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The Politics and Practice of Teaching First-Person Writing
1st Edition
Karen Surman Paley
248 pages, 6 x 9

About the Book

In this ethnographic study of the teaching of writing, Karen Surman Paley reveals the social significance of first-person writing and the limitations of a popular taxonomy of composition studies. Paley looks critically at the way social constructionists have created an “Other” in the field of composition studies and named it “expressivist.”


Paley demonstrates the complexity of approaches to teaching writing through an ethnographic study of two composition faculty at Boston College, a program that some would say is “expressivist.” She prompts her colleagues to consider how family experiences shape the way students feel about and treat people of races, religions, genders, and sexual preferences other than their own. Finally, she suggests to the field of composition that practitioners spend less time shoring up taxonomies of the field and more time sharing pedagogies.



Karen Surman Paley is an assistant professor and the director of Freshman English and Writing Across the Curriculum at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.


"Karen Paley’s text is fluent and presents ethnographic reporting at its best. She impressively blends personal voice, classroom observation, and continued reflection on the discussions of the field while offering her informants a chance to read these descriptions and encouragement to respond. This is contemporary ethnography at its most convincing for Paley includes footnoted and marginal responses by classroom teachers. The book is a pleasure to read—lucid, complicated, metaphoric, narrative, and critical at the same time."—Wendy Bishop, author of Ethnographic Writing Research  

"The writing itself is very strong, and I especially appreciate the author's use of narratives (including parts of her own story) to help establish and support her arguments. Throughout the text, I found the author's voice gracious, invitational, supportive, and very, very smart. . . . [I-Writing] is the best representation of the 'personal' in the classroom that I have read."—Lucy Schultz, author of The Young Composers: Composition's Beginnings in Nineteenth-Century Schools

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