Revolution Lullabye

February 16, 2009

Strickland, How to Compose a Capitalist

Strickland, Donna. “How to Compose a Capitalist: The Predicament of Required Writing in a Free Market Curriculum.” Composition Forum 9:1 (Spring 1998) 25-38.

Composition’s low status in the academy is not due to its pedagogical orientation. Rather, composition’s status is a result of the fact that it is the sole required course in a university designed around the concept of liberalism and free choice, a concept that indoctrinates students in the ideologies of individualism and competition that are necessary for a capitalist society. Strickland traces composition’s contradictory place in the academy to the pedagogical reform movements at Harvard under Charles Eliot, who instated the modern liberal arts elective curriculum. Composition served as required cultural capital that students must secure before moving on to become independent capitalist men, ready to interact with their instructors in a business relationship and become a free-thinking man able to own himself and his own choices. Thus, modern progressive composition pedagogies that attempt to subvert the system by giving students the freedom to choose their own topics are actually just making composition like the rest of the university, where student choice through the major and elective system dictates the curriculum.

Quotable Quotes

Progressive composition pedagogies are really “reinscribing rather than resisting the dominant discourse of the university, that of the free capitalist individual” (36).

“The new university set itself up as a place to construct free, self-motivated, white male subjects, the very subjects necessary for the logic of American industrial capitalism” (26).

Notable Notes

choice is self-regulation, free students, self-governing, competition-driven

good English is necessary cultural capital for which to enter the system to have wealth, power, and the language of capitalism

women are not fit nor strong enough for the rigors of the capitalist liberal arts curriculum

teacher serves as a “model of masculine ability” (33)

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