The social epistemic classroom’s ability to unpack language’s binaries, power structures, and other forces in history that create “conflicts and contradictions” provides an interesting atmosphere for students to gain insight into their world (Berlin 122). At the beginning of this semester, I read Berlin’s oft-quotes article entitled “Rhetoric and Ideology in the Writing Classroom.” For those of you who haven’t read this short piece, Berlin extends an analysis of the three main branches of Composition theory: cognitive, expressionism, and social epistemic theories. After reading this article, I thought hard about what kind of writing instructor I am and came to the conclusion that I am a social epistemic. But I’ve always had one caveat with its theories. I really resisted the idea that students must be taught to identify the ways in which control over their own lives has been denied them, and denied in such a way that they have blamed themselves for their powerlessness” (680). I use this quote for two purposes: One, that I do teach my student to uncover underling factors that control their behaviors. We look at such texts as ads, movie trailers, songs, and even grocery stores to unearth hidden ways in which designers coerce consumers to behave. When I examine a local grocery store in class, my students are always surprised to find that the milk, which is always needed to any shopper, sits at the back of the store to lure shoppers into buying other items that they may not need.
But after reading Rhetorics, Poetics, and Culture, I think my resistance to ideological discussion may be partly due to my inexperience with Berlin’s theories. He claims that “the aim of the course remains the same in all situations: to enable students to become active, critical agents of their experience rather than passive victims of cultural codes” (113).
In order to begin this process of critiquing codes, I ask my students to perform The Method. Adapted from David Rosenwasser and Jill Stephen’s textbook Writing Analytically, The Method is a process for students to unpack a text.
The process, if done correctly, enables students to begin reshaping how they think about a text. Often, I use The Method as a way to begin analyzing for the rhetorical analysis essay. Most of the time, students do not spend enough time thinking critically and dwelling on the dada presented in their selected text. Working with this process in class, facilitates student’s thinking so that they will be prepared to confront analyzing texts on their own.
Using The Method, instructors can begin the process of “encouraging…complex reading and writing strategies and practices” from our students (Berlin 120). I do not suspect Berlin began his courses by jumping into the complicated nature that language plays in our lives. I can only think he developed strategies to help students begin to see how language and ideology factors into our culture. For me, The Method is where I begin to help my students reshape the way they “see” language. For Berlin, “we are thus committed to teaching reading and writing as an inescapably political act, the working out of contested cultural codes affecting every feature of experience” (14).