Pedagogy 3.2 (2003) 145-148
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Jennifer L. Holberg and Marcy Taylor
Shirley Geok-lin Lim opens her commentary in this issue with an anecdote about the first graduate course she registered for at Brandeis University in 1969. She uses this creative writing seminar and its instructor, J. V. Cunningham, as metaphors for what she calls the "strangeness" of creative writing in a research university.
This small picture drawn by Lim also illustrates two themes we want to highlight in this issue: the value of taking stock of the profession and its past and future, and the need to focus our gaze carefully on the particulars of the classroom. Several authors look out on the state of a field (Lim on creative writing; Sheila T. Cavanagh, Judith H. Anderson, Daniel T. Lochman, Susannah Brietz Monta, and John Webster on Spenser studies) or of a critical issue (Steve Benton, Jane Tompkins, Jeffrey Wallen, Robin Valenza, David R. Shumway, Craig Stroupe, and Gerald Graff on "teaching the conflicts"). Others focus on specific classroom practices and the theoretical issues that undergird pedagogical choices (Laurie Grobman on the multicultural writing classroom; Irvin Peckham on the teaching of "liberatory pedagogy"). Some of the pieces do both (see, in particular, the Spenser symposium).
But Lim's evocation of her graduate writing seminar (especially her instructor's powerful intellect and personality, which serve now as lenses through which to study the position of creative writing in English departments and universities) reminds readers of their own educational histories. It also reminds us of the classrooms we construct and inhabit today as teachers. What effects will our curricular and pedagogical decisions have on our students [End Page 145] as they take stock of their own educations? What force (intellectual, moral, political) do we exert, particularly in defining our disciplines and subdisciplines for our students? How is this force measured through such practical issues as course planning, grading, assignment design, and interaction with students in and out of class?
These questions certainly animate the articles in this issue, but in this introduction we would like to focus on how they continue to drive From the Classroom, the section in which the second of our themes most clearly finds expression in every issue. In the inaugural issue of Pedagogy, the associate editor for From the Classroom, Elizabeth Blackburn-Brockman (2001: 167), describes the section as focused on the kind of talk that college English teachers engage in around the coffeepot, after departmental meetings, and during conferences: "We talk about classroom triumphs and failures. We argue against or advocate for pedagogical procedures and policies. We share 'teaching moments' that help or hinder us in defining our classroom personas and climates. We agonize over grading standards, manuscript rejections, and working conditions. We revel in favorite assignments and student bloopers. We empathize. We theorize. We conceptualize. We contextualize. We moralize. The list goes on and on and on." The section features five-hundred- to two-thousand-word essays on "concrete pedagogical ideas, problems, and questions" (168). Blackburn-Brockman emphasizes that these tightly constructed discussions explore the scenes and issues of our teaching lives in ways that are both particular and contextualized: "Authors will investigate these pedagogical issues by placing them in larger conceptual, historical, or theoretical frameworks. They will do so, however, without losing sight of the issues raised in the first place. In other words, the section won't feature articles in which theory is foregrounded for its own sake; instead, theory will function as a means to inform, illuminate, and celebrate the praxis of teaching and mentoring" (168). Like the journal as a whole, From the Classroom seeks to engage these issues from a variety of perspectives, and we encourage submissions from teachers at all professional levels and institutional sites.
In our first eight issues, including this one, From the Classroom has featured twenty-seven articles. We have tried to show a range of topics and approaches. For instance, Kristie S. Fleckenstein (2001), Kenneth Speirs (2001), and Diane J. Kain (2003) focus on a specific teaching problem and frame it in terms of a particular course setting. We have also had...