Pedagogy 4.2 (2004) 167-169
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Jennifer L. Holberg
In this issue of Pedagogy, we're pleased to have another exciting, eclectic offering for you: articles and reviews engaged in what first-year composition students like to call "our modern world of today." In these pages, our authors take up some very fraught questions: How do we teach topics like genocide? How do we navigate the challenges of PC language? How do we integrate the teaching of literature and composition? How do we present with integrity the author who has become a cultural icon? How do we negotiate our place within the "family" of our departments? How do we talk about the very scholarship of teaching itself? This issue demonstrates, we think, how the questions that need theorizing in this area of our profession continue to multiply.
Clearly, we find this diversity of subject matter rich and provocative. Still, we are sometimes asked as editors why Pedagogy does not create dedicated theme issues. Our answer is simple: we believe strongly that in every issue of the journal there should be at least one point of entry for every member of the profession—one article or From the Classroom piece or review that tries to speak to the reader where she or he lives. We are also convinced that a commitment to a range of subjects can help bring the profession together around the center of our common lives: teaching. That, for example, there is great value in reading about what goes on in composition classrooms as a way of thinking about what can and should go on in the literature classroom; that reading about the difficulties presented in teaching an author like Sylvia Plath can stimulate ideas about how one teaches any author affected by overwhelming constructions of celebrity (the Brontës, for instance). And on and on. [End Page 167] Indeed, we are so committed to this ideal that we made a decision even before the first issue appeared that we would keep special issues to a minimum.1
Or maybe our argument for eclecticism is not so simple. In our professional mythology, the story goes that journals, and generalist journals in particular, look the way they do out of necessity, not critical design. Many in the profession have an image of journal editors as rats on the proverbial production wheel, constantly scrambling and desperately hoping to receive something—anything—that will be good enough to fill the issue. By contrast, this story continues, the editor of a book of collected essays has "world enough and time" to carefully construct a product that can have scholarly heft, not the flightiness of four or five unrelated articles. Indeed, colleagues who hold this view seem to be saying that if journal editors are going to spend significant portions of their scholarly lives editing, they could at least have the good taste to occasionally do an "edited book lite," in other words, a special issue.
Certainly, both views are overstated. That journal editing is fast paced and sometimes unpredictable is clear; that book editing is a demanding task that nevertheless does not always produce the quality the editor had hoped for is also true; that both can produce important critical insights is obvious. Our point is not to value one activity over the other. Or to dismiss the amount of work that goes into producing a special issue: our own use of "clusters" (a set of shorter articles around a common text, author, or question) has operated with similar aims and has been an important, and popular, way of promoting dialogue within these pages.2 Rather, we think it important to raise again the question of what kinds of work we value in the profession. Though many of us denounce the move to ever greater assessment and decry the corporatization of the university, we do not spend enough time discussing the ways we quantify the work of our colleagues and, more important, the values that inform that quantification.
And journals themselves need to do a better job of articulating their individual missions. If good teachers are self-reflective, good...