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Chapter 6 Politics and Ideology “[A]ll forms of ESL instruction are ideological, whether or not educators are conscious of the political implications of their instructional choices.” (Benesch, 1993) “A prime example of what I consider extreme in critical theory and pedagogy is the premise that everything is political and ideological.” (Santos, 2001) “Common to all critical approaches is interrogating assumptions on which theory and practice are based. This means questioning, or problematizing, what had been previously taken for granted.” (Benesch, 2001a) “[I]f minority people are to effect the change which will allow them to truly progress we must insist on ‘skills’ within the context of critical and creative thinking.” (Delpit, 1986) “L2 student writers, given their respective sociocultural and linguistic socialization practices, are more likely than native English speaking (NES) students to encounter difficulty when being inducted into CT [criticalthinking ] courses in freshman composition classes; they are not ‘ready’ for CT courses in either L1 or L2 writing classrooms.” (Ramanathan & Kaplan, 1996b) “[C]ritical thinking appears to be something more universally relevant than just a social practice. If some cultures differ in their present ability to appropriate the tools of critical thinking, it is probably only a difference in the degree to which critical thinking is tolerated in certain spheres of life.” (Davidson, 1998) “Critical Multiliteracies . . . requires student debate and understanding of the political and material consequences of technological change. How will IT change 195 our lives? Who will benefit? Who will be the advantaged ?” (Luke, 2000) “No technology is neutral or value free.” (Murray, 2000b) L E A D I N G Q U E S T I O N S • What aspects of L2 writing instruction, if any, might be considered political or ideological? • To what extent do L2 writing teachers have an obligation to help their students learn to follow existing writing conventions or to question, critique, and change those conventions? • What will the role of Internet technology be in L2 writing classes in the coming years? In what ways will Internet technology affect the “digital divide”? Introduction to the Issues A number of unresolved issues concerning the politics and ideology of language teaching face L2 writing teachers as they make decisions about how best to design and carry out instructional activities. In this chapter, I discuss three of them: critical and pragmatist stances toward academic writing; the contested meaning and role of the cultural nature of critical thinking in L2 writing classrooms; and the looming influence of Internet technology on all of our educational practices. All of these issues are inextricably tied to larger questions of power and influence in the L2 writing class: Who determines students ’ purposes for writing and the kinds of writing they will do? What are students’ and teachers’ relationships with the dominant discoursal and cultural practices of literacy? The first of the emotionally loaded issues in L2 writing that I discuss in this chapter concerns the politics and ideology of L2 writing and of English language education more generally. 196 Controversies in Second Language Writing In a nutshell, one side of the argument holds that all education is political and ideological, whether or not we realize it in the day-to-day practices of our teaching (Benesch, 1993; Canagarajah , 2002; Pennycook, 1989, 1994; Shor, 1992). English language education in particular is fraught with political minefields , given that English is a dominant international language associated with economic and political power, subjugation of minorities, injustice, and globalization (Canagarajah, 1999; Pennycook, 1994; Phillipson, 1992). The language of research publications in print and on the Internet is also predominantly English, thus limiting the participation of non-English users in international research communication (Gibbs, 1995; Murray, 2000b; Swales, 1997). Teachers who hold strong beliefs about the inseparability of language and politics claim that L2 writing students need not only to be aware of the ways that the English language is implicated in issues of power but also to recognize that they have the right, or perhaps the obligation , to question, resist, and challenge the status quo (Benesch , 2001a, 2001b). They believe as well that our teaching can be neither neutral nor objective. All choices we make in the classroom are therefore laden with political and ideological implications. The other side claims that writing teachers are entrusted with a very pragmatic goal—that of assisting students to develop the language and writing proficiency they need to survive in the environments in which they will be using their second language, such as an English-medium academic...


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