Duke University Press
Christine Chaney - Book Review Editor's Introduction - Pedagogy 1:1 Pedagogy 1.1 (2001) 191-194


Editor's Introduction

Christine Chaney

In July 1999 Princeton English professor and MLA past president Elaine Showalter came to the daring conclusion that we don't read, write, or research enough about teaching English studies, and in the Chronicle of Higher Education she describes the teaching seminar she designed with nine of her graduate students to address that glaring deficiency. Showalter (1999: B4) speaks of the "anxiety and uncertainty" facing everyone who stands in front of a college classroom and of the skepticism of the entrenched academic culture toward any closer look at the issue of teaching: "Some academics still regard popular professors with suspicion and see an interest in pedagogy as the last refuge of a scoundrel." She emphasizes the risk to her reputation of taking teaching seriously and worries about the time diverted from her graduate students' "real" work--literary research and course work--to the equally serious matter of their development as teachers. Indeed, two facts about Showalter's experiment are striking: Princeton gave no credit to her students for taking part in it, and the main incentive she offered them was job-related. She planned to write a "detailed teaching report for each of the students, which they could use for their professional dossiers" (B4). Given Showalter's national reputation and today's abysmal job market, such an incentive was no doubt compelling.

What Showalter's seminar nicely highlights for my purposes here, introducing Pedagogy's Reviews section, is the familiar attitude that pedagogy is a "vocational" issue, better suited to K-12 teachers than to scholars of the highest rank. (That academic rank is an issue at all underscores another assumption about teaching: its low standing in the academic pecking order. Only instructors at "lower-level" institutions, such as state universities, comprehensives, and community colleges, need concern themselves with it. They [End Page 191] do most of the teaching already--that's all they're good for, right?) Showalter is not the first English professor to note that serious attention needs to be paid to teaching--and by "serious attention" I mean journal articles, books, research, and theory as well as graduate seminars. But if Princeton continues to deny credit to students who pursue this important work, and if Showalter continues to use job-market incentives to lure students into her seminar, then the message remains the same: issues of teaching are of the second order--"vocational"--in our profession. Pedagogy is all well and good as an add-on, when you can find the time, but the real work of a professor doesn't include time to theorize teaching--you figure out how to do it by doing it, kid, and it doesn't much matter anyway. Indeed, isn't poor teaching a sign of brilliance? A mind taken up with more important things?

In spite of its detractors, I prefer to see pedagogy as the last refuge of the scholar--the last underexplored territory of the public practice of our profession and its engagements with history, culture, art, and language. Thus we at Pedagogy seek to undertake reviews of the literature according to the following premises.

Mikhail Bakhtin's term dialogism, coined as a description of the interactive yet never finalizing nature of both life and the word in literature, is now widely known, and while it is easy to oversimplify Bakhtin's dense theorizing, the model remains a theoretical plank undergirding the Reviews section. The traditional "book review" format, with its single author and single point of view, has been rejected in favor of multivalence or "clustered" reviews resisting the notion that "monologue" ever served authentic discourse well--indeed, questioning that such a position is even possible. We plan to offer reviews that speak from many positions, engaging in a conversation about a published work to as many as possible of those who are engaged in the practice of English studies. We hope that this process will continue across issues and on our Web site as well.

To begin this dialogue, we have taken up for discussion a kind of text that is very widely used yet very little theorized. Our reviewers engage the ideology behind the use of anthologies in college English teaching, drawing attention particularly to the theoretical assumptions implicit in the choice to use the traditional Norton Anthology of English Literature over against the new Longman Anthology of British Literature, or to use no anthology at all. To discuss the theoretics of anthologies in Pedagogy seems especially apt given that no such scholarly forum has proved successful as yet. Indeed, the widespread debate, beginning in the early 1990s, about the selections chosen [End Page 192] for the new Norton Anthology of Literature by Women took place in nonscholarly forums, such as the New York Times Book Review Letters section, rather than in scholarly journals simply because none of them offered space for such a conversation. Pedagogy will continue to be a forum for reviews of classroom texts as well as the traditional scholarly ones and for other textual forms, such as Internet texts and film.

Taking as our prompt, then, a debate on the merits of anthology use in literature courses, we present a roundtable of reviewers. Roger Sale declares his strong disdain for anthologies altogether. George Drake advocates Longman's facilitation of classroom investigations of race, class, and gender issues along with literary form and history. Karen Saupe decries the emphasis that Longman places on politics and culture at the expense of a "language" focus. Finally, David Damrosch, Longman's executive editor, responds with a defense of the ideological underpinnings of its selections, publication history, and intended purposes.

As we all know, books shape our choices as scholars and teachers in ways too numerous to mention. While I doubt that Showalter knew that Pedagogy had entered its final planning stages when she wrote her Chronicle article, it is perhaps not coincidental that she used the opportunity to discuss twelve books that she says she "had never known existed, books that offer guidance for new teachers, experienced teachers, and those trying to teach teaching at the college level" (Showalter 1999: B5). We intend to use our Reviews section in much the same way. While we will take dialogue as our discursive model, we also hope to shed light on important texts that may not be widely known. In this issue Kirk Branch brings his insight to bear on Richard E. Miller's groundbreaking As If Learning Mattered: Reforming Higher Education, and Susan A. Schiller tells how Parker J. Palmer's Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher's Life deeply affected both her teaching and her fundamental assumptions about the purposes of higher education. We invite answering reviews to any of these selections at our journal Web site and in future issues of the journal.

In both venues we hope to address what Bakhtin (1990: 153-55) calls the "answering and completing" quality of dialogic discourse. As Bakhtin famously discussed our need for an "other" to know even our own bodies completely, so we see the "answering" function of these reviews. What we hope to provide is a forum for dialogue, an investigation of possibilities, and a high level of scholarly engagement with an issue of the highest importance: teaching in English studies today. [End Page 193]

We invite our readers to participate in this dialogue as well. You may respond to the reviews in this issue (as well as to the commentary, articles, or From the Classroom pieces) by sending an e-mail or a traditional letter to our editorial office at the address below. If you are interested in writing a review, please contact the review editor (cchaney@spu.edu). Please also send in books on any aspect of teaching that you would like considered for review: one copy should be sent to Christine Chaney, Department of English, Seattle Pacific University, Seattle, WA 98119, and two copies to the editorial office at the Department of English, Calvin College, Grand Rapids, MI 49546.

We look forward to your response.

Works Cited

Bakhtin, Mikhail. 1990. Art and Answerability: Early Philosophical Essays by M. M. Bakhtin. Ed. Michael Holquist and Vadim Liapunov. Trans. Vadim Liapunov. Suppl. trans. Kenneth Brostrom. Austin: University of Texas Press.

Showalter, Elaine. 1999. "The Risks of Good Teaching: How One Professor and Nine TAs Plunged into Pedagogy." Chronicle of Higher Education, 9 July, B4-B6.

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