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Issues In Teaching The English Language

2600 words - 11 pages

Struggle as I may, I cannot avoid James Berlin’s statement: “To teach writing is to argue for a version of reality” (234). If I’m going to be successful in any academic field, in any language, there are certain conventions that I must follow, but what I say and how I think is inexorably linked to the available resources of any particular convention. For my part, I just can’t escape the confines of the English language. I see this most poignantly when I try to teach a Chinese writer how to cite sources or when I attempt to read a text in translation.

To teach writing is to argue for a version of reality, and the best way of knowing and communicating it. . . . All composition teachers ...view middle of the document...

Fortunately, I am not a Jacques and, therefore, will not burden my audience with such a jargon-laden explanation [4].

In America, we value independence, democracy, and individuality, but these rhetorical terms are culturally defined, not universal absolutes. Case in point: the maquiladora factories south of the U. S. boarder. In the U. S., a citizen may live a relatively free and democratic existence (putting aside any issues of false consciousness), but the American citizen’s freedom and democracy belies a latent suppression of the very same “basic rights” for a Mexican factory worker who assembles Zenith TV’s at slave wages. If we take the analogy further - and buy into a little Marxist theory - the free and democratic ideals of Western Philosophy, which the U. S. embody, are the bourgeoisie of the 21st Century, and the poor Mexicans are the proletariat whom we exploit. To American citizens, then, “the Democratic way of life” represents freedom, individuality and prosperity. To the Mexican factory workers who manufacture our Zenith TVs, the Chinese workers who make our Nike shoes, the Arab refinery workers who drill our oil, Democracy represents imperialism, suppression, totalitarianism. Western notions of Democracy, then, are as exclusionary as they are liberating. In short, to teach the notion of a “Democratic way of life” is to propagandize a version of reality. This dynamic of “teaching” a version of reality is not nearly so modern a concept as we may like to believe, for we cannot blame Foucault or Derrida for that which Aristotle wrote in the third Century BCE:

The state, as I was saying, is plurality, which should be united and made into a community by education. (my emphasis, Politics [5], 290)

Well now . . . would you look at that: a state composed of plurality which is made cohesive through education. That is, education is a tool by which plurality is sculpted into oneness. At it’s philosophical core, according to Aristotle, education does not promote creativity and individuality but, in fact, suppresses it through a constant bombardment of prescriptive “education.” Education has become the tool of the polity: “The virtue of the citizen must therefore be relative to the constitution of which he is a member” (Politics, 301).

Let us turn our attention to the Chinese writer who I must now convince is guilty of plagiarism. This person may lift whole paragraphs from someone else’s work and not provide a single citation. In her culture, she might be considered the single greatest writer of her generation. At SUNY Albany, she’s guilty of plagiarism and in danger of expulsion. I tell her that these are not her words. She says she knows that. I tell her she cannot use someone else’s words in her paper; it is stealing. She has to cite it. She asks why? She says she is paying the highest tribute to this author. She says it would be a desecration for her, the student, to alter the wording, the ideas of the master. Who is she to...

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