- Public Pedagogy in Composition Studies
As someone who regularly encourages students in my technical writing and first-year composition courses to participate in public writing projects, I have often turned to scholarship based in service learning—often not writing-course specific—to look for pedagogical direction and even evidence that these approaches to teaching are meaningful for students. Fortunately, as more and more rhetoric and composition specialists teach public-oriented writing courses, the emergence of related discipline-specific scholarship, conference presentations, and workshops provides necessary assistance for compositionists whose teaching and work conflate the borders between the institutions and communities in which they teach. Joining the CCCC Studies in Writing and Rhetoric series, Ashley J. Holmes's Public Pedagogy in Composition Studies adds important insights to this body of literature, providing a critical sourcebook for writing program teachers and administrators as they encourage students to "go public" with their work (Mortensen qtd. in Holmes 1). In five chapters, Holmes lays out a comparative case study of three different institutions—Oberlin College, Syracuse University, and the University of Arizona—to offer a definition of public pedagogy specific for writing studies, to illustrate how instructors and writing program administrators at these institutions support this teaching approach in various courses, to demonstrate how our institutional histories might frame our rationales for public engagement, and to theorize ways in which community and institutional stakeholders can negotiate the sometimes difficult emotional reactions to the learning that happens in public spaces. Holmes contends that the teaching and learning that involves and takes place in various publics—that is, outside of conventionally academic locations—not only has transformative potential for students but can also promote opportunities for them to analyze, critique, and respond to the socio-political discourses and policies that shape everyday life. Holmes's research contributes to ongoing conversations about public engagement in the field of composition studies, and she showcases and documents the on-the-ground work that is being done in three institutions. Thus, many composition [End Page 110] instructors and administrators will find it a valuable guide as they consider, plan, and implement teaching approaches located in the public sphere.
Holmes situates her study within broader conversations about public pedagogy in curriculum studies while also reviewing the body of work produced in response to Peter Mortensen's appeal for rhetoric and composition scholars to move beyond the ivory tower and into the communities where our democracy is practiced. In chapter one, Holmes begins by addressing disparities in the terms composition teachers use to define their publicly-framed work, ultimately arriving at a convincing, albeit broad, definition that accommodates a variety of contexts: "public pedagogy in composition studies … [is] an approach to the teaching of writing that values the educative potential for public sites, communities, and persons beyond the boundaries of the traditional classroom and/or campus community … relocating composition teaching and learning within increasingly public spheres" (4). Acknowledging critiques of public pedagogy by Henry A. Giroux, who argues that such models can be co-opted by neoliberals who endeavor to indoctrinate students into a corporatized, individualistic, and anti-democratic worldview, Holmes argues that public pedagogies must provide students with opportunities not only to learn outside of typical educational spaces but also to "critique … those locations, as well as the social and political implications of that public work" (18). The first chapter of Public Pedagogy, then, traces the trajectory of the field's public turn; describes Holmes's research sites, selection process, and methods; responds to potential skepticism about public pedagogy's value and effectiveness; and outlines the terms of public pedagogy in composition.
Chapters two and three delve into Holmes's field research to elucidate distinct instructional approaches to public pedagogy and the administrative models that support them. In chapter two, Holmes draws upon Elenore Long's teaching methods for student engagement with public stakeholders (interpretive, institutional, tactical, inquiry-driven, and performative), using them as an analytical reference point for understanding her research participants' public teaching (36). Of interest in this chapter is Holmes's ability to show the breadth of circumstances in...