I don’t want to discuss Kelley’s major premise (questioning the practices of teacher preparation). Rather, I would like to focus on implications of her biographical critique of teacher practices. Before I move to important questions we might draw from the text, I want to interject my reading of this critique. I applaud her questioning teachers’ identities and the impact of those identities on curriculum. However, I also resent the notion that what I value in ELA is somehow limiting. I would not engage in a project of redefining English studies (assuming that there is ever a stable definition of English studies, or any studies), but I would engage in a project of redefining English pedagogy. Does that make me an enemy of progress? Does that mean that I do not value the needs of my students? I don’t think so, but I am also a construct of those values. I question those values, and allow others to interrogate them, but my process of interrogation has only strengthened my positions. I value the aesthetic and ethical discourses in literature (I think that rhetorical and political discourses are more appropriate in composition, but there is some overlap). I am the teacher she describes as “bemoan[ing] impoverished imaginations malnourished by global popular culture and untuned to a sense of cultural heritage and the great literature that characterizes it” (62). I know that Dr. Stearns and many of my classmates in previous classes find these values antithetical to authentic literacies, but I have never heard a compelling argument that abandoning major aesthetic works benefits our students. I would argue that the “can’t, won’t, don’t” attitude held against aesthetic texts should be directed to a failed and incoherant pedagogy, as I’ve written about elsewhere. And I am certainly prepared and willing to challenge and accept challenges to these beliefs.
That said, I would suggest, along with Kelley, that the most important question we can ask as educators is the one we have already attempted to answer: what is our essential narrative that describes ELA? We should interrogate ourselves and each other hard on this point. It is something we are reluctant to do because of the intensely personal nature of this narrative. But, like Kelley, I think we need to recognize the public spheres that this narrative will define in our professional lives, and therefore it must be held to the most severe scrutiny.
Kelley states that “English is a construct, not a given or an essence.” If it is constructed by personal encounters with the discipline, can anyone, including Kelley, give it a shape? Does she even attempt one in this piece?
Are we uncritical about our positions? I find it demeaning and insulting that teachers (and, here, pre-service teachers) are treated with the kind of disdain that suggests that we lack the ability to question our own values without the facillitation of one who possesses the specialized knowledge that allows us to do so.
Do we reproduce our beliefs through our pedagogy? If so, I think there are some further questions. Is there a pedagogy that does not reproduce our values on our students? Is Kelley arguing that this kind of reproduction is fundementally harmful, or are there beliefs that should be reproduced? Who gets to decide, and why?
You may have noticed, but I want to say here that I find some of these discussions about curriculum unhelpful for our purposes. I think that more pressing questions confront us than whether we are thoroughly questioning our own beliefs. Don’t get me wrong, it’s important when thinking about the Big Picture, but it has little to do with practical (the word Kelley chooses to demean with quotation marks) pedagogical concerns. These statements are every bit the ideological constructs that they proport to work against. Being liberally-minded (and I’m generalizing here), I think we all see the value of an equitable, socially responsible curriculum. But how do we acheive that in our classrooms-where we may have some control over curriculum (likely not complete or majority control, however), but we certainly have a say about pedagogy. What have we learned from these theorists about classroom practice? About assessment? About how texts should be taught? About standards? We should be taking up this discussion along with what these authors have to say about the nature of our discipline.