NOTES ON Goodburn, “It’s a Question of Faith: Discourses of Fundamentalism and Critical Pedagogy in the Writing Classroom” (1998)

NOTES ON Goodburn, Amy. “It’s a Question of Faith: Discourses of Fundamentalism and Critical Pedagogy in the Writing Classroom.” JAC: A Journal of Composition Theory (1998): 333-53.

purpose – to show an example of how religion accounts for ways that a student reads and writes about texts.
A university diversity requirement, English 300 The American Experience “at a large state university” (334).

Case study of “Luke” 19 year old sophomore majoring in English.  Goodburn uses two of his response papers to structure her analysis.

RESPONSE PAPER 1 — in response to Kristine Beatty’s poem “Lot’s Wife.” 337. Goodburn presented this reading and two others as a way of prompting students to exmine, intertextually, issues of gender. Beatty’s poem revises the biblical story, presents Lot’s wife valuing community over salvation. Luke sees the historical difference (biblical, 20th century); he disagrees with the poet on the level of history, on the poet’s interpretation of history. 338. “Luke relies on his own authority as a Biblical scholar to read – and resist reading – the poem in ways that I had not envisioned” (338).  [yep – using his own interpretation of the biblical story].

Goodburn calls in Marty and Appleby who point out that “one of the tenets of fundamentalist discourse is a reachng back to the past, either real or imagined, of original conditions and selecting or retrieving fundamental truths from that past in order to thwart the changing present (3)” (338). [LDM – well, Xty is, after all, a historical religion, based on historical revelation – so that’s not surprising. Would be the same in traditional forms of Islam and Judaism as well. Not unique to fundamentalism… though perhaps to traditional religion – which goes A LOT further back than fundamentalism which is a recent reaction to modernism.]

Luke argues that the biblical story “can only be understood within the context it was written,” and hence Luke thinks that any other reading is “naïve.”339  [LDM – I think that’s Luke saying another reading is illlogical, uncritical, uneducated. Traditional Xty assumes the past can be known well enough, accurately enough to give guidance to the present. Cf Handelman’s recounting of the history of literary theory and how before New Criticism, historicism (philology, lower text criticsm, etc) ruled literary study.]

Goodburn points out that Luke cannot accept a SITUATED reading from a 20th century perspective because it goes against his “OBJECTIVE” perspective. 339  SITUATED to Luke = revisionist, and revisionist = danger because they may lead to wrong / sinful actions / beliefs.

Luke is rejecting an interpretation rather than constructing one of his own. 339. Goodburn pulls in Boone to help her say that fundamentalists don’t “view texts as offering multiple readings – there are correct or incorrect readings of a text and those with moral authority have the ability to discern which reading is true” 339.  [LDM = Exegesis, kind of, can be correct or incorrect. Hermeneutics is situational.] [LDM – it’s a little overgeneralizing to say all fundamentalists don’t’ allow multiple readings. It depends on what text you’re talking about – a “creedal” text or an adiaphora text. AND one pedagogical strategy might well be then to show students the thousands of examples of multiple readings allowed (sometimes encouraged) WITHIN fundamentalist – or more broadly, conservative – discourse communities, to give them the freedom from WITHIN their tradition to present a divergent reading as well as to read divergent readings. Anyone who studies the history of exegesis – or even just the last 30 years — will see 1) the multiple readings within one tradition (say, within Calvinism or Roman Catholicism)) at one time period, and 2) the multiple readings within one tradition OVER time.]

Other characteristics Goodburn notes: 1) teacher as enemy, secular humanist as bad word; 2) gender as an issue but quickly subsumed under issue of individual salvation (in other words, gender matters but not half as much as salvation does which solves the whole problem (?) anyway); 3) individual salvation over community [LDM — this I think is characteristic of 20th century American fundamentalism – it’s not a characteristic of religion – in fact, it’s almost a complete opposite to the view of traditional Judaism, early Christianity, Christianity up until industrial revolution? (and Isalm?).] 340

RESPONSE PAPER 2 – Luke’s response to poem “Para Teresa” 341. Luke identified with the one who, as he said in his response, “as with all heroes they seem to fall under criticism for the choices they make” (qtd on 341).  Since Luke views individuals and salvation as the major compartments for thought (my terms), he sees the poem as an example of what an individual can do with hard work, even if a minority. Goodburn also sees his response as commentary on his role in her class. 342

[LDM – Luke is successfully making a personal connection with the poem – cf Rosenblatt’s four stances / stages – but he doesn’t get to a distancing or critical stage.]  Goodburn doesn’t say it this way but Luke views himself the way the biblical tradition views, say, Daniel in the lions’ den – resisting easy path, resisting secular influences will be rewarded with salvation. 342

Salvation = “rejecting community norms for the perceived greater good – in this case “the respect and the security of being a white person” (343).  [Yikes, this is sad. But, again, it is a characteristic of American Xty, not Xty as a whole. Why not have him read all the parts of the OT and NT that show – obviously, even to him – that the assumption of the biblical writers was community = salvation. All this individualism emphasis is very recent.]

FINAL COLLABORATIVE PROJECT – Luke wants to do paper on euthanasia, how it’s always wrong. 344. Goodburn discusses the way in which Luke could not adopt the same purpose (as Goodburn’s) for the assignment: i.e., to present multiple perspectives. Luke felt that to present multiple perspectives is tantamount to saying they are valid. “Not everyone is tolerable.” [LDM – Maybe just have him describe and analyze the difference either between himself and his teacher or between himself and authors? Nah, he doesn’t buy into the NEED to do that kind of examination. He needs to think rhetorically, and try to persuade another person.]

Goodburn’s pedagogical strategy – ask him probing questions (in her comments on his papers). {LDM – how about having him analyze a critical work by a PhD in his own tradition?] 345

LUKE’S PORTFOLIO / REVISIONS (or lack thereof)
Luke thinks Goodburn’s comments are “biased because they reflect [her] own positions” 345  His view, also, is that content of thinking should not be graded – only mechanical stuff and development of ideas.
[LDM – Luke couldn’t buy into Goodburn’s goal. But if the goal was “convince someone else,” if it was rhetorical, he would have HAD to examine his views and his language and tone, etc etc much more tightly.]

Goodburn refers fairly often to “Luke’s assumption that biblical authority provides him with correct views,” (346) and I kept wanting to add that it is Luke’s INTERPRETATION of biblical authority. Of course, she knows that as well as I do. So why not present him with the obvious fact that his view of authority is not constant? I mean, it is – his view that there IS such a thing as a god, as an authority, that is consistent within religion, of course. But his view that human understanding of that authority is constant is, even in his tradition, just not true.

Problem, of course, as Goodburn points out, is that he views tolerating difference includes valuing difference. And he’s right that Goodburn’s goal was to get him to VALUE difference. But he doesn’t necessarily have to VALUE difference to tolerate it.  Cf Yagelski – There was no real encounter between student and teacher. Tolerating does not equal valuing – as Yagelski himself evidences – he tolerated David while he continued to disagree with his views.

Goodburn asks “Is it possible to enact a critical pedagogy in a classroom where students do not view knowledge as partial and situated?” GOOD QUESTION. LDM – Teachers have to recognize that knowledge is NOT ONLY partial and situated, or at least TOLERATE that view.

Goodburn notes the commonalities between fundamentalism and critical pedagogy:
1)    oppositional stance, 2) critique of mass culture, 3) questioning of the nature of authority, 4) examination of sources of knowledge and believe, and 5) desire to convert the “other”. 348

Goodburn wants to say that we have to resist oversimplifying fundamentalist discourse and “understand that reading and writing are sociopolitical acts. [Fundamentalists] know that interpretations cannot be separated from their web of reality. But because they do not view their webs in terms of the social matrixes that Kincheloe identifies as central, their interpretations are considered naïve and uncritical [just as Luke viewed the poet’s reading of the Lot story as naïve and uncritical]” 349

Critical pedagogy == differences in epistemology come from differences in race, class, gender, etc.
Fundamentalism == differences in epistemology come from differences of secular or sacred.
—  both of these are choices, on both sides
“Instead, they believe that their web of reality – one that theorizes in terms of secular and religious-based differences – is the most useful in understanding and critiquing educational practicies. In many ways, the responses of students with fundamentalist beliefs serve as a mirror (albeit some critical educators might suggest a dark one) that reflects the principes of critical pedagogy from a different location” (340). [YES]

Goodburn points out that Pat Bizzell argues that critical pedagogues need to “construct a progressive authority that constructs and values knowledge” (349).  YES.

Goodburn’s suggestions for what she could have done with Luke:
1)    ask him to examine the stakes more, 2) ask him to address the difficulties he has in reading the poem, 3) map out his daily conflicts re his faith… basically examine how he negotiates his faith against opposition…350 “using religious beliefs as a site for analysis”. 351 [LDM but these strategies won’t work very well if he doesn’t buy into the goal of them. Better to have him examine them with the goal of persuading someone else or something like that.]

Goodburn: “the faith I had in the discourse of critical pedagogy did not call into question my own complicity in creating oppressive classroom relations” 351


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