Berthoff, "The Problem of Problem Solving"

Berthoff, Ann E. "The Problem of Problem Solving." CCC 22.3 (1971):

In reply to
Janice Lauer’s "Heuristics and Composition,"
a brief essay and 200-item
bibliography of research in psychology, Berthoff presents a polemical critique
of "problem-solving" and of the singling out of psychological or political
matters as relates to the teaching of writing: "every issue in public life has
mutually defining psychological and political aspects, the exact relationship of
which it is a primary and continuing intellectual task to discover" (237).
Berthoff positions two figures, Lauer and Louis Kampf, each as the
representative of a problematically extreme stance that tips too far toward
, on the one hand (in the case of Lauer), and too far toward
political radicalism
, on the other (in the case of Kampf and his
eliminationist pleas). Berthoff focuses on "the psychological inadequacies and
political dangers of problem-solving as a pedagogical concept" (237).

Berthoff says that she has sampled from Lauer’s list and that she has grave
concerns about the lack of "pedagogical grist": "Accepting [the guidance
of the psychologists], we would be led from our English maze only to be
abandoned among task definitions, communication frames, non-verbal processes and
all other features of a strangely familiar landscape" (238). This
disjuncture, Berthoff explains, has much in common with the differences that led
the Dartmouth Conference to be a failure; in effect, the agendas of
(Lauer later comments that Berthoff treats psychology too
singularly, too monolithically) tend to avoid, or at the very least downplay,
. She draws on I.A. Richards‘ to explain her skepticism
toward importing information theory, referring to his essays "So Much Nearer"
(1968) and "Speculative Instruments" (1955), both of which offer "an important
line of defense against the influence of psychologists and linguistic scientists
outside of the field of their competence" (238). Berthoff rails against
the "technicians" on Lauer’s list, suggesting that such approaches to
language "falsely [define] the forms of knowing" (238). Rather than
relying on such expert-technicians from another field, "English teachers should
dare to raise their own questions about the nature of learning and knowing and
should dare, furthermore, to answer some of those questions which have been
thought to lie in the province of the problem-solvers, that protectorate of
educational psychology
" (239).

Next, Berthoff notes that psychology of learning can be "politically
dangerous unless it is conceived in the context of a sound sociology of
knowledge" (239). Heuristics as problem-solving, then, risk falling in
accordance with preparations for a bureaucratized society: "The concept
of problem solving serves the belief that the school’s function is to prepare
citizens for life in a technological society" (239). In effect,
problem-solving serves "commercial interests" (239). Alternative figures
(Jane Addams at Hull House, Maria Motessori, Claude Levi-Strauss, and Paulo
Freire) serve Berthoff’s basic claim: cultural revolution is dependent upon
, and so literacy teachers must be wary of following the path of
educational psychologists (e.g., those listed by Lauer) or those who, like Kampf,
would argue the freshman writing curriculum as a politically oppressive
instrument of the state that must be abolished. Berthoff ends by leaning
on Freire’s work with the idea of "problematizing the existential situation"
(241) because naming (world-making via language) "wins knowledge that can
liberate" (241). The act of naming is invested and re-invested in the act
of knowing [tie: folksonomy/ taxonomy]. Before ending with a series of
quotations, Berthoff invokes Coleridge’s advice: "Know your knowledge"

Although the direct relevance of this debate to "heuristics" (as I
want to use it in the diss) is, as of yet, tentative, the Lauer-Berthoff
does serve as a backdrop–as one current in the water under the
bridge–to the surfacing of the Flower-Hayes process model that first
started to circulate in 1977 with their College English essay,
"Problem-Solving Strategies and the Writing Process" (CE 39.4, 449-461).
Lauer and Berthoff weren’t the only ones in the rising discipline of rhet-comp
to discuss problem-solving, but the reappearance of the phrase in the title of
the earliest* Flower-Hayes article seems significant. Does the
Lauer-Berthoff argument predict the fall-out over the Flower-Hayes model more
than a decade later? Whether it does or not, the debate over problem-solving
resonates with many of the contemporary debates where models are
as determinative, apolitical, neutral, and inherently at
odds with maxims such as "Know your knowledge" (241). In fact, Berthoff’s strong
statements against "technicians," where she instead argues for teachers to
"raise their own questions," could be framed as a call for legitimacy and
for pluralism in model-making, where rather than inheriting models from
the psychologist’s wheelhouse, teachers have a hand in the creation of dynamic

* – ???