Revisiting James Berlin’s Cultural Studies Approach to Writing Instruction
Amelia Chesley, Sherri Craig, Jeffrey M. Gerding, Daniel Liddle,
Nicholas Marino, Don Unger, Kyle P. Vealey, and Jon Wallin
2014 CWPA Conference
Proposal for Panel Session
In keeping with the 2014 conference theme of evaluating the hidden complexities undergirding WPA work, this panel presentation revisits James Berlin’s cultural studies approach to writing instruction. However, this presentation does not focus on how this approach has been represented and critiqued through published works. Instead, it examines Berlin's approach as an ongoing negotiation of the classroom as a site entangled in university missions, disciplinary values, and local issues, which includes individual attachments. This process of negotiation guides both writing program administration and teaching. In that sense, this presentation gets at how Berlin's approach represents a work-in-progress—a work inexorably bound to his experience as the director of the University of Cincinnati's introductory writing program from 1981 until 1985 and his experiences mentoring graduate teaching assistants in the introductory writing program at Purdue University from 1987 until his untimely death in 1994.
In attempting to tease out the in-progress nature of his work some twenty years after his passing, this panel presents the initial results of a semester-long project aimed at adapting Berlin’s pedagogy to the dynamics of the contemporary classroom. To do so, we developed a three-phase project spanning eight sections of introductory composition with the objective of teaching one of his assignments in each section. The first phase involves a reconstruction of his teaching materials; this reconstruction moves beyond descriptions provided by published works and draws from a collection of Berlin’s papers housed in the Virginia Kelly Karnes Archives and Special Collections at Purdue, as well as email interviews with former colleagues and mentees. The second phase of the project documents how participants adapt Berlin's materials to their curricula. Finally, the third phase addresses the challenges, breakthroughs, and more subtle results that emerged from adapting and carrying out these assignments. Through this project we seek to commemorate Berlin's work as well as raising pragmatic questions about how his work might have changed shape over the past twenty years. Furthermore, the lessons gleaned from this project extend beyond commemorating James Berlin's work and lead the panel to ask, how is pedagogy—the often-unseen work of graduate students, instructors, and faculty—remembered in constantly evolving academic, institutional, and disciplinary contexts?
This panel consists of eight Purdue University graduate students, all of whom participated in the three-phase project. The panel presentation outlines each participant's approach to adapting and modifying Berlin’s teaching materials to meet their needs. The presentation also reports on the progress of creating a research database and resource for scholars interested in Berlin’s work. In addition to commemorating the work of a scholar whose influence can still be felt in our discipline, we hope this project effectively extends the tradition of critical and dialogic scholarship so strongly advocated by Berlin into programmatic contexts.