E501 Posting: Hairston v Berlin

Ah Maxine Hairston, she was such a force in rhetoric and composition. She argued her position thoroughly and staunchly maintained her stance. Such adept, skilled maneuvering of debate is truly admirable.  She was usually right, in my opinion, although this time I must challenge part of her argument on the banning of political rhetoric from the classroom.

My line of argument slightly deviates from Hairston’s on the fight to leave all politics outside the classroom. I say everything is political. The fact remains that students (freshman are the main focus for Hairston) are at a university, following structured degree programs, and kowtowing to administrational requirements…all part of the politics embedded in the university institution. So teachers must exercise their influence in the most minimalistic manner possible, but acknowledging with a slight gesture, from time to time, the presence of the political elephant in the room. Pointing out this presence to students is a type of community responsibility, I think. For example, a professor saying, “hey, watch out for the state’s control of education in your degree requirements (like mandatory public speech)!” is a friendly “heads up.” Hairston’s reply to me would probably be “of course! But have the students write about their views on such topics, not just assimilate your opinion on the issue!”

James Berlin would argue the point with Hairston as well by saying that the political, cultural influences of whatever modern age narrative we are living in, are irremovable. The best we can do is see those influences, shut out those we can, and mitigate the effects of those we cannot. Berlin would argue against Hairston’s critique that revealing ideology, when it is encountered, such as social-epistemic rhetoric, is putting “the social goals of the teacher before the educational needs of the student.”  He would say it is inevitable that they will need to know these things, why not teach them in the open forum of the classroom. Berlin cautions, though, how social-epistemic rhetoric tries to push ideology at the center of the classroom-but beware, capitalism, a Jekyl-Hyde individualistic tenet touted by both ideologies, can grab ahold of the classroom if you let it and edge out the students’ involvement.

I agree with Hairston that the diverse classroom is best for learning. With our students coming from diverse backgrounds, as Hairston contends, socio-politico topics will be introduced in a natural process-by the students. I agree with her that teachers must leave space for issues, help students as they wrangle with their understandings and let them apply their findings to their lives as they see fit. The student-centered classroom allows breathing room for this discovery process.

Again I agree with Hairston’s argument that teachers must leave their personal politics outside the classroom door. But, I must admit, it is seductive to think of a classroom of eager minds just waiting for me to lay some ideology on them like Socrates did. Of course, in my dream I would wrap myself in compassion for student’s naïve obeisance of the powers that be, soothe my conscious with a sense of obligation to warn them, but all the while I am walking a fine line between detachment and manipulation. If Maxine Hairston were to follow this frightening scenario and implement my own philosophy against me, she would admonish me to warn my own students of teachers…like me.