The Dialogic Function of Composition Pedagogy: Negotiating between Critical Theory and Public Values by Rebecca Moore Howard

This article was a more complicated reading for me personally compared to the previous articles we have read in class. The article discusses the problems of teaching and learning composition pedagogy and how literature is broken down for students to understand. “The arguments of literature scholars can also be traced in the college catalogs that list advanced offerings in literature but only required normative courses in composition. Composition, so goes this reasoning is different from literature and should be measured by its own standards” (Howard, 51). What I believe Howard is trying to argue here is that the topics of composition and literature have both similarities and differences that could be used when teaching. The problem is having the students fully comprehend it.

Howard continues on to say, “In this essay, however, I am urging that composition pedagogy be measured by its own standards-which, I am proposing, include a dialogic function” (pg 52). This essay does explain Howard’s proposal in introducing this a new way of understanding composition. However, throughout the article I found myself to be lost in translation. There were many times while reading this essay I could grasp the point she was trying to make; which made it more difficult to understand the overall point she was trying to make in this essay. One example of this would be when she gave the example of W.E.B. Du Bois’s The Souls of Black Folk and how that relates to the differences in composition pedagogy and literature.

“I find myself taking an argumentative tack paralleling that of W.E.B. DuBois in The Souls of Black Folk:

Nineteenth-century African Americans suffered from a racial “double consciousness” in which they could fully appraise themselves neither by their own standards nor by those of white people” (pg 52). She mentions that the relationship between the two is not because of identity but rather in the subject of English itself. “Composition studies labors in a state of intellectual double consciousness, trying to demonstrate its value by asserting its identity with literary studies” (Howard, 52). This was a problem for me when trying to finish the rest of the essay because I was trying to understand if she was relating DuBois’s literature to having its own standard like composition and literature studies should; Or was she making the point that African Americans’ struggles of dealing with “double consciousness” relates to simply a subject of composition pedagogy.

Another issue that I had while reading this essay was how it related to research itself. A lot of the wording and material that was brought in this essay could have been said in a simpler way and I believe could have been constructed better. There was one idea that was brought to my attention that I thought was enlightening. The term “patchwriting” is something I have never heard before. “Patchwriting, according to composition theory and critical theory, is at the very least a necessary stage in learning new ideas. By many accounts, it is how all of us write all of the time” (Howard, 58). A term such as “patchwriting” is something that was new and I could take away from this essay and apply it to my own studies. Overall, the argument she was trying to make was good with some flaws. Unfortunately, for a growing student myself, it was just something I could not grasp fully.


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