Who Can Afford Critical Consciousness?: Practicing a Pedagogy of Humility

David Seitz, Wright State University - Main Campus


Through ethnographic research with students, this book contends that many composition teachers’ training in critical theory may lead them to misread implicit social meanings in working class, minority, and immigrant students’ writing and thinking. The author examines how the local perspectives and discursive strategies of students from these backgrounds often complicate the translation of these theories to practice. The core of the book analyzes three common places of critical writing pedagogy: instrumentalism, difference and resistance from the viewpoints; lived experiences; and social positions of these students.

The book also chronicles the re-education of the author as a critical writing teacher in response to the complications raised by the students in his ethnographic research as he moves from a university serving urban multicultural students to one that serves primarily White working and middle-class students from rural and suburban backgrounds. For each of the three common places of critical writing pedagogy that the students’ experiences and positions complicate, the author offers pedagogical responses in the form of concrete assignments and curriculum design as well as reflections on the process of the teaching approaches and discussion of students' writing projects. His pedagogy ultimately asserts that students need to build their own critical theories inductively, rather than deductively applying others’ theories, if they are going to be internally persuaded that critical theory holds any value for their lives outside college.