” (10).
“When we “begin with where our students are” as members of the public, that should not be seen as the antithesis of where they are as individuals. The most pernicious consequence of poststructuralist theory is the spurious validity given to a dichotomy of the personal and the public. When we begin with students as citizens, we are not “privileging” the public over the private or setting aside personal concerns or individual experience. The essential principle to hold on to is that there is an Ineinandersein of public and private. That principle allows us to understand the individual as representative of humanity, not just of one ethnic group or another. I urge you to read David Bromwich’s Politics by Other Means, in which you will find this idea explored very carefully.” (11).
“”Begin with where they are” should also mean begin with students as symbol-using animals, as language animals-Language with a capital L. We do not have to teach our students how to symbolize; what we teach is THAT they symbolize. And this is what Paulo Freire means by conscientization: as learners come to an awareness of what they are doing, they will discover how to do it. One of the things they discover is how they might transform the world on the model of how they use language to represent their experience” (11-12).
“Another important Ineinandersein about language I take from Edward Sapir, the linguist we should be reading instead of Jakobson, Chomsky, Fodor, inter alias. Sapir spoke of “the linguistic process.” Any process wheels on a polarity-think of polar opposites as an axle on which the wheel of process turns. The polarity of the linguistic process Sapir called “projection” and “the resistance of linguistic structure.” The mind projects-seeing as, apprehending analogies; such projections are checked by the structures which language provides, those heuristic limits which morphology and syntax provide. For example, the artist Saul Steinberg frequently draws in the mode of physiognomic perception, as when he represents Summer as the open sea, Spring as an island, Autumn as a bay, and Winter as the blank mainland. In Forming/Thinking/Writing (Boynton/Cook, 1988), I have used Gombrich’s “parlor game” of ping/pong: if you had only two categories, ping and pong, how would you classify elephant? And what about a mouse? It gets problematic, of course: is Marilyn Monroe ping or pong? Games with “Physogs,” as I. A. Richards called them, illustrate how we project bodily impressions, how we map reality on our bodies. They demonstrate certain powers we all have to make meaning, certain unconscious instruments of thought” (13). **Unconscious instruments of thought… This speaks to conscientization.
“We all know how important fluency is, but in my opinion it has been oversold as a means of helping students find a voice. Yes, it does that, but its most valuable use to us pedagogically is that fluency allows a student to take advantage of the power of syntax to help him think. As Sapir said, “Language is itself heuristic” (14).
14: This is like the language workbench:
“It is comprised by a syntactical frame, a semantic schema, and an ordering guide, which indicates which slots should be filled first. Experimenters have a lexicon of twelve or so words for each slot. Here is the frame: I -===~___.3..__ -~– in the 7 ! The —‘8=–__ has —-=-9 __ _ As an example of “output:’ we have: All white in the buds I flash snow peaks in the Spring. Bang! T)te sun has fogged. Poem example reprinted…”
“Now if we interpret “Begin with where they are” to mean begin with our students both as members of the public and as members of the species, that is to say as the animal symbolicum, the language animal-the result is revolutionary. The conjunction of the political and the essentially human-or, we might say, the spiritual-this conjunction is at the heart of Paulo Freire’s pedagogy of the oppressed, which is a pedagogy of knowing. If you take only the political, only the public, you get the nonpedagogy of those who think that teaching is itself an act of oppression. If you forget the personal, the individual-conceived as representative of the universals of human life-you will have cut yourself off from the greatest resource any teacher has, namely, the knowledge that language belongs to us all, as persons and as members of society;that the capacity to make meaning is not itself socially constructed but biologically determined; that the human mind provides the wherewithal for teaching interpretation, which I believe is what we teach when we teach reading and writing. ” (14-15). ****Only the political, ONly the public… Only the personal… ***
“We are not, like the bees, semi-individuated but fully individuated. That does not mean that we are not involved with our fellow and sister human beings: Langer argues for the Ineinandersein of individuation and involvement which is motivated by our foreknowledge of death” (15). ***LOVE THIS!!!
“Susanne Langer is the philosopher we most need if we want to know what it means to say, “Begin with where they are.” A socially constructed student who has been deprived of individuality and persona is no more an emblem of Man the meaning-maker than the purposeful voles, concerned tadpoles, communicating amoebas and all the other anthropomorphized denizens of the Public Television forest” (15).
“There are, I’m sure, many other ways to begin by beginning with “where they are.” I will conclude by noting one which some would want you to forget. I believe that we should begin with our students as inheritors of literary traditions. …I used to think that it was a matter of books, numbers of texts. I soon learned that that was not realistic; but superb paragraphs and beautiful sentences can be made accessible. I have always wanted my students to think of themselves as wealthy in the matter of literature. (That is why I’ve never agreed with those who want student texts to be the only ones in the composition classroom.) We work to assure that by reclaiming the imagination” (16).**Conservative????
“is what we teach in teaching reading and writing and I’ve been claiming that if we are to be good pragmatists we must be able to show and tell why what we are doing works and how we know. We know that what we are doing is working when the response in lively and substantial. We know that this happens only if minds are engaged and that that happens only when what our students read is seen as dialogic-when the Ineinandersein of the personal and the public is apprehended-the Ineinandersein of now and then, here and there, particular and universal, the individual and the group” (16).
“But I passionately believe that ours is a philosophical enterprise and that our pragmatism should include ways to clarify our expectations, to explain them to those who think that our mission should be to teach the correction of error” (17).