Teaching Academic Discourse

While some authors (James Britton is probably the best known) sometimes denigrate "school" writing forms as artificial, others argue that one of the roles of education is to welcome students into academic discourse communities which represent real and important genres of writing. David Bartholomae makes this argument in "Inventing the University":

What our beginning students need to learn is to extend themselves into the commonplaces, set phrases, rituals, gestures, habits of mind, tricks of persuasion, obligatory conclusions, and necessary connections that determine "what might be said" and constitute knowledge within the various branches of our academic community. (11)

Analysts of rhetorical genres such as Charles Bazerman have shown how deeply contextualized this literacy is. Disciplinary discourses are forms of thought, the Burkean "terministic screens," that constitute these disciplines. To be able to work within these forms is to be able to think in new, and, many argue, more advanced, productive and rigorous ways.

To the argument that teaching students to think "like us" is intellectual colonialism, George Dillon replies,

However ponderous and oblique some of its procedures may be, academic writing does embody ideals of non-coercive cooperation. . . . It marks out a space in which ideas can be impartially entertained, rigorously scrutinized and openly evaluated on public grounds--that is, in short, not only privileged and authoritative, but good and in some sense deserving of its privilege and authority. (Contending Rhetorics 151.)

Moreover, a failure to understand the genres in which one works and which condition the ways one thinks is to work in the dark, ill-equipped to question, modify, or even resist the modes of though promoted by those genres. This applies not just to students entering the discourse community but to its long-time practitioners:

Rhetorical analysis of the actual communications of the disciplines . . . opens up these suppressed issues of the dynamics and evolving knowledge production of the disciplines. . . . Rhetorical analysis can also reveal exclusions and enclosures of discourse to see how and why they are deployed and to question their necessity in any particular case. But even more, it can provide the means for more informed and thoughtful participation.
(Bazerman, "Powerful Words" 64)

Can we do this when we don't understand those genres ourselves? And can we do it in an educational environment in which reflection, intellectual rigour and close immersion in others' ideas is traded off for "clickability"?


Bazerman on Rhetorical Analyses of Genres An extended quotation from Bazerman.
Bartholomae on Teaching Academic Discourse An extended quotation from Bartholomae
Hypertext Genres An overview of the idea of "genre" as a meaning-making set of forms (a la Miller and Bazerman); poses the question of whether HT has enough "form" to sustain rhetoric.
Teaching Hypertext Genres An introduction to the idea of teaching hypertext as a genre.

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