Essay Issues in Teaching the English Language

2542 Words 11 Pages
Struggle as I may, I cannot avoid James Berlin’s statement: “To teach writing is to argue for a version of reality” (234). If I’m going to be successful in any academic field, in any language, there are certain conventions that I must follow, but what I say and how I think is inexorably linked to the available resources of any particular convention. For my part, I just can’t escape the confines of the English language. I see this most poignantly when I try to teach a Chinese writer how to cite sources or when I attempt to read a text in translation.

To teach writing is to argue for a version of reality, and the best way of knowing and communicating it. . . . All composition teachers are ineluctably operating in this realm, whether
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Fortunately, I am not a Jacques and, therefore, will not burden my audience with such a jargon-laden explanation [4].

In America, we value independence, democracy, and individuality, but these rhetorical terms are culturally defined, not universal absolutes. Case in point: the maquiladora factories south of the U. S. boarder. In the U. S., a citizen may live a relatively free and democratic existence (putting aside any issues of false consciousness), but the American citizen’s freedom and democracy belies a latent suppression of the very same “basic rights” for a Mexican factory worker who assembles Zenith TV’s at slave wages. If we take the analogy further - and buy into a little Marxist theory - the free and democratic ideals of Western Philosophy, which the U. S. embody, are the bourgeoisie of the 21st Century, and the poor Mexicans are the proletariat whom we exploit. To American citizens, then, “the Democratic way of life” represents freedom, individuality and prosperity. To the Mexican factory workers who manufacture our Zenith TVs, the Chinese workers who make our Nike shoes, the Arab refinery workers who drill our oil, Democracy represents imperialism, suppression, totalitarianism. Western notions of Democracy, then, are as exclusionary as they are liberating. In short, to teach the notion

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