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A Conversation with Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein

By Dave Stuart Jr.

In today’s installment of the interviews I conducted while creating Teaching with Articles, we get to sit down with a powerful pair of minds that long-time readers will be very familiar with. I’ve written about Gerald Graff and/or Cathy Birkenstein in some of this blog’s most popular posts:

Dr. Gerald Graff, a Professor of English and Education at the University of Illinois at Chicago and 2008 President of the Modern Language Association of America, has had a major impact on teachers through such books as Professing Literature: An Institutional History, Beyond the Culture Wars: How Teaching the Conflicts Can Revitalize American Education, and most recently Clueless in Academe: How Schooling Obscures the Life of the Mind. The Common Core State Standards cite Jerry’s work in their Appendix A section, “The Special Place of Argument in the Standards.”

Cathy Birkenstein, a lecturer at the University of Illinois at Chicago, has published essays on writing, most recently in College English, and with Gerald in The Chronicle of Higher EducationAcademe, and College Composition & Communication. She and Gerald have given over 100 lectures and workshops at colleges, conferences, and high schools. At present, they are working on a new book contending that our currently confusing school and college curriculum needs to be clarified by making the practice of argument the common thread across all disciplines.

And of course, Jerry and Cathy have taught over a million people to write through their very successful book They Say, I Say, now in its third edition.

Highlights from the interview

  • What would your one piece of advice be for folks just getting started with bringing argument into the classroom? (8:50)
  • The story of how Cathy’s two-paragraph template came about, and how it led to the writing of They Say, I Say. (23:00)
  • Don’t formulas deaden writing? Jerry responds to this common criticism of They Say, I Say. (29:00)
  • How do you recommend teachers go about teaching their students hot-button issues? (34:30)

The interview

Please use the embedded player below to listen to the mp3 interview. If it’s not working, you can find the mp3 here — download it at your pleasure. Enjoy!

Thank you to Dr. Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein for their time in granting me this interview to share with my readers. I also thank them for the conversations and correspondences that preceded it. Jerry in particular was a very early supporter of my work on this blog. I first received an email from Jerry when this blog wasn’t even a year old, and he’s been an encourager ever since. Jerry and Cathy graciously gave me their time on a recent trip to Chicago, and I thank them very much for that as well. May their sane message continue to spread.

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