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Upsetting Composition CommonplacesUpsetting Composition Commonplaces by Ian Barnard
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Interesting book that takes some sacred terms in composition theory (audience, objectivity, voice, etc) and critiques them from the lens of whether or not teaching is in line with composition theory and pedagogical approaches to writing. After admitting several times in the course of the text a well accepted idea that pedagogy lags behind theory about 20 to 30 years, the author critiques contemporary teaching for being too dependent on objectivity, authorial intent, liberal construction of audiences, and thin conceptions of proof.

Although the critique is well made, I think it would be great to see more of the book written like Chapter 6 which really had me going. It might be my own biases in terms of what I'm interested in, but this chapter on audience was great. I think that what set it apart was specific ideas for very radical assignments and classroom activities. I would have liked to see more of that throughout the book.

I like the idea of upsetting these God-terms, either tumping them over or literally making people who think they are good teachers upset. But the critique really doesn't go as far as it needs to and also avoids some necessary complexity. For example, the chapter on objectivity is very good and very right about its criticism of fact-reliance in pedagogy, which honestly impacts the entire education system. But there's little discussion of the importance of facts for issues such as holocaust denial, conspiracy theory (moon landing and 9/11 sort of stuff) as well as other strange ideas that often appear in American student writing. Making the critique of fact addiction more fuzzy with an analysis of the false-flag conspiracy regarding Sandy Hook, for example, might have really opened up the conversation between text and reader about what is possible in the teaching of writing today (as well as what is needed).

In the end the book was enjoyable to read, it just didn't rock me the way I hoped it would. The critique is obvious and agreeable, the Audience chapter is amazing, and the rest of it seems, well, right - but not radically upsetting.

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