Monday, June 29, 2009

Hospitality and Thermostats

I bet the June issue of CCC is its most read number; definitely the one I always have the most time for. I boldly claimed to Betsy that June 2009 might be the greatest issue of all time--all the pieces are of interest to me, anyway. I have started with Haswell, Haswell, and Blalock's "Hospitality in College Composition Courses" because I have been reading and thinking about hospitality with my refugee resettlement work. They steer clear (more or less) of the philosophical debates (Derrida and Levinas most notably), arguing that they see hospitality as a cultural practice and not a theoretical concept--nice move (708). They offer up three types of hospitality--homeric, judeo-christian, and nomadic--then offer their own choice, "transformative hospitality." I particularly liked their argument that a hospitable classroom is not teacher nor students centered, but inter-active centered, although I wondered about their claim that that the host-guest is an equitable relationship. Although steps can be taken to mitigate the power of the host, that position comes with the power of setting the environment and being "at home." I am always much more comfortable as host than guest.

I expected Paul Lynch's "Composition as a Thermostatic Activity" to give McLuhan's hot and cool a nod, but Lynch is a Postmanite, not a McLuhanite (or so it seems), and while the two overlap considerable, Postman's thermostat seems to not actually use the temperature metaphor. Lynch argues that a thermostatic pedagogy is a pedagogy of counterbalance, and building indirectly on Haswell, Haswell, and Blalock, Lynch seems actually to be arguing for something close to a pedagogy of inter-activeness, although perhaps slightly in-hospitable even as Lynch says we need to "discover what our students need most" (742). The counterbalanced pedagogies unsettles students positions, whether they agree with us or not, and it seems to be Lynch's argument that it is this unsettling that they need most.

The McLuhan take on thermostatic pedagogy (for those wondering) is one that has to do with heating up and cooling off the classroom. Heating up = information rich, whether in the form of a lecture, a dense text, an information rich assignment. Cooling down = participatory activities, students engaging and producing material more so than receiving and consuming. Lynch's essay gives me a nice entre into thermostatic teaching, but still lots of room for exploring / advancing this argument.

More to come as I work my way through the issue.

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