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Going North Thinking West

The Intersections of Social Class, Critical Thinking, and Politicized Writing Instruction

Irvin Peckham

Publication Year: 2010

Peckham argues for more clarity on the history of critical thinking, social class structures, and teacher identity, while he undertakes a skeptical look at teaching practices with which even he identifies. Critical thinking itself, Peckham suggests, is a middle-class projection, and the belief that it is linked with effective writing skills may in fact cause writing teachers to misread their students. Both the idea that argumentation is the obvious and necessary form of academic discourse and the conviction that social transformation is a purpose of the classroom need to be examined.

Published by: Utah State University Press


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Title Page, Copyright

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pp. iii-iv


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pp. v-vi

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p. vii

I would like to dedicate Going North to those who have made it and my life as a writing teacher possible. First was my mother, who is now slipping away. She gave me the gift of literacy when she brought home from the library a book about Buffalo Bill instead of the comics I had requested to fill my days while I was staying home from school with the mumps. I hid my disappointment. ...

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1 Intersections

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pp. 1-15

This book is about teaching, which is far more than a simple act of transmitting knowledge from those who know into those who are learning—or even of initiating the young into our matrix of discourse communities. The classroom is where community happens, the site of cultural reproduction and revolution, of parroting and creating, of being and not-being. ...

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2 Social Class

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pp. 16-27

Before taking up the question of the intersections among social class, critical thinking, and writing instruction, I will analyze some of the problems of referring to social class in the Unites States. The major issues are the un-naming of class, its empirical status, what markers we use to distinguish the different classes, and what we call them. ...

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3 Language, Class, and Codes

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pp. 28-48

Language is a particularly effective mechanism for maintaining distinctions among social classes because it functions both to communicate and signal identity, with one function frequently disguised as the other. Teachers, for example, may correct working-class students’ deviations from the conventions of middle-class English, telling the students that the errors make their writing difficult to understand when in fact the teachers are correcting social class behavior manifested through language codes. ...

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4 Critical Thinking

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pp. 49-65

Writing teachers have been trained to believe in a necessary dialectic between language and thought—more particularly, in the dialectic between written language and thought. The line of thinking runs roughly from Vygotsky ([1962] 1975), through Havelock (1963) and Ong ([1982] 2000) to Berlin (1987). The gist of this literacy trope is that as you speak, so you think—and even more so, as you write. ...

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5 Arguing

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pp. 66-85

Although I hesitate to adopt all features of critical thinking as goals in my required writing classes, I want my students to know that their knowledge is situated, which is a precondition of being able to see from multiple perspectives, allowing writers to read their texts (and themselves) with other readers’ eyes. ...

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6 Cultural Studies and Composition

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pp. 86-111

Teachers in the social strand of the critical thinking and writing have attempted to fill the putatively empty rhetorical situation of required writing classes by making culture the object of study. The trajectory of this strand moved from the early writing-about-literature phase through writing-about-self to writing-about culture.1 ...

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7 The Teachers

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pp. 112-142

In chapters five and six, I have analyzed the ways in which pedagogies based on the two strands of critical thinking can lead to counterproductive teaching in required writing classes—if one assumes that the primary purpose of these classes is to help students improve their writing abilities within a family of genres. I take this purpose one step further in the writing program I direct. ...

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8 The Professors

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pp. 143-158

The reader who complained about my dismissal of the importance of argument in the working-class ethos also thought I had stacked the deck in my critique of politicized writing instruction by focusing on graduate students and community college teachers instead of rhetoric and composition professors, claiming that members of the professoriate are better versed in the literature and consequently less likely to blunder than teachers like Cale, Stanforth, and Hendrix. ...

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9 Going West

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pp. 159-165

I write with irony about instruction in required writing classes because I rarely teach them. What few courses writing program administrators in doctoral intensive universities teach are mostly graduate courses—or in my case, courses to teach new writing teachers how to teach writing. ...


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pp. 166-174


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pp. 175-176

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About the Author

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p. 177

Irvin Peckham is the director of the university writing program at Louisiana State University. His two research interests are writing assessment and the intersections of social class and writing instruction. He has published chapters in several edited collections and articles in journals...

E-ISBN-13: 9780874218053
Print-ISBN-13: 9780874218046

Page Count: 184
Illustrations: none
Publication Year: 2010

Edition: 1st Edition

OCLC Number: 681349179
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Going North Thinking West

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Critical thinking -- Study and teaching (Higher) -- United States.
  • English language -- Rhetoric -- Study and teaching (Higher) -- Political aspects -- United States.
  • English language -- Rhetoric -- Study and teaching (Higher) -- Social aspects -- United States.
  • Working class -- Education (Higher) -- United States.
  • Social classes -- United States.
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