As a student of rhetoric and composition, teaching literary studies is foreign territory to me. However, the readings for this week opened my mind to ways that I can use my rhet/comp background in a way that translates to literature and cultural studies. My interest in cultural rhetorics appears to align well with the cultural studies part of these new areas of learning and teaching.
Michael Berube’s article, “Teaching to the Six” highlights an issue that I have often considered in my own teaching experiences, and contemplate how I will encounter it in my own composition classroom. Berube explains that on some days he was unfortunate enough to be teaching only to the six students who were prepared for class, or interested in its subject matter. In my previous experience, I had many days where I taught to “the six” in each class period of my day. However, I soon realized that this is mostly useless for the rest of my class. I used to believe that on the days where I was teaching to my sixes, that the rest of the class may become interested just by being in the same space as the instruction. However, I realized that teaching in this way did a disservice to my students and myself. I still do not know how I would instruct in a way that all my students were interested—or if such a thing is even possible. Berube states that teaching more than just the six “will therefore be a more diffuse, tenuous process than the relatively easy, always gratifying prospect of teaching to the six” (13). The emphasis added is my own, as it clearly states that reason that I have to consider more than just the six in my future classrooms. While teaching to the eager, prepared, and interested students is a great experience for me, it does little for the students who are taking the course because of some requirement.
Sharon Crowley, in her essay collection Composition in the University, explores how the universal requirement attributed to composition courses “serves to underscore and reinforce the exclusivity of academic discourse, both with regard to the academy’s newest members (students and teachers alike) and with regard to the culture at large” (253). She further explains that this requirement, since it is based in some sort of ideological statement of need “configures students as people who exist only in the institutional present, and preform exercises that meet the institutional needs to rank and exclude” (260). These same statements can be applied to required literature survey courses, and teaching to the six serves as another exclusionary practice. These exclusionary practices make copies of those people who have already been welcomed into academic discourse communities. Teaching to the six copies these instructors’ practices, and as Berube states, “pedagogy should be understood as a means of dissemination rather than a means of reproduction, even—or especially—on those bad days when you are teaching only to the six” (14). Teaching, whether it is in composition studies, or literary and cultural studies, should spread knowledge to every student in a way that allows the student to apply the knowledge in a way that is individually meaningful. I have to remember that as an instructor I am a facilitator—not a copy machine. Kim Hensley Owens’ article, “Teaching to the Six and Beyond” not only serves as a response to Berube’s article, it also helped me interrogate my own ideas regarding facilitation versus reproduction in teaching literature, and teaching in general. Owens is a fan of scaffolding—a term and technique that I am familiar with from my teacher education courses. Scaffolding helped me model the writing process, and specific genre conventions for my students. When I began graduate school, I wondered if any of my previous teacher education would benefit my future teaching in collegiate settings. The way that Owens describes scaffolding, as “supporting: providing ‘legs’ for students to stand on as they reach new intellectual heights” (391). This description of scaffolding is more applicable to my future. Instead of just modeling (and reproducing) a process, my instructional practices should facilitate students in a way that gives them legs that they can learn to use on their own.