Saturday, August 11, 2007

Theory-practice relationship

I've had lots of blog posts run through my head in the past couple of weeks, but I haven't found the time to get them on the screen. Thanks for the comment, Elizabeth--I will respond eventually!

Just working on my Pre-semester workshop for new TAs this morning, and I am thinking through how to talk to them about the theory-practice relationship. I've been skeptical of the theory-practice relationship for a lot time, having read Fish and Rorty, the other neo-pragmatists, having taken 3 classes with Tom Kent in grad school, and being a bit of phenomenologist at heart--seems to me that almost everything I "think / theorize" comes out of practice; my theories are indeed descriptions, not prescriptions.

What's prompting this reflection, however, is that I need to explain to new TAs how our first-year writing program's theory, a rhetorical-formalist, genre-based program, is related to our university's General Education goals. I don't have much problem seeing the connections, but the Gen Ed goals were concocted without my input, before I even arrived at NDSU, so it raises an interesting new relationship for me about theory-practice: our program's theory is not driving the goals, nor are the gen ed goals precisely driving our theory; each were arrived at independently. What we in the writing program have done is matched up our theory with the goals as best we can (although as I write I realize that we tweaked one goal to get a better fit) in order to create a semblance of coherence. I've always preferred coherence theories of truth to correspondence theories of truth, so again I have no problem with this relationship, but maybe what I am trying to get at is "what drives what, if anything?" Or can we abandon causal thinking in favor of emergent, situational, coherence thinking? Instead of saying we have a rhetorical-formalist, genre-based theory guiding our program (a label I came up with to try and describe what we do), maybe what we have is a pragmatic, situational program that responds to a variety of factors (institutional goals, personal preferences, personnel training, changing technologies, etc.) in ways that "we" think will lead to good classes, engaged and satisfied teachers, institutional buy-in, and decent results come assessment day.

Have I really said anything here?

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