The more I move through the semester, the more and more I realize how much I love Shaughnessy’s “Diving In.” I think that her piece can help us dive into one of the most compelling questions brought up in this week’s reading: “How closely [do] critical teachers actually align themselves with the ‘oppressed’” (George 87)? What does it mean to preach the woes and oppressions of the capitalist patriarchy while living a “’system-supporting, system-supported, pro-capitalist, American capitalist life’” (North qtd. in George 87)? George addresses this question by drawing on feminist and poststructuralist thinking to revise the “decidedly uncritical use of empowerment rhetoric. First. Empowerment suggests an agent who does the empowering and an object whom [sic] receives power from another” (87). The intent is to “move beyond the class-based binaries of oppressor and oppressed and academic binaries of teacher and student” (88). Shaughnessy’s metaphorical call to dive in does this kind of work. Diving in means becoming a “student of new disciplines and of [the] students themselves in order to perceive both their difficulties and their incipient excellence” (297). The dive disrupts the teacher/student binary because it demands for the teacher to become a student. The terms “teacher” and “student” then become a little empty. Shaughnessy’s description of the dive also includes the students “incipient excellence,” meaning students already have the capability for agency in the world; we don’t need to hand over the football of power.
If I can draw from my exam a bit, we can also see how darn hard this is to actually do. Ong writes that “Human knowledge demands both proximity and distance” (48), but writing increases the distance and gap between knower and known (37-8). Basically, the default position for the academy is a view from a distance. After all, writing’s theorizing power comes from its ability to see from a distance, to cover a lot of ground. This is also implicit when Shaughnessy brings up the fact that it isn’t until the first batch of essays that the teacher’s “alarm” is rung (292). The distance face of writing makes generalizable what was not so beforehand; the students are conditioned to think like this, too–that writing is for “magnifying” (visual metaphor!) their “deficiency” (292). To allow for genuine conversation, learning, and success, we may need some new methods as theorists and teachers to help collapse this distance and normalize it.
Q: What kinds of activities and methods do we already use to collapse the distance between teacher and student, research and study subjects, knower and known?
Q: How do we define ourselves to our students so that the proximity between us can be genuine? How do we address the definitions already given to us by the institution and society?
Ong, Walter J. “Writing Is a Technology that Restructures Thought.” The Written Word: Literacy in Translation. Ed. Gerd Bauman. New York: Oxford UP, 1986. 23-50.