Written from the position of the reader-as-teacher, this important book offers profoundly interactive reflections on the text of the classroom and the text of Plato's dialogues. Reading through the everyday desires of the students and teachers in a course on race and gender, and daring to read Plato's students and teachers as interlocutors in current debates, Kameen dramatizes his argument for teacherly research and the consequential knowledge it produces. The surprise and beauty of the book is its re-visioning of both the rhetorical tradition and current claims for personal writing in the academy.
The vast majority of academic books are written from the scholar’s position, even those that primarily concern teaching. Writing/Teaching, on the other hand, is a book about teaching written from the position of the teacher. As the title suggests, Kameen’s book is split into two halves—yet both, in different ways and through different discourses, are derived from his work in the classroom, and his own struggle with issues and problems all teachers of writing must face.
The first half is a series of essays originating from a graduate seminar Kameen team-taught with professor and poet Toi Derricotte in 1994. Included are essays Kameen wrote, a selection of pieces written by other members of the group, and a reflective “postscript.” These essays combine personal narrative, reflective meditation, and critical inquiry—all used as discourse to depict and examine the process of teaching.
The second half of the book contains essays on Plato’s dialogues—primarily Phaedrus and Protagoras—as a means to interrogate the position of teacher through the lens of the most famous of Western pedagogues—Socrates. Here, Socrates is used as a tool to examine and critique both Kameen’s own teacherly identity and, in a wider sense, the set of cultural forces that pre-figure the available positions for both “teacher” and “student” in contemporary education.
What unites both halves is the way Kameen approaches each—the “personal” and the “scholarly”—from his position as teacher. The texts presented provide the occasion for a complex and nuanced meditation on the classroom as a legitimate arena for the production of knowledge and research. Sure to be timely and controversial, Writing/Teaching will enter into the debate on whether to reconfigure the relationship between research and teaching currently taking place among teachers of composition, cultural studies, and rhetoric. Compelling reading for teachers or those contemplating a career in the profession.
I found Writing/Teaching to be not only smart, wide-ranging, and deftly probing, but often—and I admit to having been surprised by this—quite moving. Kameen's book is a wonderfully discerning meditation on the question all of us, as English teachers, need to ask about our classroom presence every term: What am I doing here? A terrific read.
There's so much in this book that seems wise, insightful, and likely to provoke further thought and discussion. Writing/Teaching holds out the promise of bringing together the pedagogy of writing and of literature.
Kameen examines some of the prevailing tensions and oppositions in our professional world: research/teaching, personal/scholarly, reading/writing, literature/composition. He calls into question their traditional configuration so as to create new alignments and stimulate new habits of mind. . . . If we take seriously the project of Writing/Teaching—and I strongly recommend that we do—we will raise the level and tone of our disciplinary self-descriptions. We will establish for composition studies a powerful prescence within the academy as the discipline that values teaching most and that investigates and models what theorized work in teaching looks like, what it can achieve. As a deeply moving and highly original consideration of the personal, disciplinary, and institutional complexities surrounding pedagogical representation, Paul Kameen's book establishes a powerful example.
Kameen negotiates the concept of authority better than anyone else now working with pedagogy or classroom dynamics.
Kameen's text works for me on a number of levels: First, because it is a well-told story about one complicated class during one actual semester. In addition, it makes a persuasive argument for the legitimacy of pedagogical research for university instructors in general and composition instructors in particular. It also serves as a model for what classroom-based research might look like in a graduate literature seminar. And finally, it shares with us the resulting knowledge the instructor learned from closely examining the course in which he was co-teacher. . . . Kameen's text demonstrates that writing teaching narratives leads to knowledge for author and audience alike.
Paul Kameen is professor emeritus of English at the University of Pittsburgh. He is the author of Writing/Teaching: Essays Toward a Rhetoric of Pedagogy, winner of the 2002 CCCC Outstanding Book Award.