As a compositionist, I find myself torn on this text. Overall, I firmly believe in Donald Lazere’s message to more deliberately integrate public texts into the composition classroom. Students can greatly benefit—both in and beyond the classroom—from critical discussions regarding public political discourse and composition, especially in the wake of the 2016 election and the resulting political climate. Nevertheless, foregrounding those discussions over students’ discourse conventions and experiences proves problematic.
Lazere’s larger argument created an interesting dialogue with a recent CCCC position statement discussing the influences of language. Similar to Lazere, in “Statement on Language, Power, and Action,” (November 2016), CCCC wrote that language has the power to prompt change and action among those it encounters, and, as such, writers should maintain that awareness as they compose. More specifically, CCCC, like Lazere, valued “the use of fact-based reasoning, writing, and communication to build a better, more ethical, more engaged nation.” This aligns with Lazere’s call in Chapter 6: Down with “Clear, Logical Prose”?: Ceding Reason to Conservatives, in which he wrote
“To the contrary of those like [Elizabeth] Ellsworth who simplistically view reasoned discourse as an agent of oppression, it is precisely higher order reasoning (aka critical thinking) that is needed to refute the logical fallacies in sexist, racist, class-biased, or jingoistic rhetoric, manipulating appeals to sociocentric emotions in the dominant culture” (121).
Both CCCC and Lazere agreed on the exigency of helping students develop an appreciation for logical, fact-based reasoning which can effectively engage others in productive dialogue should remain a top priority for compositionists. They both found that not only will students become better, more responsible writers, but will also develop critical skills for evaluating the information they encounter in public settings.
The similarities between the two end as CCCC and Lazere differed on their strategies for achieving “fact based” and “logical” composition. Later in their statement, CCCC went on to affirm the philosophies that inform notions like Students’ Rights, suggesting that a respect for students’ diverse discourses is the best means to “foster responsible and respectful inquiry and discourse.” Conversely, Lazere—throughout the most of the text but more clearly in Chapter 5, "Degrees of Separation from Academic Discourse"—posed the questions, “In the kind of homogeneously Middle American colleges I have described, isn’t it the responsibility of teachers to ‘coerce’ students into confronting topics, readings, and data that challenge their ethnocentric consensus, and to ‘bank’ with them a base of factual knowledge and analytic know-how that we have and they don’t?” (95). This question perfectly framed his critiques of pluralist pedagogy found throughout his text. Lazere advocated for this manifestation of the banking model as a means for more conservative students to go beyond their localized understandings of class, race, and gender. Unfortunately, Lazere’s banking-based method seems to disregard CCCC’s commitment “to support its members, who every day engage writers from all backgrounds and cultures to explore how writing can be used to foster responsible and respectful inquiry and discussion across a range of public, academic, and civic contexts” as students coming from a particular background are asked to abandon—not negotiate—their native discourses when exploring new topics in either an academic or public setting.
And just as Lazere departed from CCCC’s most recent position statement, I too depart from his arguments. While I agree with his larger objective—emphasizing the public nature of composition and using the classroom as a space to explore its numerous cultural consequences—I do not agree with his means for doing so. Political literacy is rife with critiques of scholars who advocate for pluralism through the outlets of diversity, multiculturalism, and personal discourse reflection; however, Lazere doesn’t as thoroughly account for how these theories may help an instructor achieve the ends he has in mind. More specifically, neither Lazere's critiques nor his pedagogical revisions discuss how students' first focusing on their native discourse communities through reflection provides them with the skillset and comfortability to dissect the complex components that shape both local and national discourse practices that reside outside of, but may interact with, their own. In fact, I find that if Lazere had consulted and sought to integrate works like Patricia Bizzell’s “Cognition, Convention, and Certainty” (1982), he could have had the theoretical toolset to implement his curriculum without introducing any banking-like pedagogies. Disregarding transfer could result in greater resistance from students who hold different positionalities and/or ideologies from their instructors. If the practices from this text are to be implemented within the classroom, the instructor would be tasked with the a considerable balancing act: encouraging students to go beyond their existing understandings while still showing respect for the language and experiences that have shaped and informed that understanding. Lazere even mentions that only a handful of students were receptive to his methods, while others rejected his ideas and the content of his teachings due to his discrediting of personal experience and native discourse practices.
Another limitation to consider is the use of outdated technologies used to unpack his observations on influential, non-academic media. Most of his examples rely on media like print and broadcast news. While messages from companies like Fox News, MSNBC, and CNN should be actively incorporated into any discussion regarding public composition and rhetoric, they represent dated information sources. The interactions students have with these large, corporate outlets represent the more passive, message -> medium -> receiver relationship, in which a media organization uses broadcast technology to relay a message to a mass, faceless audience who then cannot talk back to the composer of the message (the media outlet). With online discussion forums (including social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter) empowering members of the audience to engage directly with these larger sources, we must carefully consider how to situate Lazere’s one-sided findings into this now two-way communication act. Additionally, his tendency to focus on broadcast, a comparatively dated form of message dissemination, limits his understandings of what students are actually exposed to and who they have the opportunity to engage with. With his current emphasis on broadcast media, he frames students as individuals who are otherwise isolated within ideological enclaves as a result of their geographical location. Many of today’s writing students, though, claim to have at least some experience gathering information from and engaging on these online participatory platforms, allowing them to transcend the limitations of their immediate physical space, something Lazere cites as a hindrance for developing a more well-rounded worldview.
In conclusion, I would (with great hesitation and encouragement to read critically) recommend Political Literacy in Composition and Rhetoric for scholars interested in more actively situating public works into their pedagogy. The aftermath of the 2016 election has proven that students need a space to analyze and discuss the persuasive messages surrounding them. However, anyone using this text should proceed with caution. I find that Lazere’s emphasis on the banking model is more of a pedagogical liability than an asset. Perhaps one could develop a happy medium: using the strategies for assessing personal discourse conventions (as developed by pluralist scholars) as a site for play and transfer that students can later use to unpack the ideologies and motives that attempt to persuade them at every turn.