Revolution Lullabye

July 2, 2015

Harrington, Fox, and Hogue: Power, Partnership, and Negotiations: The Limits of Collaboration

Harrington, Susanmarie, Steve Fox, and Tere Molinder Hogue. “Power, Partnership, and Negotiations: The Limits of Collaboration.” WPA: Writing Program Administration 21.2/3(Spring 1998): 52-64.

The writers, who are all part of a collaborative WPA structure at their institution, use situations at their institution to evaluate the benefits and drawbacks of collaborative administration. They maintain that collaborative administration is possible, and the diverse perspectives it invites has helped unite and strengthen their writing program. The writers do acknowledge that collaborative administration is difficult, and name four potential problems that emerge from collaborative administration:

  1. The tendency to focus inward instead of also collaborating with partners outside the writing program/department;
  2. The issues of authority and expertise created inside and outside the program because members of the collaborative administration have different titles, roles, positions, and responsibilities;
  3. The desire to avoid conflict in the decision-making process, which can create false consensus and silence dissenting opinions
  4. “Twin citizenship,” or how members of the writing program administration committee are torn between obligations and identities in the program, the institution, the community, and the discipline.

Notable Notes

They explain that there are few arguments/analyses of collaborative administration that address “how such partnerships come to be created in a hierarchal university environment, how power (even the decentralized, facilitated kind) is acquired, and how collaboration works on a daily basis” (53-54).

Collaborative administration is difficult, made more difficult because administration is not always recognized work/labor/scholarship in institutions, comp/lit divides in academic departments.

Gives their local context: there is no WPA, but rather a Writing Coordinating Committee

The Writing Coordinating Committee – both TT and NTT faculty. Partly conceived as a way to get NTT/adjunct faculty involved, “decentralize decision-making,” increase connection between composition research and teaching. (54)

Explanation of the composition of the Writing Coordinating Committee. 10 members. The chair (TT) rotates every two years. No release time for the chair. The NTT faculty have a 4/4 load, the TT have a 3/3 load, and some of the members of the Writing Coordinating Committee get a 1-2 course release per semester for WPA work. The NTT faculty do most of the WPA work on the committee

Uses Molly Wingate’s discussion of writing center politics to look at the collaboration, Wingate’s work draws on Werner Rings’ description of four kinds of collaboration: neutral collaboration, unconditional collaboration, conditional collaboration, and tactical collaboration (57)

Quotable Quotes

“Living the experience of a postmodern WPA can be complicated and troubling” (52) – arguing that the theories of postmodern WPA leadership – of being situated, contextual, in networks, collaborative – might be more difficult than we’re giving it credit in our scholarship.

“While the arguments for collaborative administration are clear, the political dimensions of collaboration and partnership have been undertheorized, and we use our insitituion’s administrative structure as a starting point for analysis” (54).

“On a broader level – and this is where the collaborative structure makes a difference – the committee seeks to coordinate the work of writing program faculty; to represent the interests of adjunct faculty in the department and the university; and to link the writing program with other offices on campus with an interest in writing” (56).

“The mix of experience, expertise, and perspective on the committee provides much-needed diversity, and compensates for individual shortcomings…No single person dominates the overall policy-making responsibility of the committee. The writing program does not speak with a single voice, but it does, on the whole, speak from consensus” (56).

Collaborative administration creates “a web of relationships” (56)

“Much of our energy (and specific responsibilities delineated by the department) is devoted to collaborating with each other; little to collaborating with other academic units” (58).

“Composition, like math or reading if not more so, invites Monday morning quarterbacks” (59).

“Individual committee members (and likely individual members of the writing faculty as well) have sometimes chosen silence over conflict, enabling what appears to be consensus, but actually creating imposed orthodoxy. The imposition of orthodoxy is no less unfortunate if accomplished via collaboration than if directed by a single person” (60).

“A cooperative administrative structure will not automatically promote pluralism. Without an agreement to converse and a willingness to explore disagreements, shared administration can degenerate into a front, masking the will to power of some dominant person or group on the committee or in the department. Our collective leadership must be authorized by the conversation of committee members – and by the conversation of the whole writing faculty” (61).

“Writing program administration is, in many ways, an exercise in power. As long as wirting programs are staffed by teaching assistants or part-time faculty, and as long as required writing courses are a key element of university general education requirements, writing program administrators will possess a great deal of power over the curriculum, teachers, and students. This power, something we don not often acknowledge in a discipline which privileges cooperation, collaboration, and empowering others, is not necessarily evil” (62).

“The unitary WPA retains certain advantages over a shifting, collaborative, contextual writing program administration. The locus of power is clear in the unitary model, and that clarity speeds communications (especially outside the department)” (63).

June 24, 2015

Hesse, Politics and the WPA: Traveling Through and Past Realms of Expertise

Hesse, Douglas D. “Politics and the WPA: Traveling Through and Past Realms of Expertise.” The Writing Program Administrator’s Resource: A Guide to Reflective Institutional Practice. Eds. Stuart C. Brown and Theresa Enos. New York: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc., 2002. Print. 41-58. Print.

Hesse explains how WPAs can approach the political nature of their work in a way that is productive and ethical. He describes aspects of academic politics that affect a WPA: that disciplinary knowledge or credentials aren’t as highly valued in administration as one might think, and that most decisions circulate around the debate for material resources. His chapter discusses how a WPA must act politically, keeping in mind these two principles, in four different spheres: the department, the institution, the profession, and the public.

Notable Notes

In departmental politics – 1. know how things work and how things get done, 2. write down (and publish) policies (these are more efficient, have more authority, can be used for faculty development, focuses the work of the department) , 3. Develop an ethos grounded in “expertise, competence, sensitivity to local situations, and the pursuit of the greater good” (44), 4. Write reports that have hard data about the students and faculty in the writing courses; 5. Create structured processes with timetables to get things done – these establish legitimacy and help with efficiency.

In institutional politics – institutions are usually conservative, don’t change rapidly or easily (46). Gives two examples of his own political work – one successful, one not. His advice: 1. “Have a place at the table” in discussions that are ultimately about resources by being on university-wide committees (48), 2. Know the people you’re talking with and that you’re competing with, 3. Be known in informal situations as well as formal (“Come to the parties” (49)), 4. Frame arguments in terms of resources, not just philosophy/disciplinary knowledge

In disciplinary/professional politics – 1. Know the past and present work/guidelines/statements published by the discipline’s professional organization; 2. Get involved in the organizations, network and do good work, 3. Get disciplinary organizations to sponsor your work (example of the CWPA Outcomes Statement)

In the public and larger higher ed – 1. Write for public audiences, tell the story you do instead of responding to attacks or accusations; 2. Network with people in other institutions and work together to make change; 3. Get on committees – state assessment boards, other education boards

WPAs need to know how to argue for material resources (42).

He argues that WPAs should prepare themselves to do political work by paying attention to the history of higher ed, the conversations happening in higher ed scholarship and journals.

Quotable Quotes

“Though WPAs wearing the ermine mantle of composition czar may set the curriculum for a course, they rarely can unilaterally set class sizes or faculty salaries. They need action by individuals with the official power to do so. Because the quality of a writing program depends largely on the conditions in which the program exists, and because the WPA has limited control of those situations, political action is vital” (41-42).

“For a good deal of their work, WPAs simply must be politicians – and, of course, rhetoricians.” (41).

In departments: “But beyond the program, especially in academic structures increasingly (and paradoxically) organized hierarchically with a professional managerial administration, WPAs often have to act with a decisiveness that may exceed their democratic sensibilities” (43).

“Second, WPAs must separate political outcomes from senses of their own worth. Unfavorable outcomes invite WPAs to doubt their abilities. But resources are finite, and expertise is lodged many places in the academy and culture. In a world where even Richard Nixon can be twice reborn, it makes most sense to understand your personae as content expert and as politician to be entwined but ultimately separable, each with endless opportunity for extension and application” (57).

Meyers, Power, Fear, and the Life of the Junior WPA: Directions for New Conversations

Meyers, Susan. “Power, Fear, and the Life of the Junior WPA: Directions for New Conversations.” WPA: Writing Program Administration 33.1-2 (Fall/Winter 2009): 152-162. Print.

A review of two books:

Dew, Debra Frank and Alice Horning, eds. Untenured Faculty as Writing Program Administrators: Institutional Practices and Politics. West Lafayette: Parlor P, 2007.

Enos, Theresa and Shane Borrowman, eds. The Promise and Perils of Writing Program Administration. West Lafayette: Parlor P, 2008.

In her review of these two collections, which focus on junior (untenured) WPAs, Meyers uses her own perspective (as someone who is about to start a jWPA job) to explore the current conversations around jWPA work. Meyers points out the contradiction apparent in these two collections and in other conversations about jWPA work: many senior scholars in the field (Horning, White, Roen) warn junior faculty against accepting a jWPA position, yet many new faculty take on these positions because of the realities of the job market and because they have administrative coursework and training in their doctoral programs. Meyers explains that there are two repeated (and inextricably related) ideas that come up in conversations about jWPA work: power and tenure. She argues that the fear that saturates the narratives about jWPA work needs to be “managed”: “otherwise,” she points out, “we may become immobilized by fear itself, rather than working to improve our situations” (154).

Meyers names five categories of warnings she saw repeated in the collection: “problems of resources, politics, market forces, job advancement, and job satisfaction” (156). The most often-cited resources that jWPAs lack are time, credibility, and authority.

Meyers makes a distinction between power that emerges from control and power that emerges from authority. She advocates for jWPAs to work towards increasing their power via increasing their authority within their own institution, and she offers five strategies for doing so: 1. Know your context; 2. Be realistic with program design; 3. Do not be alone; 4. Understand your value; and 5. Use your rhetorical tools (160-161).

Notable Notes

The idea of the “fourth dimension” of jWPA work – administration. Make sure that this is visible in tenure and promotion files.

The fear in jWPA scholarship emerges from 1. The idea that WPA work won’t be valued in tenure and promotion and 2. That my administrative work will take up so much time that I won’t be able to do the other things I need to do in order to get tenure.

Central argument of Promise and Perils: “these testimonials and reflections suggest that a central peril of WPA work is the inherent conflict of scholar-administrator identities. In response, they call for more tenure-line positions and more explicit promotion criteria.” (155)

Untenured Faculty as Writing Program Administrators is more theoretically-minded, practical – making an argument against jWPAs but giving recommendations about how to structure these jobs ethically

We can increase our authority by demonstrating our value and the value of our programs, by developing strategies to negotiate for things that are important.

Quotable Quotes

“This sounds indeed like a no-win situation: As jWPAs, we are commissioned to do work that is not valued and that jeopardizes our future. In this context, we are never blessed with power. And that is, indeed, the fear: we are powerless now, and powerless we will remain. Unless, of course, we can find ways both of making ourselves valuable and of managing the obstacles that administrative work always entails” (154).

“The general message of both books is clear: The dangers that jWPAs face are real, and we have not yet done enough to address the situation” (152).

“Without the requisite authority—or even a clear set of objectives—in their work, jWPAs are more prone to becoming involved in a variety of levels of conflict. In large part, this potential for political tensions results from the nature of WPA work itself, as well as jWPAs’ novice stature. Although they are usually members of English departments, writing divisions, or other institutional units, jWPAs typically cross institutional lines, finding themselves involved in—and sometimes at odds with—the interests of both their home departments and their institutions at large.” (157).

“I believe that what WPAs should seek is power-via-authority, rather than power-via-control.” (159). How can we work “within the boundaries our institutions,” knowing that we can’t control them?

“Focus on what you can change in order to improve your job conditions, and resist feeling defeated by what you cannot. Alongside these efforts, we are reminded to keep in mind all of the other facets of our work that we likewise do control. From the rhetorical choices that we make as we strategize program changes to the attitudes that we maintain about our roles and identities in our institutions, we actually do control many aspects related to professional success.” (159-160).

Bousquet, Composition as Management Science: Toward a University without a WPA

Bousquet, Marc. “Composition as Management Science: Toward a University without a WPA.” JAC 22.3 (2002): 493-526. Print.

Bousquet argues that composition has become complacent in the larger corporate university system, citing scholarship that promotes a “pragmatist” approach to writing program administration and rejects critical theory as “idealist.” Bousquet contends that real institutional change is only possible through collective action, and he points to both history and current union movements for better working conditions and pay for graduate students and adjuncts as evidence that change emerges from the action of collective labor, not by individuals, such as “lower management” WPAs. Bousquet’s argument relies on a Marxist reading of WPA work and current WPA scholarship, and his argument is a response to Porter et al’s Braddock-winning essay about institutional change and critique. Bousquet ultimate argument is that composition (as a field) and composition teachers would be best served if WPAs stepped away from their roles as lower managers, a role in which they support and enact the interests of the managerial university. Bousquet believes that composition should look like other academic disciplines, without a lower-level “manager” (WPA) and with tenure-track faculty lines, not adjunct labor or non-tenure-track instructorships or “parafaculty.”

Notable Notes

Central question: has composition/WPA strayed too far? Has it bought into the rhetoric of university management? And central claim: that organized labor and collection action is the only way to change the status quo and problems of composition labor, not WPAs. He imagines a model without a WPA.

Sections of his argument:

The Heroic WPA

  • Argues that the field has moved away from critical lenses and “toward institutionally focused pragmatism, toward acceptance of market logic, and toward increasing collaboration with a vocational and technical model of education” (495-496).
  • Defines the “heroic WPA” as a new figure in the field, connects it to Marx’s “’special kind of wage-laborer,’” “the members of the working class whose particular labor is to directly administer the labor of other members of their class at the frontline of the extraction of surplus value” (498).
  • Labels WPAs as “lower management,” who have as much in common with workers (or more) than they do with the higher class that they might identify with. Lower management historically has not made changes: “Lower management is particularly vulnerable, highly individuated, and easily replaced” (497). Lower management often is not tracked to upper management advancement.
  • Argues that when someone becomes a member of the lower management, their class does not change (still a member of the labor class), but their loyalties change. (498)
  • Asks who the term “compositionist” (or “we”) refers to – the teachers? The WPAs? Those who teach or those who supervise/theorize? The field writ large? Who does it represent? (499)
  • Ties the emergence of the comp/rhet discipline to shifting structure in undergrad institution in the 1970s: more students with less TT faculty.

The Intricate Evasions of As: How to Be One of the Gang

  • composition is trying to be “one of the gang” in the academic institution, a respected discipline. So there’s two layered legitimacy crises in comp: one among adjunct labor, the other around WPAs/compositionists (502)
  • WPAs/composition have accepted the realities of the corporate university instead of contending them. One example he gives is FT NTT lines, which Bousquet argues is a way to get around tenure and to assert more “managerial control” over composition teaching faculty (505) – he thinkis is a step backwards to remove tenure, not a step forward. Asks why this is happening primarily in comp, not in other fields (lit?) (506-507).
  • WPAs (lower management) do not have a good track record for changing the working conditions of adjunct composition faculty. Unions and collective action do have a good track record for this. (507).
  • WPAs are more vulnerable to academic capitalism, market logic than faculty, who can resist it to some extent (508).

The Hidden Idealism of Managerial ‘Materialism’

  • One piece of evidence he cites as comp/rhet and WPA’s acceptance of managerialism and the corporate university is the emergence of “pragmatism” in WPA scholarship (509), of rejecting “ideals” for “realities” (509).
  • The pragmatist/movement point of view critiques the critical point of view for being “idealist,” but pragmatists are their own breed of idealists, accepting a managerial point of view. (511)
  • Asks why collective action, rhetoric of change by those disenfranchised, is being challenged in the academy (513)? Why has composition accepted pragmatism? Why aren’t we more skeptical? (515)

Toward a New Class Consciousness in Composition: Writing without a WPA

  • argues against the possibility of joining WPA and teacher interests, it’s impossible to combine the interests of management and labor. Sees such rhetoric as undermining collective bargaining
  • why haven’t we made composition real, tenure-track faculty?
  • Argues that WPAs should “shed” their identity as lower management – their role to “control” or administer or supervise – and to join again with their faculty.

Quotable Quotes

“Despite the evident sincerity of this line of inquiry [Porter et al, Harris, Miller, Murphy, Grimm], I’m profoundly unconvinced that a management theory of agency and what I call the rhetoric of “pleasing the prince” is particularly useful-much less necessary-to the project of transforming institutions. I prefer instead a labor theory of agency and a rhetoric of solidarity, aimed at constituting, nurturing, and empowering collective action by persons in groups.” (494).

“In this context, the ‘heroism’ of the heroic WPA consists precisely in his or her capacity to represent the interests of the ruling class as the interests of the workers (teachers and students) in their charge” (499).

“Understanding this intimacy as a structural relationship requires careful examination of the possibility that the heroic narrative of disciplinary “success” for professional and managerial compositionists has depended in part on the continuing failure of the labor struggle.” (499)

“Clearly, the emergence of rhetoric and composition into some form of (marginal) respectability and (institutional-bureaucratic) validity has a great deal to do with its usefulness to upper management in its legitimating the practice of deploying a revolving labor force of graduate employees and other contingent teachers to teach writing. The discipline’s enormous usefulness to academic capitalism-in delivering cheap teaching, training a supervisory class for the cheap teachers, and producing a group of intellectuals who theorize and legitimate this scene of managed labor-has to be given at least as much credit in this expansion as the heroic efforts that Porter and his coauthors call the WP A’s “strong track record for enacting change” (614)” (500).

“In my view, the problem of composition labor’s felt exteriority to the gang of professors cannot be separated from the problem of composition management’s felt exteriority to the gang of disciplines: the two structures of feeling are inseparably related along the “degree zero” of the material specificity of composition work-which is to say, work conducted in the scene of managed para-faculty labor.” (502)

“Professional composition, in my view, will never feel like “one of the gang” of disciplines until its labor patterns are more like those in other fields. (Of course, this equivalence could easily come about by the frightening but very real possibility-evidenced by clear statistical trends-that labor patterns in other disciplines will become more like those in composition, rather than the other way around.) To put it in blunt terms, so long as composition’s discourse remains a management science– or, alternatively, until history, engineering, and philosophy are management sciences to the same extent-it is likely to fail to enjoy the status it seeks: the status of a discipline among peers.” (502-503).

Contends that WPAs have less power than they think: “However, whether they do so logically, intuitively, or from the experience of essaying numerous “rhetorical strategies” with disappointing results, most also understand that there is little they can do about the labor system, either as individuals or as administrators. Indeed, perhaps the most important realization of the administrative subjectivity is that “having” administrative power is to be subject to administrative imperatives-that is, to be individually powerless before a version of “necessity” originating from some other source.” (507-508).

“The installation of managerialism as the core subjectivity of the discipline of rhetoric and composition is therefore not so much an indicator of the field’s “success” as evidence of its particular susceptibility, the very terms of its intellectual evolution intertwined with the university’s accelerated move toward corporate partnership, executive control, and acceptance of profitability and accumulation as values in decision making.” (508).

“Pragmatist idealizations of the market conceal the human agency in the creation and maintenance of markets” (510) – the idea that people created these economies and institutions, deliberately choosing market/corporate/private sectors over public

“In all of these and most responsible materialist accounts, human agency drives history. But in the pragmatist-managerial version of materialism, collective human agencies are conspicuously absent.” (511)

“In holding our gaze on the managerialism of composition discourse, we ultimately need to ask, cui bono? Who benefits?” (513).

“Furthermore, what a large sector of composition labor (graduate employees and former graduate employees working off the tenure track) “really wants” is not to be treated as colleagues, but instead to be colleagues. Nearly every participant in the composition conversation would like to see writing instructors become “more like” faculty – to have the chance to govern, enjoy an intellectual life, develop as an instructor, and enjoy better pay, benefits, protections, and security. But this hasn’t translated into a consensus among professional and managerial compositionists that writing instructors should actually be faculty. Why not? Isn’t composition work faculty work? Or is composition’s “faculty work” the supervision of parafaculty? “ (516).

Argues for a “new class consciousness” in composition that is grounded in “movement unionism” that unites all faculty “on the common experience of selling one’s labor in order to live and on the desire – widespread in the academy, but also common in many sectors of service work – to “be productive” for society rather than capital” (517).

“…perhaps the professional and managerial compositionist can likewise shed the desire for control and embrace the reality of collective agency. Are we so sure after all that what the professional compositionist “really wants” is “more control” over people he or she must creatively “treat as colleagues”? Perhaps what the professional compositionist really wants is to lay down the “requirement” to serve as WPA instead and to become a colleague among colleagues.” (517-518).

“In order to realize the scene of lower management learning to practice “institutional critique” and the “arts of solidarity” from labor, we will eventually have to reconsider the limits to thought imposed by pragmatism and to learn once again to question the “inevitability” of the scene of managed labor to composition. In my view, composition’s best chance to contribute to a better world and to achieve disciplinary status depend on learning to write as colleagues among colleagues-a condition predicated on working toward a university without a WPA.” (518).

June 23, 2015

Kinney, Fellowship for the Ring: A Defense of Critical Administration in the Corporate University

Kinney, Kelly. “Fellowship for the Ring: A Defense of Critical Administration in the Corporate University.” WPA: Writing Program Administration 32.3 (Spring 2009): 37-48. Print.

Kinney enters the debate about creating full-time non-tenure-track lines in composition and argues that in writing programs throughout the U.S., these full-time lines, though not on the “faculty ladder,” do result in less exploitation of composition faculty. She uses her own experience as an ABD fellow in the Grand Valley State University’s Department of Writing (an independent writing program) to argue that these kinds of positions can not only give composition instructors greater stability and better wages and benefits but also can help create institutional environments that support and value the teaching of writing.

Kinney resists arguments made by Sledd, Bousquet, and others, who saw WPAs who created non-tenure-track composition lines as either complacent with the larger corporate university structure or as eroding the possibility of more tenure-lines. Kinney is pragmatic in her analysis, arguing that WPAs have the power to negotiate for better models for employing composition faculty.

Notable Notes

Discusses the debate about creating full-time non-tenure-track lines in composition: is it creating “boss compositionists,” with just a few tenured WPAs overseeing large masses of teachers, or is it a way that WPAs are trying to rectify the poor wages and working conditions of part-time, adjunct contingent labor?

Cites the major debate between James Sledd and Joseph Harris in CCC (September 2001), uses it to frame the discussion around non-tenure-track composition appointments. In this essay Kinney is responding to Sledd, who saw WPAs as complacent in higher administration’s plans to exploit composition labor.

Her admin work as a doctoral student slowed down her progress toward degree, ran out of her stipend. At the end of her 4th year she became a fellow at GVSU

Discusses the problem of putting pressure on grad students to professionalize, diversify, which slows down their progress (and many never finish). She argues though that her fellowship helped her on the job market and gave her a decent wage as she finished her PhD.

Defines “situated leadership” (a term coined by Sullivan et al), “a concept which reinterprets the ethic of service and helps theorize active ways of applying institutional critique.” WPAs should be rhetorical in how they administrate (40) Kinney argues that he WPAs at GVSU practiced “situated leadership” – reflective, critical analysis of situations, understanding the local context and situatedness.

The Department of Writing at GVSU had 2 kinds of FT NTT positions that had good wages and benefits: “the real improvements in work life for composition instructors are not to be underestimated” (41). One kind was a fellow for ABDs, MFAs, and PhDs. Fellows had conference support and had schedules to allow for scholarship, no service obligations. The second line was Affiliate Faculty positions – again, good wages, renewable 3-year contracts

This Department of Writing is independent of the English Department, and so was able to hire instructors who wanted to teach writing.

Key concept to her argument: the commitment to writing and composition, both the teaching and the field

Argues that FT NTT lines are a step up for composition instructors, who historically have been some of the most marginalized and vulnerable contingent faculty, rejects the “preoccupation with tenure lines,” saying that this position does not help these faculty.

Quotable Quotes

“Although always influenced by institutional constraints, WPAs can be powerful advocates for traditionally exploited writing instructors” (38).

“I found administrative work politically empowering. It gave me a sneak peak into the mechanisms of university bureaucracy, allowed me to see how incremental change was possible, and taught me how I might become an agent in institutional reform” (39).

“Critique is slow to effect change, and often neglects institution-specific exigencies.” (40).

“Through their commitment to the teaching of writing as a legitimate academic pursuit—a commitment that necessitated creating quality working conditions for all writing instructors—Grand Valley’s WPAs were able to attract and maintain a stable, experienced, and well-credentialed staff of composition faculty, committed pedagogues eager to engage in innovative practices such as directed self-placement, multi-grader portfolio assessment, and the development of an undergraduate writing major” (43).

“When ladder faculty ignore their non-tenure-track colleagues by single-mindedly campaigning for tenure-track positions, exploitation ensues.” (44)

makes the point that negotiation is necessary, utopia is not possible with academic labor unions. Compromise is the name of the game:

“Although some equate all forms of administration with a dance with the devil—and of course there’s an undeniably romantic appeal to such an equation and dismissal—most people involved with the labor movement understand that negotiation is at the heart of collective struggle. As we move toward better working conditions for composition instructors, we must continue to negotiate with the corporate university” (45)

“Perhaps the biggest professional compensation I received at Grand Valley, then, was not the solid wages and scholarly status I earned as a Composition Fellow, but the administrative imagination to envision better working conditions for all writing instructors, but particularly adjunct workers. Because of the time I’ve spent in a department that fosters equitable working conditions, I have recognized the power of administrative agency, and the empowering potential of WPA work” (45) – the real gift of her position as fellow at GVSU

Wants to “work together to realize alternative labor possibilities” (46).

White, Use It or Lose It: Power and the WPA

White, Edward M. “Use It or Lose It: Power and the WPA.” Writing Program Administration 15:1-2 (Fall/Winter 1991), 3-12. Print.

White argues that WPAs have positions of power, and they must develop ways to wield that power with other faculty, department chairs, and administrators in order to protect their writing programs. White uses his own experience, when his WAC program was attacked, to explain strategies WPAs might take to assert their power. White’s argument is laced with military metaphors. White rejects the notion that the WPA position is powerless: instead, he argues, the WPA has inherent power (whether it is “official” or “unofficial”), and those who are unwilling to take on this power should reconsider whether or not they want to be a WPA. White believes that WPAs should be tenured faculty members so that they might be in the best position possible to argue for their programs (and, in turn, for the teaching of writing.)

Notable Notes

White tells a story about coordinating a WAC program (outside the English department), and the Dean telling him that he was losing budget, release time, faculty development money. Explains institutional politics – without a WPA at the table of chairs, no one could fight for WAC. White moved the WAC program out of the School of Humanities to the Office of Undergraduate Studies, where it was protected.

Compares university politics to “foreign relations” (3)

Explains that power moves are explained passively, as if they “were the most reasonable and logical consequence of facts out of anyone’s control” (3).

Explains that many WPAs identify as scholars and writers, not “administration,” even though that is the work that WPAs find themselves doing (5).

Does give the caveat that he was tenured and “knew the ropes” (6).

In his argument, White explains that WPAs need to know “where the enemies of our program lurk, what their motives and weapons are, and how we can marshal forces to combat them. We also need to see where our allies are and find out ways to strengthen them and to keep them friendly.” (6)

Admits that his approach/perspective may seem “overly military” but acknowledges that this is the name of the administrative game (6).

lists the data WPAs should have (7)

Argues against jWPAs – don’t put yourself in a compromised position, power-wise.

explains how WPAs can promote the teaching of writing in their programs (9)

advocates as a WPA/WAC coordinator focusing on younger, untenured faculty rather than bothering with converting the “untameable” tenured faculty.

The kinds of power a WPA has with administrators: 1. Having a good program that satisfies students (and faculty); 2. Writing well-written memos, reports; 3. Gathering data about writing skills of students; 4. The national professional network of WPAs, which is very supportive

A WPA’s power in relation to English Departments mirrors the contested relationship with rhetoric and composition and literature, it depends on how the local English department has worked out that relationship.

WPAs have the final power – “to resign” (11)

Quotable Quotes

“So I had absorbed from the atmosphere [his previous experience as an administrator] certain lessons: recognize the fact that all administration deals in power; power games demand aggressive players; assert that you have power (even if you don’t) and you can often wield it.” (3)

“But my campus experience made inescapable the fact that my job as WPA included being canny with power; the WAC program would have been doomed if I had not fought back against that ‘real power’ and defeated it. I had discovered a kind of power that does not appear in flow charts, power that most WPAs have, and I was able to use it to save the program. What I did was refuse to accept the condition of powerlessness” (5).

“We must empower ourselves to do our jobs” (6).

“WPAs in general live schizophrenically, hating power yet wielding it, devoid of official power (for the most part) yet responsible for large and complex programs” (6).

“If we really don’t want to deal in power, we had better step aside, or we will be doing more harm than good” (6).

“A careful WPA will use the three basic weapons of bureaucracy to deal with these bureaucratic foes: good arguments, good data, and good allies, mixed with caution and cunning.” (7)

“The most difficult part of being a WPA is combatting those who only have scorn for our enterprise” (8).

“As every WPA knows to his or her discomfort, the staff tend to view the WPA as the boss, no matter how little power the position may in fact hold. Of course, some WPAs are the boss, with the power and the burdens that the term suggests; but most have only the responsibility of recommending hiring and changes of status. But the major power that comes with being perceived as the boss is the opportunity to improve the teaching of writing” (9)

“Certainly, the most important aspect of the WPA’s job (after survival) is the improvement of instruction. And most WPAs have substantial real and perceived power to accomplish that end” (9)

“Power is ultimately a matter of perception.” (11)

Administrators usually view faculty members who administer programs (WPAs) as more powerful than these faculty members view themselves (11)

“The WPA has much power inherent in the position.”

“This paper is, I notice, governed by military metaphors, not the kind of thing we are used to reading in these polite pages about writing and teaching” (12).

“The only way to do the job of a WPA is to be aware of the power relationships we necessarily conduct, and to use the considerable power we have for the good of the program” (12).

June 9, 2015

Phelps, Becoming a Warrior: Lessons of the Feminist Workplace

Phelps. Louise Wetherbee. “Becoming a Warrior: Lessons of the Feminist Workplace.” Feminine Principles and Women’s Experience in American Composition and Rhetoric. Eds. Louise Wetherbee Phelps and Janet Emig. Pittsburgh: U of Pittsburgh P, 1995. Print. 289-339.

Phelps explores how women in the academy, specifically women writing program administrators, can take up, assume, and use power. She points out that when she became a writing program administrator, she did not have a model or theory available to her about how she, as a woman and as a compositionist, could accept and use the institutional power invested in her administrative position. Phelps argues against the idea that power is antithetical to feminist principles; rather, she argues for a conception of feminist power that is productive, generative, and expansive, one that allows for both a strong executive leader and distributed, collaborative, asymmetrical authority. She works in this essay to “construct a more adequately complex and nuanced feminism” (300). She asks “what it might be meant by feminist” in the context of assuming power and writing program administration (300).

Phelps uses her own experiences as the writing program administrator and Director of the Syracuse Writing Program to investigate the paradoxes and complexities of power for women, composition/writing programs, and female leaders in the academy and writing program administrators. Phelps discusses how she worked to create layered, asymmetrical groupings through the coordinating groups and other Writing Program task forces and committees. Phelps also describes the resistance she faced from her teachers when she asserted power or used rhetoric in a centralized, directed way (through talks to the program or published director’s writings.)

Phelps draws on the work done to explain the multifaceted feminization of composition within the academy (teaching as women’s work, nurturing work of the writing classroom, composition without institutional power or control, practice v. theory, low status of contingent faculty who teach composition, writing as skill.) She defines power as productive and generative, not coercive. Power, according to Phelps, can allow for positive influence, though she avoids sweeping utopian positions and generalizations. Phelps argues for the role of a strong executive in program leadership – a strong leader who can wield centralized authority can represent and argue for the program as a whole in an institutionally-recognizable way. At the end of her piece, Phelps calls for more work that interrogates her central paradox: the necessity of power within institutions and for leadership, and the implications of that power and its creations for feminists, for women, and for composition.

Notable Notes

Central architecture of the argument:

  1. “Invitation to Power” – reviews the feminization of composition, WPA work, and sexism in the academy. Calls for a definition/understanding of the feminist power, a model for how a feminist might use and assume power ethically and for good.
  1. “Constructing and Complicating the Feminist Workplace” – argues that the workplace of composition is already feminist (writing/English classroom gives discursive authority to women; composition classroom has embraced feminist pedagogical principles; the predominance of women within the workplace of composition means that women have a disproportionate chance to benefit from composition workplaces that give them opportunities to lead and learn). Explains her decision to become the WPA at Syracuse: “it was vaguely but genuinely a moral decision responding to the summons to take up responsibility toward others, to act on my convictions” (306). Describes how she envisioned developing an inquiry-based writing program that depended on the creative power of the teachers and her emerging ideas of what it meant to be a leader. Explains the paradox of power and agency and responsibility: agency is not ultimately freeing, with power comes discipline, rules, and responsibility, and professionalization will not improve the working conditions of all because not all will be able to participate. Explains how she built the program purposefully around asymmetry, not symmetry.
  2. “Lessons of the Feminist Workplace” – organized complexity, bravery

The WPA role itself is feminized – it is marginal, instable within the academy’s institutional structure: “More truly marginal than in the feminist sense, we are like animals of the tidal zone, neither sea nor land creatures” (291).

You have a choice, as a WPA, to accept or reject a position of power. But where does rejecting leave us? (292)

Names the problems of a utopian feminist vision, where power is shared equally, symmetrically, without hierarchy (293) – how this is not workable in a workplace. Names the potential negatives of a woman-centered workplace (301).

Explains how in her first few years as the Director of the Syracuse Writing Program, she did not see her situation as gendered (she did not recognize the reaction of others – both those teachers within the program and higher administrators – as rooted in sexism.) Phelps was more focused on the feminized status of composition within the university (specifically at Syracuse.) (296-297)

The reaction to women (and composition) – the reactions of “exclusion” and “devaluation” – “do not go away when the door opens a crack and we squeeze in” (299).

Phelps notes throughout that these memories – writing about these moments – is painful and hard.

De-centering authority (in a classroom, in a program) requires authority (304). To have the choice to de-center authority means that you have the institutional power to make that choice, decision.

Phelps discusses her reasons for taking up the position of Director of the Syracuse Writing Program, why she made this choice (306). At the time, it was not a gendered decision – she wanted to enact her vision of literacy, composition within a teaching community (306).

Discussion of how she thought through the ethics of WPA work, of relying on teacher’s intellectual energy, of coming to terms with contingent labor (308-310; especially her responsibility to the teachers and ethical employment on 313-315; giving teachers options through professional development 317-318).

The teaching community and empowering teachers’ own individual agency is central to her vision of the writing program (309-310)

The program’s most basic right: “Its right to try” (315) – that means the right of the teachers to try, to design, to grow, to experiment.

The material benefits a writing program can offer are never going to be enough to offset the work and low pay and low status of teaching composition (317).

Those teachers “who exploit these opportunities for development will gain options: they will have more choices about staying there or moving on” (318).

The “killer dichotomy” (Ann Berthoff) – that the ideal of a “flattened hierarchy”/symmetry and complete shared power versus the idea of a determinist hierarchy of power, that the power structure in place can’t be challenged or disrupted (320)

In her asymmetrical organization, she relied on three “significant asymmetries” – 1. “institutional authority”; 2. “attributes of competence”; and 3. “commitment or investment of oneself in the program.” Phelps tried to “subvert” #1 with #2 and #3, but maintained that #1 (executive power, authority through position or degree or credential) is important for the program as a whole and the people in it. (322)

Power as influence versus power as coercion (322-323)

She saw the empowerment of her program as emerging from three things: 1. Enabling conditions (both two-way communication and a director that encourages/articulates teachers’ own understandings of the program); 2. Structures (creating, revising structures and starting new traditions that form a community); 3. Exemplification (naming, modeling, “dramatizing” the principles and strategies of the program so that they are visible) (323-326)

Program v. department rhetoric (program as productive, community, cohesive) (327)

Discusses the importance of community in creating a program that works – people want to feel a sense of belonging (though the backlash against insular, “insider” communities.) Belonging to the community is a benefit for its members (327)

the idea that we are not in a utopia – we work in a workplace

 

Quotable Quotes

“As a writing program administrator, what I find incomplete or inadequate in these characterizations of feminization is that they fail to analyze the problem of empowerment or help us meet it when it actually comes – accompanied by its own paradoxes and discrepancies between appearance and reality, marked by lags, slippages, and regressions, but genuinely different for all that. The meaning of composition’s gendering is not immutably fixed but is suspectible to transformation (though not simple reversal) when its members, and particularly its women, begin to pursue their intellectual projects and enact their values with confidence and some measure of institutional support” (290-291).

“Yet analyses of composition as feminized can never fully anticipate the shift in the problem space that occurs when we begin to move into the tidal zone of power, nor the peculiar challenges of a transitional period. They do not contemplate the guilt and ambivalence and jealousies that will inevitably accompany accession to power; nor do they confront the radical transformation it requires in both strategies and moral understandings” (291-292).

“In short, our current understanding of the feminization of composition provides neither ethical nor strategic guidance in ‘right action,’ either for women who, as senior faculty and administrators, must learn to exercise power wisely or for the field as it begins to acquire resources, centrality to an institution’s mission, and the increased clout that goes with this position. Handling our own power, that is, coming to terms with the ineluctable authority of the writing teacher, is a central, unresolved problem for feminist classroom pedagogy. It becomes acute when the domains and forces involved are larger: programs, departments, institutions, disciplines, and the winds of social change that are sweeping over all of them” (293).

Reject pessimistic visions of power: “For the moment, I will simply say this: if as feminists we are arguing for broadly distributed power and access, we must be prepared to imagine that one can ethically have visions, lead, and wield power despite the imperfectability of institutions and the tragic limitations of human action” (293).

“What I missed here (just as well, since it might have paralyzed me with cynicism or despair) was the triple burden created for the woman leader in composition by the intertwinings of power with gender, teaching, and writing” (297).

“What I had yet to learn, on the bones, was the circuit of devaluation that runs from women in general to women’s work to composition as a feminized discipline and back to the concrete institutional project – the writing program as an enterprise, and its people. The program as a project is ignored as an intellectual force or set of ideas insofar as it is perceived as a bunch of women doing a remedial service; dismissed or critiqued (as requiring structure and external control) insofar as its practices are perceived as soft and feminine; vilified insofar as its values and leaders are perceived as dangerously, powerfully ‘feminist; or simply because it begins to be too successful in a competitive environment. Such attitudes get an extra jolt from the enormous ego investment most people have in their own writing and in moralistic beliefs about what counts as ‘good writing.’

Too often, these intense feelings are concentrated and discharged malevolently on the embodied persons of the women, teachers and leaders alike, who construct their program and teach composition with bravery, fear, and ambivalence.” (297-298). The whole writing program was devalued, suffered from layers of sexism

In the end, the story is about joy:

“Finally, though, these painful emotions are not at the core of my experience as a woman directing a writing program, nor should their distorting effects be allowed to define sourly the enterprise or the community. They are simply the penumbra. The core is joy: the fun, the ingenuity, the collaboration, the exhilaration when something works, the laughter, the leap, the learning. What compels my attention, my passion, and my intellectual interest as a feminist is the thrill of possibility in our accession to power; the moral, practical, and rhetorical complexities that we encounter in daily work on constructive projects in real-world contexts; the feminism that might arise in such a crucible” (299).

The organization of writing programs as unique in the academy: “As organizations, writing programs combine a certain boundedness, recognizability, and clear definition as communities (delimited in space, in membership, in curricular purposes) with diffusion and interpenetration into the academic context through cross-curricular activity and communication with students, faculty, and administrators in many units and at all levels of the university hierarchy” (308).

The importance of people in a writing program: “Despite my inexperience as an administrator, I assumed that the single most critical factor in the success of a programmatic enterprise is smart, dedicated people: faculty and staff who are intellectually and morally engaged in working for shared goals” (308)

Phelps’ vision of her role as WPA, in regards to starting an inquiry-based writing program that relied on and valued the teachers: “I tried to place teachers’ own reflective thought and collaboration at the center of curriculum development and their intelligent, caring, and responsible interaction with students at the heart of learning” (309).

And this: Her leadership “lay rather in the idea of forming and orchestrating the activity of a teaching community in which people would be authorized and supported to teach flexibly within a broad framework of common goals, to invent curriculum together, to build a program that would finally have intellectual and educative value not only for the students taught but also for the university, the discipline, and for educational theory and practice” (309).

“Agency does not imply absolute power or freedom to do anything you please. Indeed, I discovered, there is a ratio between power and discipline: the greater your authority, the more visible and multiple the disciplines (rules, orders, structures) you must both accept for yourself and impose on others” (311).

“Leadership involves more than generative (‘maternal’ or enabling power)…It requires leaders also to channel, constrain, and judge the actions of others” (311).

“Diffusion of power is the diffusion of problems of power” (311-312).

“An increase in authority, voice, and autonomy is not an unqualified good in and of itself” (312) What teachers in the Syracuse Writing Program quickly discovered. If professionalization is offered and encouraged, it puts at a disadvantage those who cannot or do not or will not take advantage of these opportunities, even if they are not required.

The writing program is not an utopia: “In treating teachers as moral agents – adults – and providing opportunities for curricular control and leadership, I exposed them, perhaps involuntarily, to new risks and pressures while possibly exploiting their capabilities and energy without adequate reward” (313).

“I assumed that inequalities of power as well as of hierarchy are inevitable in any large social organization, patriarchal or otherwise. The possibilities for sharing power among groups in the writing program are circumscribed by the specific social facts of its membership and the organization of the university as a political and bureaucratic workplace. I proposed to work with, rather than against, these real-world constraints” (320).

The asymmetrical power relations within the Syracuse Writing Program: “The social architecture of this program created new power: it generated or attracted energy, enabled novelty and change, created new order and legitimacy, and gave people more personal autonomy and scope for action” (323).

“In actual life, in political life specifically, I think that institutions and programs, like nations, survive and thrive only when people develop a powerful sense of belonging and loyalty to them, and do indeed serve them partly for their own sake: as embodiment, however flawed and mixed, of noble human purposes, as homes or places of work and life, and as human families and collectivities that they love. If there is any single claim that feminists, in composition and elsewhere, seem to be making, it is that women’s work in families and society (the invisible work of managing social interaction [DeVault; Fishman]) prepares them to understand and build such communities. Many of the ‘feminine principles’ I have described here and tried to follow as a leader (collaborative work, consensus building, conversation, professional development, deconstructive use of asymmetries) enact a conception of relations as intrinsically rewarding” (327).

“We are back to the point that power frightens people. Even the most benign power, and most especially collective power, is in part coercive, whether overtly, through rules and rulers, hegemonically, through structures tacitly assimilated, or interactionally, through rhetorical forces. Perhaps even constructive power made available to ourselves is frightening in the electricity it creates and the demands it generates” (328).

“The issue of power is assuredly among the most difficult that feminists face. Power is most often experienced as oppression, and hence the desire for it is frequently disavowed. Yet, insofar as power is the energy and control that gets things done, it is not only an ineluctable dimension of any situation, it is something that feminists require” Nina Baym, quoted in Phelps (329).

“The key to warriorship…is not being afraid of who you are…Shambhala vision teaches that, in the face of the world’s greatest problems, we can be heroic and kind at the same time” Chogyam Trungpa, quoted in Phelps (332)

“Real fearlessness is the product of tenderness. It comes from letting the world tickle your heart, your raw and beautiful heart. You are willing to open up, without resistance and shyness, and face the world” Chogyam Trungpa, quoted in Phelps (332)

“Remember I asked – and postponed answering – the more fundamental question, whether it is ever right to accept invitations to power in the academy. Given the willingness to teach writing, to work in any institution of American higher learning as a scholar or teacher, but especially in tenured of relative economic comfort and privilege, it seems to me the fundamental choice has already been made; what remains is just responsibility and the specific conditions that make it right or possible to take it” (332).

May 11, 2015

Rhodes, When Is Writing Also Reading

Rhodes, Lynne A. “When Is Writing Also Reading?” Across the Disciplines 10:4 (11 December 2013.) Web. 11 May 2015.

Rhodes, the Writing Assessment Director at University of South Carolina Aiken, argues for more explicit reading instruction across the disciplines. She describes how pre- and post-course reading diagnostic assessments in the first-year writing program at her university helped raise awareness of students’  poor reading skills, which she argues affects their ability to write researched arguments. Rhodes maintains that teaching students how to read research is the responsibility of all at the university, and she suggests looking toward strategies developed by K-12 teachers to help teach students how to read. She explains that her university’s decision to assess reading has helped her writing faculty develop a language to talk about and describe what they mean by “good reading.”

Notable Notes

the appendix contains a helpful rubric for the pre- and post-reading assessments, looking at students’ reading skills in term of comprehension, analysis, and interpretation on a scale of 1 to 5.

Rhodes draws on Randy Bass (1998) who advocates for doing “diagnostic probing” at the beginning of the semester. Where are our students? Do they understand the purposes of reading (Horning)

Students especially need help reading academic journals, and they need to be told why they are reading something – for content, for a model, to critique, etc (this makes connections with Horning 2007).

Quotable Quotes

“Post-secondary instructors rarely understand how unfamiliar student readers are with any kind of text beyond short, simple expository and creative works.”

“Our colleagues in K-12 have long understood the syntactical differences that make texts more or less accessible to readers, but most college instructors do not have the flexibility that primary and secondary grade-level teachers have when accommodating readers with weaker skills.”

“It is time to ask what faculty can and should learn about teaching students how to read complex texts by examining practices and assumptions. In our reading and writing classrooms, we should explain explicitly why and how we want students to address the texts we assign.”

Rhodes found that “over half of our students demonstrate perennial difficulties with researched writing tied specifically to their poor reading skills. Students who read poorly when they enter FYC currently do not improve significantly as readers and writers and continue to struggle in their major programs.”

“We simply must not give up on making assignments that challenge students to struggle and engage with texts.”

“We don’t often define expectations for ‘good reading.’”

“Reading processes are recursive, requiring dialogue and feedback, along with revisions of perceptions and readjustments. Just as instructors expect that student writers will need time and consultations to rewrite their papers, instructors should also understand that student readers will need supportive class discussions and time to reflect on reading selections.”

“Teachers across the disciplines will have to engage in dialogue with students and with faculty in other disciplines to make our expectations more obvious and clear to students when they work with texts, to read and write across the disciplines, as well as to explore our own practices as academic readers.”

“We must explicitly share our expectations with students about performances that we identify as good reading in our classrooms.”

“Assessment of student reading should be a common concern across a university’s campus, not a singular skill to be housed in an English department or a First Year Writing program.”

April 16, 2015

Sutherland-Smith, Retribution, Deterrence and Reform: The Dilemmas of Plagiarism Management in Universities

Sutherland-Smith, Wendy. “Retribution, Deterrence and Reform: The Dilemmas of Plagiarism Management in Universities.” Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management 31.1 (6 January 2010): 5-16. Print.

Sutherland-Smith argues for “sustainable reform” in how universities create and implement plagiarism policies (13). Sutherland-Smith contends that the dominant discourse in current university plagiarism statements and policies is grounded in the metaphors and language of criminal law. She points out that plagiarism is an issue that cannot only be addressed through detection and punishment; pedagogy (how students use sources) and ethics (the relationship among students, faculty, and scholars) also must play a role in how universities discuss and manage plagiarism.

Sutherland-Smith’s argument is grounded in her analysis of 18 plagiarism statements from top-tier universities in Australia, the UK, and the US. Sutherland-Smith analyzed the language used in these statements to define plagiarism, to describe the policies and procedures surrounding cases of plagiarism, and to explain the outcomes of the plagiarism procedure (7). Sutherland-Smith also analyzed 164 media reports about plagiarism published in two major Australian newspapers from 2004 to 2008. The media reports were used in Sutherland-Smith’s argument to describe what the public perception of plagiarism is, and how that perception relates to how universities describe and explain their plagiarism polices and procedures.

Sutherland-Smith points out that if universities hold students responsible for citation, universities must provide training/professional development for faculty across the disciplines for how to teach citation and other source use issues around plagiarism. This training, Sutherland-Smith argues, extends to all faculty, full-time and part-time, and is essential for creating and maintaining consistent policies and expectations , such as the use of plagiarism-detection software (9).

Quotable Quotes

“Universities need to re-examine long-held views that increasing punishment and detection processes results in deterrence of plagiarism and therefore a decrease in its appearance. The equation is faulty, as deterring students from engaging in acts of plagiarism does not necessarily mean they will take a path of academic integrity” (12).

“Focusing on developing plagiarism management strategies grounded in the web of ethical relationships that constitute the living organism of the university is a responsible place to start” (13).

“Clearly, the discourse of criminal law is the mainstay of many universities’ framing of plagiarism management policies and processes” (8).

“The very discourse describing students as plagiarism ‘offenders’ positions them as ‘wrongdoers’ even before any allegations are proven, which could cause some students considerable anxiety” (8).

“Universities also place the burden of understanding plagiarism and attribution conventions on students” (9).

“The discourse describing plagiarism incidents is often charged with emotion, closely aligned to the language of criminal law and reflects nations of retribution and punishment” (10) – the language of media/news reports. use of moral/immoral terms, panic about a plagiarism epidemic, linking and slippage between the terms plagiarism and cheating, blaming Internet/online source use for a unproven rise in plagiarism (10, 11)

Scholarship has shown that plagiarism “is certainly neither rampant nor unstoppable” (11).

Notable Notes

words used in university policies and procedures that relate to criminal law: penalties, sanctions, offender, accused. “Highly formal register” = legal language (8)

in these policies, there is ample language for penalty and punishment; not for reform and rehabilitation

January 22, 2015

Reid, Teaching Writing Teachers Writing: Difficulty, Exploration, and Critical Reflection

Reid, E. Shelley. “Teaching Writing Teachers Writing: Difficulty, Exploration, and Critical Reflection.” College Composition and Communication 61.2 (December 2009): 197-221. Print.

Reid argues that students studying to be writing teachers need to challenged in their pedagogy class with writing assignments that are difficult, that encourage open-ended exploration about questions or inquiries that have no good answers, and that invite students into critical reflection about their writing. Reid’s argument joins a larger conversation about writing teacher pedagogy and the pedagogy course in particular, which she argues has been under-theorized and under-discussed. Her argument uses her own students’ written reflections, collected from her six semesters teaching composition pedagogy at two different institutions.

Reid’s argument for giving students difficult writing assignments and prompts is grounded in her observations that writing teachers are often naturally good writers who don’t practice the same kinds of writing processes they teach their students. By increasing the difficulty of the writing assignments these future writing teachers write in the pedagogy class, they gain empathy and insight into their future students’ struggles with writing. Reid explains difficult writing assignments aren’t just longer. Instead, difficultly can be created schematically (through requirements of certain length or format, or requiring students to adopt a particular stance in an argument); relationally (by requiring a publication or presentation or peer review step); or exploratory (by asking students to connect personal experiences into their arguments, frequent short assignments, or asking them to tackle an unanswered or unanswerable question.)

Notable Notes

Reid makes the argument that the traditional seminar paper often assigned in graduate courses might not be the best format for teaching our students to explore and inquire in their writing. She suggests making the seminar paper a multi-part process that is constantly revised.

importance of learning how to tolerate ambiguity and uncertainty in writing (210-211)

Mariolini Rizzi Salvatori’s theories of difficulty (her work is on reading difficulty)

Quotable Quotes

“Encountering difficulties as writers, with opportunities to discuss and respond to those difficulties, prepares pedagogy students to be flexible, engaged classroom teachers who can move between theory and practice, between learning and teaching, as they respond to the needs of their own students.”(205)

“Our goal in designing assignments to favor writing difficulty, of course, is not to make the whole course more difficult, but to privilege the kind of difficulties that increase new teachers’ experience of being writing-learners and thus strengthen their engagement with the teaching of writing” (207).

“We should also preserve space in our pedagogy classes for writing that doesn’t foreground difficulty; for writing that emphasizes play, experimentation, or discovery; and for writing, difficult or not, that is not evaluated. Moreover, while we may not be increasing the number of assignments in a course, we are raising the bar in some of them; difficult writing need not replace other kinds of learning, but we should be aware that we may need to cover less ground with our students in order to fully engage them as writing-learners. Furthermore, we need to design our classes to ensure that writing teachers who are experiencing difficulty in learning to write find support and have the opportunity to experience success. “ (207)

“Students who experience writing as difficult, but who can identify that difficulty as an opportunity for greater learning, and who then can come to see writing-learning as something that may be collaborative, productive, and satisfying, can build those same ideas into their writing class designs. That is, they can identify more strongly as writing teachers and connect more directly to the theories and practices of the field. “ (208)

“If we intend for students to become more astute at noticing how their own writing experiences, and particularly their own encounters with difficult and exploratory writing, help prepare them to be better teachers, we need to directly ask them for such reflection; we may also need to model, discuss, and praise reflective responses that draw the complex connections we hope for. “ (213)

“By highlighting the need for inquiry and flexibility, and positioning everyone as a learner—including ourselves as we remake our own pedagogies—we position everyone as a teacher. “ (218)

“Writing assignments that create difficulty, encourage exploration, and provide opportunity for directed practice in critical reflection thus reinforce one another in preparing teachers to participate fully and flexibly in the discipline of writing education. “ (214)

“Finally, if we are brave enough to argue that there are better and worse ways to teach writing, generally, then we need to be equally courageous in exploring and recommending better pedagogies for educating writing teachers. Composition pedagogy may indeed need to be “remade” for every class, but it should not be remade from scratch, without reference to common goals and practices. Even as I have been creeping along hoping to dodge or hedge this conclusion, I’ve found myself wondering: how can we face our pedagogy students’ ques- tions about what they should all do in their disparate classes, if—despite our necessary reverence for local contexts—we don’t face each other about what we should all do in ours? “ (217)

“Students who become English majors are often “naturally” good writers. The composition pedagogy class may thus be students’ first opportunity to experience writing as a difficult task, and then only if assignments are deliberately designed to challenge them as writers: posing for them serious difficulties, both cognitive and affective, in discovering and then communicating what they mean.”(201).

“A crucial step toward understanding one’s writing students— toward being rooted in the field—comes in sharing an equivalent experience of difficulty, rather than only sharing equivalent topics or genres of writing.”(201)

“The pedagogy class provides an important opportunity to be deliberately guided through difficulty in writing by an expert in the field.” (201-202)

“Writers who don’t perceive that they need such help are unlikely to believe that the benefits of the drafting process are worth its messiness and disruption, even if they experiment with it in a class or workshop. Until writers encounter real problems, not just infelicities, they have no true need for either guidance or revision opportunities; they may offer both to their students, but they can maintain their own identity as nonrevisers and thus remain disengaged from what they’re teaching. Moreover, pedagogy students need to be aware of the difficulties they face and the role of guided learning in meeting those challenges in order to fully engage with the field of composition pedagogy and put down roots from which to grow.”(202)

“Experiencing writing difficulty can also give writing teachers opportunities for increased inquiry into the whole concept of how learning and teaching might happen each day in a writing class. That is, as difficulty breaks down the writing process from a “flow” to a series of trials, queries, reader responses, and revisions, participating in the process can prepare students to see teacher intervention as a planned yet flexible set of assistive activities rather than as an intuitive, Hollywood-staged, “O Captain! My Captain!” ethos. “ (203)

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