Caleb’s Second Response to Carter: 11-22-2011

I enjoyed Carter’s book a lot, and see the benefits that her pedagogy of “rhetorical dexterity” has over many of the other methods I have learned about through my academic experiences. Although Carter contends that “rhetorical dexterity…attempts to develop critical consciousness with practical, rhetorical, and even political applications,” she is also quick to point out that overemphasizing critical applications and pushing students towards making change does not do justice to the student (95). Citing the ideas of Kassner and Harrington, Carter argues that basic writing instructors should be careful “making basic writing a political act and doing so within institutional and social constraints,” as overly politicizing writing “does not address the needs of students who sit in our basic writing classes here and now” (151). Carter doesn’t debate that there are problems with the education system, but she does make a very valid point, as teaching students only that things should change provides them with no instruction for how to navigate the socioeconomic and political conditions already in existence. I took strong note of this point, as I still find myself straddling too much ideology in my teaching philosophy and practices. I need to take a lesson from Carter’s pedagogical outline to improve my own teaching practices, and open up to the fact that complaining doesn’t solve problems, only well taught and informed students have the potential for that. It’s our job to help them see the many different shades of gray reality are built on, not decode and define these areas for them.

In regards to her process of “rhetorical dexterity,” Carter does a very effective job of making her point clear, well situated in scholarship, and offers a different solution to remedy standardized testing and preconceived notions of good writing and intelligence, providing a great guide for writing teachers of all levels to take note of. I really related to her narrative on her Brother Eric, as it reminded me of my own brother and his challenges with literacy, speaking, and writing. Like Eric, my brother was able to find his way out of remedial courses because of his effective sponsors (as Brandt and Carter outline), as my parents did everything they could to give him the support he needed. The contrasting stories of success and failure due to effective sponsorship really helped contextualize the points Carter makes. Understanding and applying multiple literacies isn’t something that people are born in to, as her stories about Eric and Lopez provide real life examples signifying the power of sponsorship. It is nice to read theory applied contextually.

As I stated before, Carter does an excellent job situating her notion of “rhetorical dexterity” amidst previous and current scholarship, as her critiques and agreements with these other texts reinforces the theory she employs, and helps to credit her process as a very valid solution to current basic writing instruction. Carter notes that Hirsch’s concept of “cultural literacy” is highly “oppressive and problematic even from the most practical standpoint because it obscures the ways in which literacy actually functions in the real world” (98). Although Hirsch’s methods were obviously reinforcing status quo knowledge, her reactions to other scholars were more subtle, and required more reading to fully get the relation. Carter’s reading of Russell offered any example of this subtle positioning, as she agrees with him that “literacy cannot be reduced to an autonomous skill-set,” but she pushes away from him slightly, arguing that neither can literacy “be reduced to a particular content” (103). By slightly repositioning her pedagogy amidst existing scholarly discussion, Carter creates outlines effective methods and results for her pedagogy, while still maintain an important aspect of her argument. Literacy is “multifaceted, dynamic, and historically situated,” meaning multiple contents come into play, methods for communication are diverse, and meaning and communication methods are best examined when situated in their historical context.

This was one of the better reads this semester by far. I really wish I would have finished this book before writing my teaching philosophy, as I am now regretting some of the elements I included in there. I place too much importance on critical awareness of issues and less importance on making connections to student’s previous knowledge/interests to engage them in learning methods for contextually applying previous knowledge to understand and navigate diverse communities and situations. If hindsight were twenty-twenty huh!