Document Type

Thesis - University Access Only

Award Date


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department / School



In Literary Theory: An Introduction, Terry Eagleton criticizes English departments for churning out students who are simply able to "manipulate a particular language in acceptable ways" (201). This emphasis that we teachers of writing often place on "being able to talk and write in certain ways" (201), rather than on the content of those forms of discourse, contributes to one of the problems I see in current composition teaching practice: emphasizing formal competency rather than critical thinking. In order to understand this problem, I examine the historic tension between those writing teachers who stress form and "correctness" and those who emphasize the content of students ' texts through the five paradigms that have dominated composition pedagogy since 1966. I conclude that teachers must strive for a pedagogy that includes a concern for correctness while placing greater emphasis on what students have to say. A review of educational priorities shaped by political, social, and economic forces during the "Culture Wars" of the past four decades reveals several attempts by conservative authorities to reform education in such way as to undercut critical skills and reinforce formal competence, despite official claims to the contrary. In addition, I examine how the issues of "political correctness," particularly a battle over the literary canon affected curricular reform in composition during the 1990s. I argue that one way to foster skills in critical reading, thinking, and writing within the composition curriculum is to examine political issues through a critical framework. My survey of other English 101 instructors and teaching assistants in the SDSU English Department and of my own students concludes that while gender studies often presents challenges to both teachers and students, it also sharpens their critical inquiry skills and strengthens their writing abilities. Finally, I advocate feminist pedagogy as a method for transforming teaching practice in the college composition classroom.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Critical pedagogy English language -- Rhetoric -- Study and teaching Women in mass media -- Study and teaching Feminism



Number of Pages



South Dakota State University