Christopher Ferry: "Theory, Research, Practice, Work"


Christopher Ferry’s “Theory, Research, Practice, Work” begins with Paulo Freire’s argument that education must be a process by which students and teachers transform reality and become more fully human by working together. Ferry notes that “Praxis” is central to this process—praxis being the interaction between thought (refection) and action. In order for the process to be effective, both components must be present.

Ferry then goes on to use Freire’s praxis concept to examine the different components of composition studies: theory, research, practice, and work. He also seeks to find the place in which “work” fits within the realm of higher education. What exactly is this “work”? What exactly is it that we do?  

“what we have in composition now is an unbalanced praxis, one that seems focused on reflection at the expense of action (or to put in more appropriate terms for this essay, a praxis focused on theory at the expense of work).”

“I want to make a case that in composition our focus on theory leads us to overlook the teaching of writing”

Ferry writes that we perceive theory and practice as separate. He discusses the historical shift that occurred within universities, a change that placed more emphasis on research than teaching. Now, there are apparently some who see writing teachers as part of the “academic working class”. Ferry notes that most of the time, when academics are referring to their work, they are not referring to the act of teaching; they are referring to their own writing or their research.

The divide between the two realms of the English department—literature and composition studies—is also discussed. Referring to writing teachers, Ferry references David Bartholomae: “As a professor, you’re not identified with something of great cultural value, like Shakespeare or the English novel…. You’re identified with the minds and words of 18-year olds”.   

Going back to Paulo Freire’s concept of praxis, Ferry stresses the idea that there must be a dialog between reflection and action, between humans to name and transform the world. Teachers must work with students; learning must take place together, continuously. Ferry discusses the idea the classroom as “a culture in progress” and as a grounds for theory-work. Learning environments should be inclusive and there is a need to replace the “us versus them” model, to break down the power structure.

Christopher Ferry: "Theory, Research, Practice, Work"


Christopher Ferry’s “Theory, Research, Practice, Work” begins with Paulo Freire’s argument that education must be a process by which students and teachers transform reality and become more fully human by working together. Ferry notes that “Praxis” is central to this process—praxis being the interaction between thought (refection) and action. In order for the process to be effective, both components must be present.

Ferry then goes on to use Freire’s praxis concept to examine the different components of composition studies: theory, research, practice, and work. He also seeks to find the place in which “work” fits within the realm of higher education. What exactly is this “work”? What exactly is it that we do?  

“what we have in composition now is an unbalanced praxis, one that seems focused on reflection at the expense of action (or to put in more appropriate terms for this essay, a praxis focused on theory at the expense of work).”

“I want to make a case that in composition our focus on theory leads us to overlook the teaching of writing”

Ferry writes that we perceive theory and practice as separate. He discusses the historical shift that occurred within universities, a change that placed more emphasis on research than teaching. Now, there are apparently some who see writing teachers as part of the “academic working class”. Ferry notes that most of the time, when academics are referring to their work, they are not referring to the act of teaching; they are referring to their own writing or their research.

The divide between the two realms of the English department—literature and composition studies—is also discussed. Referring to writing teachers, Ferry references David Bartholomae: “As a professor, you’re not identified with something of great cultural value, like Shakespeare or the English novel…. You’re identified with the minds and words of 18-year olds”.   

Going back to Paulo Freire’s concept of praxis, Ferry stresses the idea that there must be a dialog between reflection and action, between humans to name and transform the world. Teachers must work with students; learning must take place together, continuously. Ferry discusses the idea the classroom as “a culture in progress” and as a grounds for theory-work. Learning environments should be inclusive and there is a need to replace the “us versus them” model, to break down the power structure.

To research or not to research? Farris and Anson Chs. 1 & 2

Chapter 1:
"Theory, Research, Practice, Work"
Christopher Ferry

Anything that starts with a Rent reference is off to a pretty great start in my book (and you can safely assume that I spent the rest of this reading humming "Santa Fe," but that's a great deal better than "#Selfie" so, you know, small blessings). I liked how Christopher Ferry began his paper by highlighting the importance of praxis, which is the phenomenon which includes both reflection and action in order to improve the overall learning experience between teachers and students. This idea of a learning environment in which both categories involved can benefit is something that is crucial and, sadly, is lacking in many classrooms. The presence or absence of collaboration can make a huge difference in the school experience. Once Ferry introduces this concept as a jumping off point, he raises more questions most notably, "What is the nature of our 'work' within institutions of higher learning" (11)?

As he further explores this question, he first mentions that what compositionists do is "create a theory of composition" (12), but counters then that theory without demonstration is not enough. He finds that the current theory at work is unbalanced because there seems to be a surplus of theory, and a lack of action. I think this is a valid point. In some of the theory we have read thus far, I've found that people raise excellent points, but the question has remained, does it work in practice? We can think and theorize all we'd like, but the true test is application.

I thought that Ferry's walk through history was an interesting way of telling the story of the division between theory and practice, particularly the part in which he notes that "universities become tangential to the everyday world, even to the extent of providing refuge from it; departments become nations with fiercely defended frontiers, and disciplinary discourse, 'self-enclosed and often self-confirming' becomes a professor's native language" (14). Isn't that the sad truth (in some cases, not all).

This is an interesting section for me because I want to be a professor, but I do not want to be disconnected. I want my students to be able to live in this world, and apply what I teach them, and use it to enhance their lives, not use it to separate themselves from the word around them. 

Further into the paper, I liked Ferry's reflection upon praxis, that "The educator who wold engage in praxis must die to her assumptions about reality and be reborn in communication with her students: 'Conversion to the people requires a profound rebirth. Those who undergo it must take on a new existence'" (17). Further, "Rather than forcing students into some preconceived theoretical model such teachers must work with and for students to understand the reality they share, then to construct a theory together that will  change that reality" (17). These are both excellent points, as well as encouraging ways in which to start in the direction of coming down off of the academic pedestal and facing reality. 

In conclusion, theory+research+practice+work= theoryresearchpracticework. All of these things must go in, and they all must work together in the result. To have classes that belong to all is so much better and more inclusive, and an all-around positive experience.

Chapter 2:
"Composing Composition Studies: Scholarly Publication and the Practice of Discipline"
Peter Vendenberg

"Rhetoric and composition around the end of the nineteenth century has been described as 'as academic desideratum...to be escaped as soon as practicable" (19). Hah!

This chapter seems to be an interesting juxtaposition from chapter one, as Vandenberg debunks the argument that "Quality teaching, as the argument goes, is dependent on research, and research presupposes its teaching: 'to achieve a balance in which the two activities actually complement each other is one of the most important contributions we can make'" (19). Vandenberg's case, on the contrary, is that this argument fails to take account of the "profoundly powerful institutional and disciplinary structures that lend teaching a research practical definitions as neatly hierarchized workplace activities" (20). This is quite a different stance from Ferry, and I'm interested to see what the opposing arguments are. 

Once again, I like how these writers have included historical framework to shape their respective arguments. This inclusion adds dimension because it's interesting to see how the past can be interpreted to explain the present. Further, it is interesting to see the transformation of what became valued in the classroom-- not necessarily the act of teaching or being a good teacher, but the concept that "Each faculty member should 'resolve that he will become a recognized scholar in his field and begin at once some piece of productive work'" (21). This raises an interesting question-- what is this "productive work?" And what are the implications of saying that being a teacher alone is not productive? Granted, this is a quote from Charles R. Van Hise in 1916, but this is a point from which our current system rose. It also rose from a Frankenstein-esque (thanks, Colin!) concept of students existing as "raw material" (22) to be shaped by the teachers, who have been given specifications by superiors. I'm not sure I like this analogy. 

And yet, the question remains, where does composition fall into this field? How does research work its way into this picture? Can they possibly be married together? If the administrators are the ones who research and publish, and they don't want the teachers below them rising, is this where the discussion ends? Additionally, I made this note in my reading-- is this true? I can't understand why teachers doing research wouldn't serve to better everyone. Why is this perceived as a threat?

It seems to me, that I would have to agree that the praxis concept that Christopher Ferry writes about is an excellent approach, that marries together research and teaching in order to get the best of both worlds. However, Vandenberg's article is enough to make one nervous. Is this really what it's like out there in the teaching world? Is the praxis concept merely an unreachable ideal? It would appear that the world of academia and administration is rough when it comes to rhetoric and composition, and Vandenberg certainly paints a bleak picture of the system that is currently in place.

 

Bonus:
Santa Fe from Rent 


To research or not to research? Farris and Anson Chs. 1 & 2

Chapter 1:
"Theory, Research, Practice, Work"
Christopher Ferry

Anything that starts with a Rent reference is off to a pretty great start in my book (and you can safely assume that I spent the rest of this reading humming "Santa Fe," but that's a great deal better than "#Selfie" so, you know, small blessings). I liked how Christopher Ferry began his paper by highlighting the importance of praxis, which is the phenomenon which includes both reflection and action in order to improve the overall learning experience between teachers and students. This idea of a learning environment in which both categories involved can benefit is something that is crucial and, sadly, is lacking in many classrooms. The presence or absence of collaboration can make a huge difference in the school experience. Once Ferry introduces this concept as a jumping off point, he raises more questions most notably, "What is the nature of our 'work' within institutions of higher learning" (11)?

As he further explores this question, he first mentions that what compositionists do is "create a theory of composition" (12), but counters then that theory without demonstration is not enough. He finds that the current theory at work is unbalanced because there seems to be a surplus of theory, and a lack of action. I think this is a valid point. In some of the theory we have read thus far, I've found that people raise excellent points, but the question has remained, does it work in practice? We can think and theorize all we'd like, but the true test is application.

I thought that Ferry's walk through history was an interesting way of telling the story of the division between theory and practice, particularly the part in which he notes that "universities become tangential to the everyday world, even to the extent of providing refuge from it; departments become nations with fiercely defended frontiers, and disciplinary discourse, 'self-enclosed and often self-confirming' becomes a professor's native language" (14). Isn't that the sad truth (in some cases, not all).

This is an interesting section for me because I want to be a professor, but I do not want to be disconnected. I want my students to be able to live in this world, and apply what I teach them, and use it to enhance their lives, not use it to separate themselves from the word around them. 

Further into the paper, I liked Ferry's reflection upon praxis, that "The educator who wold engage in praxis must die to her assumptions about reality and be reborn in communication with her students: 'Conversion to the people requires a profound rebirth. Those who undergo it must take on a new existence'" (17). Further, "Rather than forcing students into some preconceived theoretical model such teachers must work with and for students to understand the reality they share, then to construct a theory together that will  change that reality" (17). These are both excellent points, as well as encouraging ways in which to start in the direction of coming down off of the academic pedestal and facing reality. 

In conclusion, theory+research+practice+work= theoryresearchpracticework. All of these things must go in, and they all must work together in the result. To have classes that belong to all is so much better and more inclusive, and an all-around positive experience.

Chapter 2:
"Composing Composition Studies: Scholarly Publication and the Practice of Discipline"
Peter Vendenberg

"Rhetoric and composition around the end of the nineteenth century has been described as 'as academic desideratum...to be escaped as soon as practicable" (19). Hah!

This chapter seems to be an interesting juxtaposition from chapter one, as Vandenberg debunks the argument that "Quality teaching, as the argument goes, is dependent on research, and research presupposes its teaching: 'to achieve a balance in which the two activities actually complement each other is one of the most important contributions we can make'" (19). Vandenberg's case, on the contrary, is that this argument fails to take account of the "profoundly powerful institutional and disciplinary structures that lend teaching a research practical definitions as neatly hierarchized workplace activities" (20). This is quite a different stance from Ferry, and I'm interested to see what the opposing arguments are. 

Once again, I like how these writers have included historical framework to shape their respective arguments. This inclusion adds dimension because it's interesting to see how the past can be interpreted to explain the present. Further, it is interesting to see the transformation of what became valued in the classroom-- not necessarily the act of teaching or being a good teacher, but the concept that "Each faculty member should 'resolve that he will become a recognized scholar in his field and begin at once some piece of productive work'" (21). This raises an interesting question-- what is this "productive work?" And what are the implications of saying that being a teacher alone is not productive? Granted, this is a quote from Charles R. Van Hise in 1916, but this is a point from which our current system rose. It also rose from a Frankenstein-esque (thanks, Colin!) concept of students existing as "raw material" (22) to be shaped by the teachers, who have been given specifications by superiors. I'm not sure I like this analogy. 

And yet, the question remains, where does composition fall into this field? How does research work its way into this picture? Can they possibly be married together? If the administrators are the ones who research and publish, and they don't want the teachers below them rising, is this where the discussion ends? Additionally, I made this note in my reading-- is this true? I can't understand why teachers doing research wouldn't serve to better everyone. Why is this perceived as a threat?

It seems to me, that I would have to agree that the praxis concept that Christopher Ferry writes about is an excellent approach, that marries together research and teaching in order to get the best of both worlds. However, Vandenberg's article is enough to make one nervous. Is this really what it's like out there in the teaching world? Is the praxis concept merely an unreachable ideal? It would appear that the world of academia and administration is rough when it comes to rhetoric and composition, and Vandenberg certainly paints a bleak picture of the system that is currently in place.

 

Bonus:
Santa Fe from Rent