Counterstatement, Reponses to Hairston, “Diversity, Ideology, and Teaching Writing

Hairston, Maxine. “Diversity, Ideology, and Teaching Writing.”   Responses: College Composition Communication 44 (1993): 248-56. (9 pages)

In a series of counterstatements to Maxine Hairston’s “Diversity, Ideology, and Teaching Writing”, scholars challenge Hairston’s claim—that she repeats in her reply—that “ideology into the classroom stifles diversity and hampers students’ development as writers” (255).

Trimbur re-frames Hairston’s article as a push and pull between writing and rhetoric: “The crux of the matter here concerns the relationship between rhetoric and composing in curricular design” (248). As he writes, rhetoric’s resurfacing in the teaching of writing has prompted students to consider how “language we use constitutes the world we live in the differences that separate us, and what we praise and blame in our hopes for a better future” (248).

Robert Wood directly asserts that there is no ideologically neutral classroom: i.e. it is a misnomer to say that a liberatory perspective in the teaching of writing is “the only ones teaching ideology” (249). William Thelin echoes this sentiment to say that “as a field, we’ve moved, I think, beyond the naïve belief that classrooms can be depoliticized” (252). Thelin, then, labels Hairston’s pedagogy a “politically covert classroom.” Such a classroom, as Wood points out, can potentially reinforce the stifling of diversity that Hairston hopes to safeguard: “the best way to avoid the trappings of the ideological dogmatism that can manifest itself in either the political left or the political right is to foreground our ideologies, to make them known first to ourselves, then to our students” (250). Trimbur extends further that, in Hairston’s pedagogy, students are encouraged to display differences, but “shouldn’t have to engage in the rhetorical art of negotiation,” continuing that Hairston’s ‘low-risk’ classroom refuses to “ask students to mobilize these resources [of individual differences] in order to find out how and why they differ with their peers” (249). Likewise, Ron Strickland writes, “the emphasis upon individual self-validation shelters students form the challenge to show how and why their concerns and experiences relate to the concerns and experiences of readers from other social groups” (251).

Finally, William J. Rouster takes up the focus on cultural-criticism pedagogies, namely to complicate Hairston’s notion that such a pedagogy can only be rooted in literary theories and literary texts. Rather, culture itself is a “legitimate object of [cultural critics’] examination in English departments” (253).

In support of Hairston, and reflecting on this particular moment in the field, Ralph E. Voss points out that the maturation of the field has seen a “loss of respect for differing view”, what he labels as “polarized conditions” that may implicitly discourage the publication of differing viewpoints.

In a strange turn of irony, Hairston appears to fall into a category of scholars falling of fashion in a shifting paradigm in the teaching of writing, a category she describes in “The Winds of Change”


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