The method of Cambridge College, where I am earnestly studying teaching ESL, is to create cognitive dissonance in students. At least in my case, they are succeeding.
I spent most of the past week avoiding writing a reaction paper, because I did not know how to react. I did know that something about the topic at hand--the notion that teaching is always political, always supporting or contradicting a discourse--was bothering me. I had such a bad case of cognitive dissonance that, nauseated and suffering headaches, I was ready to quit graduate school under the pretext that I needed to be available to make G. dinner in the 3 weeks leading up to his PhD defense. (This is partly true--we are both slightly a mess, he more than I, and the situation is troublesome. Only the cats remain sane, as sane as cats ever are.)
I was also troubled greatly by Foucault, who asserted that the struggle for control of discourse is the struggle for power, and that language is never neutral, but power is neutral. Dude. What?
I reread the chapter on which I was to base my own reflections. I felt nauseated. I hated Foucault and did not understand Fairclough. I felt trapped, like I was being instructed to become a radical activist, and radical activism is against my nature. It was like asking a fish to jog, or a bird to live in the sea.
Eventually I figured it out. I prefaced my reaction by stating my personal philosophy: I distrust extremes; like Aristotle and Buddha, I believe that wisdom lies in the middle places. I therefore could accept the idea that teaching is usually or almost always political and seldom neutral, but I could not abide the idea that teaching is always political and never neutral.
I discovered, then, approached from the middle places, that I could accept parts of Freire (students are not empty vessels waiting to be filled with knowledge), most of Cummins (collaborative v. coercive education), and especially Bordieu's ideas about language as cultural capital. I also appreciated Tollefson's classification of descriptive v. evaluative approaches to language.
But I concluded with my gut-level distaste for Foucault, noting that perhaps I dislike his notions of "struggle" because I see myself as a bridge-builder, not a warrior. I confessed to being mystified by Fairclough, perhaps needing more examples of CDA in action.
You know what? I don't have to be a radical or an extremist. I do not value radicalism, extremes, absolutes. I believe more harm than good comes from entrenched, absolute ways of thinking. And that does not mean I should drop out of my master's program.
4 months ago