Revolution Lullabye

November 15, 2006

601 Project Notes

Filed under: Uncategorized — by revolutionlullabye @ 6:35 pm

I’m doing my 601 project on the writing major. I’m interested in how composition can move from a field centered around the first-year course to one that encompasses a much broader scope of knowledge, theory, and practice. I also want to know how majors get proposed and conceptualized. In addition, I want to see how writing is conceived as a discipline – what do writing majors need to know? What common ties are there between various writing major programs? What are the differences?
And so we begin –
Bloom, Lynn Z., Donald A. Daiker, and Edward M. White, eds. Composition Studies in the New Millennium: Rereading the Past, Rewriting the Future. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP: 2003.
This is a collection of 24 articles that were originally presentations at the Conference on Composition Studies in the Twenty-First Century: Rereading the Past, Rewriting the Future taht was held at Miami University of Ohio from October 5-7, 2001. Some of them deal specifically with the writing major, an emerging field of study for undergraduates across the country.

Miller, Susan. “Why Composition Studies Disappeared.” pg48-56
Miller imagines a new sort of writing studies/compostition that is focused on the students, not on the ethos of the instructors and that no long privileges the “writing life” as it is traditionally conceived:
“Writing studies would still contain required and elective writing instruction so long as graduate programs need support and a larger community thinks that the content of this instruction is expertise about how to write. However, insofar as it directs attention to practices rather than an interiorized writing life, it will also respond to an otherwise obvious, happily fragmented, social emphasis on production. We have many examples of that emphasis, even if we rarely generalize from them to reinforce our own practices. Instances include the eager, widespread composition of Web pages and restriction of that form of writing in prisons; the music taples, home videos, and CDs that students regularly turn out for each other and their own sense of craft; the emerging young artists who focus on novel ways of making images and texts as least as energetically as they attend to the representations these experiments create; and the myriad public writing groups across the country turning out fiction, autobiography, memoirs, family history, and children’s stories.
These and many other elected alternatives to santified composition multiply across both publicized and self-contained sites of production. They suggest that in a client-based New University, we have increasing difficulty in maintaining the ethos that knows better than students the appropriate uses of writing and that defines them as ancillary to personal, not social, development. That University, finally noticing the community – often the slums – around it, places cooperation at stake as much as it does canons. The liberal arts certainly thrive but now as “the liberal arts,” in quotation marks, as reference to but one cultural heritage among others that it is increasingly crucial to study. Teachers turning to writing studies mediate among such mixtures of academic, professional, and institutional desires. They and their students emphasize craft, not personal relationships. They devise family literacy centers and open community writing centers – not for remediation but to offer sites that acknowledge the mutual enrichment that results from ordinary literate habits: storytelling, senior reading groups, and Cicero for executives. Writing studies, that is, praises a satisfying completion of texts and sharing them, not just vision as revision” (54-55).
I like how Miller is turning writing outward – students in a writing major, who take multiple classes, will be able to study the actual, real writing that people do on a day to day basis, uplifting it as worthy of study. What can we learn about our neighbors and our communities and our world if we look at the writing practice that happens everyday as good in itself instead of problemitizing it?

Ferris, Christine. “No Discipline?” 57-61
Composition does not have “an exclusive claim on students’ literacy instruction. Just as we would now question any one theoretical model for organizing our knowledge of writing, so should it be difficult to comfort ourselves with any seamless narrative of theoretical coming-of-age, disciplinary success, or inalienable rights” (58). What does composition offer students when it comes to their writing that they cannot get in other disciplines? Perhaps this is the major point – what is unique about composition that students just can’t pick up elsewhere?

Spellmeyer, Kurt. “Education for Irrelevance?” 78-87.
“I have long believed that writing courses offer the one place in entire curriculum where issues like this [technology, globalization, environment] might be addressed in the synthetic way they require. To reimagine our undergraduate courses along these lines – as we have already done for some time now at my institution – is to place composition, of all things, at the center of the undergraduate experience. In economics, students learn about markets; in biology class, they learn about natural systems; in political science, they learn about world politics. In their writing classes, they might have the chance to connnect market forces with ecology, and both of these with global politics, and this is likely to make the lowly writing course the most-coherent educational experience the students will ever get” (86). Would this interdisciplinary frame work for a writing major? Or is composition a discipline itself?
“Such changes [an interdisciplinary connection in composition] imply a reversal of the logic now prevailing in the university, a logic that dictates that graduate study ought to shape the undergraduate major while assuming that courses for the major are the only courses that matter” (87). Seems like he’s saying that comp is a way of looking at the world, not a field – that undergraduate majors that model themselves after the graduate programs will be focusing on the wrong thing – they should be focusing on forging connections. Spellmeyer is focusing on the first-year course, though – not the undergraduate writing major.

Brueggemann, Brenda Jo. “The Juggler.” 88-94.
Brueggemann comments on the talks that Bishop and Spellmeyer gave: “Both addressed the question: What can composition offer the humanities as a field? Spellmeyer gave us cautionary tales about being in the humanities; Bishop offered hope for teaching at the heart of the humanities” (93). This analysis gives me a better sense of how Bishop and Spellmeyer are talking to each other, and the main question: What does composition as a field offer students?

Cushman, Ellen. “Vertical Writing Programs in Departments of Rhetoric and Writing.” 121-125
An interesting distinction – I wonder what others think of it: “The difference between composition and writing is that writing courses have a vertical curriculum attached to them. If composition is relegated to the remedial, the first-year, the disenfranchised, underemployed, and the exploitive, then writing opens up the possibilities of teaching courses about the literacies that various professional, community, and organizational members practice” (121). I guess that’s why it’s being called a writing major.
Cushman cites Crowley as first coming up with this idea in Composition in the University (pg 262) and something written by James Porter, Particia A. Sullivan, Jeffrey Grabill, Stuart Blythe, and Libby Miles in 2000, when they ask: “What would happen if we reconceived ourselves as ‘writing experts’ working in a public realm instead of ‘composition teachers’ working within the university?” (Cushman 122).
Why aren’t there more vertical writing programs now? Not enough rhet/comp PhDs to fill the job slots (139 PhDs granted in 1997 but 161 jobs available). So, vertical writing programs aren’t staffed enough to do it (122).
Also, “another problem might be that professors already in departments aren’t doing their share, as Young points out, to teach first-year writing, let alone any vertical writing courses” (122). Lots of faculty don’t want to teach writing, so the lower-division courses load up on the compositionists.
“Still another problem that hinders the development of vertical writing programs is that composition is seen by most literature faculty as a contentless curriculum…Professors in traditional English departments often do not value, appreciate, or undertand composition studies; they see the field as empty…Writing courses have no content, the argument goes, and without a content, an area of specialization, we haven’t a professional identity” (123). Cushman also cites a quote from Young, who says that composition will gain credibility in the academy if “the scholarship of teaching and learning is recognized and rewarded as an important contribution to knowledge” (123).
“Writing will be taught in the vertical curriculum by fully enfranchised teachers only if our colleagues in literature understand and appreciate that writing, a practice, is also a knowledge base. A social capital. A profession” (123). The good thing? The number of jobs in comp/rhet is growing, citing the value adminstration places on the teaching of writing.
How could we show that writing is a content area? “If writing professors and instructors teach, write, and publish with community and business partners…many [people and professions] appreciate the knowledge base of skilled writers. Many see writing influencing their chances for success, persuading decision makers, and making a stand. Community literacy projects, service-learning initiatives, business and technical writing all emphasize the connection between universities and communities and offer numerous sites for writing instruction beyond the first-year composition course” (123)
And the kicker: “Isn’t it time for composition and rhetoric scholars to break from English departments to form their own vertical writing programs within their own departments?” That’s what SU did – how many others have done it independently?
Cushman sees “the need for vertical writing programs to be taught in writing departments by fully enfranchised writing professors” because “we can no longer trust literature professors to do the right thing when deciding where composition will be taught and who will teach it” (125). She cites cases where there are lots of writing courses on the books but not enough professors to teach it because tenure lines are filled with literature faculty.


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